Doc winners at Berlinale 2020

Doc winners at Berlinale 2020

Janna Ji Wonders


Valued at €40,000, courtesy of public broadcaster Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb), the Berlin Documentary Award was awarded 29 February to director Rithy Panh and producer Catherine Dussar for Irradiés (Irradiated).


Notes from the Underworld, directed and produced by Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, received a Special Mention.


Press notes for Irradiés stress how the documentary is made by people who have survived physical and psychological irradiation as a result of war, and is recommended to those who believe they are immune to it. “What it means to be a survivor cannot be put into words. To live on, to make contact with this irradiation, for which there may be no cause, no knowledge, but from which there is no protection. Evil radiates. It hurts – even later generations. But beyond this pain lies innocence.” (Panh)


German filmmaker Janna Ji Wonders (pictured) picked up the €5000 Compass-Perspektive-Award for her feature doc Walchensee Forever. The prize comes with a real compass, which is intended to serve as symbolic method of orientation and to show her the direction to take going into the future.


In the film, Wonders tells the story of five generations of women in her family, a journey that takes her from the idyllic German Lake Walchansee to Mexico, the Greek Islands and San Francisco for the Summer of Love in 1968.


Statement of the jury (part) for Walchensee Forever: “This film is a crystal. The longer you look at it, the more you discover new facets. It portrays women of a family in Bavaria over five generations. Supplemented by extraordinary material obtained from the family’s private archive, the protagonists report honestly, cleverly and directly to the camera… Accordingly, an overall picture of private life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries emerges from these individual stories. Everything that is told remains personal and individual and, not least because of the modest attitude of the filmmaker and her protagonists, it develops an overwhelming strength.” 


Meanwhile the Heiner Carow Prize 2020 for the promotion of German cinematic arts went to Natalija Yefimkina for  her documentary Garagenvolk (Garage People). The prize, worth 5,000 Euros and sponsored by the DEFA Foundation, was awarded for the first time in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section and honours documentaries, feature or essay films that address the social and political issues of today or in history with extraordinary aesthetic means.  


Statement of the Jury (part): “The director allows us to peer into a microcosm that seems like a parallel world to us. The complex world of a morbid garage complex in a mining town in northern Russia is reminiscent of an allotment garden colony. In each of these small garages, as the film increasingly takes its time in observing, a universe of its own begins to unfold. Characters that seem bizarre at first become reflectors of society. Love, friendship and alcohol, dreams of prosperity and the future as well as inklings of joy all find a home here.”


Forum selection Victoria, directed by Flemish filmmakers Sofie Benoot, Liesbeth De Ceulaer and Isabelle Tollenaere, picked up the Caligari PrizeThe film follows Lashay, a latter-day pioneer, who has left behind a grim past in LA in favour of a new life in the mysterious desert town of California City.


The jury citation for Victoria (in translation, part) reads: “California City, the failed urban vision of an investor in the 1950s, forms the stage for the restart of an African-American family who has relocated from Los Angeles. Starting with everyday life and spontaneous experiences, the filmmakers accompany the young father. A hybrid documentary with feature-like elements unfolds… By insisting on and communicating a subjective perspective, Victoria asks existential questions about urbanity and precarious living conditions and creates new hope out of nothing, against all expectations.”


The Panorama Dokumente (Audience) Award went to David France’s Welcome to Chechnya (US) about activists who join forces in the face of the systematic persecution of the LGBTQI community carried out by Chechen authorities. David France’s film is described by Berlinale as “a tour de force charged with resilience and courage.”


The Award has been given since 1999. As of 2011, both the best feature film and the best documentary have been honoured. During the Berlinale, all cinema-goers are invited to rate the films in the Panorama section on a voting card. In total around 20,000 votes were cast and evaluated.


Austrian helmer Patric Chiha’s If It Were Love, about Gisèle Vienne’s dance piece ‘Crowd’ and its various performers, took the Documentary Teddy Prize.


The Teddy description of the films stresses how, “continuing his exploration of alienation, hyper-sensuality, emotional violence, human tenderness, and performance of (queer) sexuality, Patric Chiha has created a transformative film with a distinctive style, dripping with visual and emotional intensity.