That's a wrap! Small Arab films win big at this year's Berlinale

Published February 22nd, 2016 - 01:02 GMT
Saudi comedy film 'Barakah Meets Barakah' made audiences laugh at the Berlin Film Festival. (
Saudi comedy film 'Barakah Meets Barakah' made audiences laugh at the Berlin Film Festival. (

With the double win of “Inhebbek Hedi,” the feature-film debut of Tunisian writer-director Mohamed Ben Attia, this year’s Berlinale underlined the unusually strong presence of Arabic-language films in the festival’s several programs. The first Arab film to screen in competition at Berlin in two decades, “Inhebbek Hedi” won the Berlinale’s prize for best debut feature, while the Silver Bear for best actor went to star Majd Mastoura.

Ben Attia’s work wasn’t the sole Arabic-language film to be feted this year. In the Berlinale’s short-film contest, the Silver Bear Jury Prize went to Palestinian documentarian Mahdi Fleifel for his “A Man Returned,” which was also selected to be the Berlin Short Film Nominee for the European Film Awards.

A sequel of “A World Not Ours” – Fleifel’s prize-winning feature-length doc from 2014 recounting his youthful experiences in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp – “A Man Returned” tells the story of 26-year-old Reda, whose dreams of escaping the camp ended in failure after three years trapped in Greece.

A number of other Arabic-language films won prizes in Berlin’s several independent (extra-competition) juries. The festival’s Ecumenical Jury declared a tie in the Forum section. Sharing the prize with “Les Sauteurs” (Those Who Jump) was “Barakah Yoqabil Barakah” (Barakah Meets Barakah) by Saudi writer-director Mahmoud Sabbagh.

This romantic comedy tells the story of Barakah (Hisham Fageeh), a humble municipal civil servant and amateur theater actor rehearsing “Hamlet,” and Barakah (Fatima AlBanawi), the adopted daughter of a rich couple who works in her mom’s boutique and stars in her own boisterous vlog.

The festival’s Caligari Film Prize went to Egyptian writer-director Tamer El Said for his long-awaited feature film debut “Akher Ayam al-Madina” (In the Last Days of the City). It tells the story of Khalid, a filmmaker struggling to finish a film about three protagonists, living in Cairo, Berlin and Beirut.

The Berlinale’s Peace Film Prize went to Lebanese filmmaker Maher Abi Samra’s documentary “Makhdoumin” (A Maid for Each), which scrutinizes the Gulf-inspired legal regime governing Lebanon’s 200,000 foreign domestic workers – contracted under a system of full custodianship that, the film points out, deprives them of basic rights.

The festival’s Panorama section awarded both its audience awards to Israeli films. The audience award for Fiction Film went to Udi Aloni’s “Junction 48.” Featuring a mostly Palestinian cast, this hip-hop saga tells the story of a Palestinian rapper and his girlfriend who live in the mixed Jewish-Arab city of Lod.

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