Berlinale 2024 | Mati Diop’s Dahomey On Looted African Art Wins Golden Bear For Best Film

Diop's film chronicles the 2021 journey home of 26 royal treasures to Benin from the Quai Branly Museum in Paris. The artifacts were stolen in 1892 by French colonisers from the Dahomey kingdom. Diop received the award from the Kenyan-Mexican actor Lupita Nyong’o, who served as the Berlinale’s first Black jury president at this year’s festival.

by GRIOT - Published on 04/03/2024
A scene from Dahomey, Photo: © Les Films du Bal – Fanta Sy/Berlinale

The 67-minute documentary by the Franco-Senegalese director delves into the complex issues surrounding Europe’s return of plundered antiquities to Africa. It sheds light on the enduring impact of colonialism and contributes to the ongoing debate regarding the repatriation of stolen artifacts by Europe.

Diop said the prize “not only honors me but the entire visible and invisible community that the film represents. To rebuild we must first restitute, and what does restitution mean? To restitute is to do justice – we can either get rid of the past or we can take responsibility for it” she added, accepting the award. Diop’s words resonate with many activists, scholars, artists and cultural pratictioners who advocate that confronting the legacy of colonialism necessitates a full acknowledgment of its enduring scars.

Mati Diop with the Golden Bear for the best film of the Berlinale 2024. Photo: Martin Kraft, via wikipedia

Earlier on in the festival, during the press conference for Dahomey, Diop said: “The question of returning these looted goods has always been at the heart of what I do as a filmmaker.” She added: “I have been working on films like this for about 10 years now. The restitution of works of art in a tangible sense, handed back by France – it took me a very long to become fully aware of what it really signified. That’s one of the reasons why I am a filmmaker. I want to make it possible for people to understand these issues.”

When asked about what she would like to see from the French government in terms of the restitution of other African artefacts, Diop stated: “It’s quite clear that they were way too few compared with the 7,000 works that are still held captive in these museums. These 26 works are good but are not enough, and I certainly think that it is humiliating. I would say we need to think about more than just the way it was staged and all the governmental communication of this process.”

A scene from Dahomey, Photo: © Les Films du Bal – Fanta Sy/Berlinale

Diop added: “France has exploited this place for centuries. You need to do more. You need to go further. You need to breathe new life into this question, and that is what I was trying to do in this film. We need to think of restitution in a broad sense.”

Calls for a Ceasefire in Gaza

In a politically charged ceremony, Diop and many other prize winners and jury members called for a ceasefire in Gaza. The directors of No Other Land, Basel Adra and Yuval Abraham used their acceptance speech for winning the Berlinale Documentary award to address the inequality between Israelis and Palestinians. “I’m here celebrating the award, but it’s also very hard for me to celebrate when there are tens of thousands of my people being slaughtered and massacred by Israel in Gaza,” Adra said. His co-director, Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham added: “I am Israeli, Basel is Palestinian. And in two days we will go back to a land where we are not equal… This situation of apartheid between us, this inequality has to end.” No Other Land portrays the devastation inflicted upon the West Bank’s Masafer Yatta by Israeli authorities and the unlikely alliance that blossoms between Palestinian activist Basel Adra and Israeli journalist Yuval Abraham.

Awards of the Berlinale 2024

Golden Bear: Dahomey, by Mati Diop
Silver Bear Jury Prize: L’Empire, by Bruno Dumont
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: A Traveler’s Needs, by Hong Sang-soo
Silver Bear for Best Director: Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias for Pepe
Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance: Sebastian Stan for A Different Man
Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance: Emily Watson for Small Things Like These
Silver Bear for Best Screenplay: Dying, by Matthias Glasner
Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Martin Gschlacht, cinematographer of The Devil’s Bath

International Short Film Jury Awards:

Silver Bear for Best Short Film: “Remains of the Hot Day” (Re tian wu hou), by Wenqian Zhang
Golden Bear for Best Short Film: An Odd Turn, by Francisco LezamaEncounters Jury Awards:

Special Jury Prize: The Great Yawn of History, by Aliyar Rasti and Some Rain Must Fall, by Qiu Yang (Ex aequo)
Best Director: Juliana Rojas for Cidade; Campo
Best Film: Direct Action, by Guillaume Cailleau and Ben RussellGWFF Best First Feature Award: Cu Li Never Cries, by Pham Ngoc Lan
Best Documentary: No Other Land by Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham, Rachel Szor
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