Documentary About Repatriation of Artworks to Benin Wins Top Honors at Berlin Film Festival

Dahomey, a documentary about the repatriation of 26 artworks from France to Senegal, won the Golden Bear award at this year’s Berlinale film festival, one of the top events of its kind in the world.

Directed by French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, the film focuses on the return of those objects in 2021 and the celebrations subsequently held once they came home. The film starts at Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly, where the artworks were held for years, and culminates in Benin.

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Critics praised Dahomey for the complicated picture of repatriation that it provided. “Every straightforwardly celebratory impulse is complicated by a far greater ambivalence about whether actual redress can ever be made and a kind of lyrical wonderment about what it would even look like if it was,” wrote Jessica Kiang in her Variety review.

“To restitute is to do justice,” Diop said. “We can either get rid of the past as an unpleasant burden that only hinders our evolution, or we can take the responsibility and use it as the basis for moving forward. We have to choose.” She expressed solidarity with Palestine in her acceptance speech.

The pomp that typically accompanies awards ceremonies at film festivals was nearly overshadowed by scrutiny over the Berlinale’s stance on the conflict in Gaza—even as No Other Land, a documentary about the displacement of Palestinians in the West Bank, also won an award.

Over the weekend, an Instagram account for the Panorama section of the festival posted what appeared to be a message of solidarity with Gaza. But the festival later said that the posts “did not originate from the festival and do not represent the Berlinale’s position.” Additionally, the festival said it was seeking a criminal investigation, leading some to denounce the Berlinale on social media.


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