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Berlinale 2023: ‘Sira’ – Feminist film exploring brutality against women wins audience prize

Berlinale 2023:  ‘Sira’ –  Feminist film exploring brutality against women wins audience prize

Our Associate Editor was in Berlin and saw the impressive and powerful winning film…

By Suman Bhuchar

AS THE CURTAIN comes down on the 73rd Berlinale, it was announced that the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the 25th Panorama section of the festival, went to the film, ‘Sira’ by Apolline Traoré.

This is the only section where the public can vote for their favourite film or documentary.

Still from ‘Sira‘ ©Les Films Selmon

Sira’, is a daring film that tells the story of a young woman Sira (played by Naffisatou Cissé), who is travelling with her nomad family entourage “somewhere in the Sahel” as the film explains – when the caravan is attacked by Islamist fundamentalists who kill her father and the group’s leader, Yere (Lazare Minoungou) subjects Sira to sexual brutality.

She is then left abandoned in the desert region, learns to survive and in time, takes a stand against the terror. was at the Red Carpet world premiere at Zoo Palast in the presence of the director and lead cast, Nafissatou Cissé, Mike Danon (Moustapha), Nathalie Viarac (Aissatou), Abdramane Barry (Jean Sidi) and Ruth Werner (Kemi). See the film team picture below.

Director Apolline Traoré at Berlinale

With cinematography by Nicolas Berteyac, the film was shot in the desert landscape of Mauritania, (which fits for Burkina Faso) where Yere has a camp and is recruiting young men from local villages to mount future insurgencies and all the while, Sira’s fiancé, Jean-Sidi, is out looking for her.

Traoré does not shy away from depicting the reality of life for women under the strict order, imposed by Islamist regime in the camp. Women are treated as chattels and sexual slaves while young men are in training for a future war. It is a raw and gripping watch with a satisfactory resolution.

Lead actor Nafissatou Cissé at the premiere

The director told the audience how she had met many men and women in camps who are termed “refugees” by the media but she said: “No one talks about how they are coping with terrorism. Women look after the kids, they have lost everything”.

She said teenage boys are almost encouraged to go and fight as soon as they can, so they are able to earn money, which can feed their younger siblings and family.

The film ends on a note of hope and resilience and of not giving up.

This is exactly the message Traoré wants the audience to understand.

“Our countries are painted in red (on a map) but we live there. Life goes on, we have to survive.”

The award-winning feature film will be shown after the short award giving ceremony at Zoo Palast starting at 5.30 pm (CET) on Sunday, (February 26).

The prizes are awarded by the Berlinale section Panorama together with radioeins and rbb television (Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg).

The ‘Sira’ film team

‘Sira’ is a co-production from Burkina Faso with France, Germany and Netherlands.

The documentary award went to ‘Kokomo City’ by D Smith. She was actually on her way out of Berlin, when she turned back on learning of the award.

Her film features a series of interviews with four black trans sex workers from New York and Georgia. They talk candidly about their lives and raise issues about gender, sexual and racial identity.

Kokomo City’ will be screened at 9pm (CET) at Zoo Palast 1.

In the narrative fiction feature section of the Panorama, the second and third places went to ‘Al Murhaqoon’ (‘The Burdened’), a production from Yemen/Sudan/Saud Arbai by Amr Gamal; and ‘Sages-femmes’ (‘Midwives’) from France by Léa Fehner, respectively.

In the documentary field of this section, second place went to ‘The Eternal Memory’ from Chile by Malte Alberdi, while the third spot went to ‘Au cimintière de la pelliculle’ by Thiemo Souleymane Diallo, a France/Senegal/Guinea/Saudi Arabia production.

*Annnounced last night as well was (Saturday, Fenruary 25,) the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, the Golden Bear went to Nicolas Philbert’s documentary film ‘Sur l’Adamant’, which is about a floating day centre on the Seine river in Paris and caters for people suffering from mental distress. The Berlinale said: “This gentle, enlightening film invites us to join the welcoming microcosm of the Adamant. In their company we may, as one patient suggests, decide in the morning to make sure that we will have a good day.”

For the other award winners, pls see the link below. Hollywood star Kristen Stewart headed the jury this year.

Berlinale International Competition winners

More about Sira and other Panorame Audience awards at Berlinale 2023:

Main picture: Nafissatou Cissé in ‘Sira’

All pictures courtesy of Berlinale except where indicated

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture