Israeli Movies Win Audience Awards at Berlin Film Festival

Feature film about Palestinian musicians and documentary on gay man's struggle with HIV win first round of prizes in festival.

Director and producer Udi Aloni poses for photographers at the 2016 Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016.
AP

DPA - Israeli filmmakers have emerged as the major winners in the first round of prizes announced at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday.

An audience award was handed out to Israeli director Udi Aloni for his feature film Junction 48. His compatriots Tomer and Barak Heymann also received a prize for their documentary Who's Gonna Love Me Now?

During the 11-day Berlinale, moviegoers were asked to rate the 51 films from 33 nations that shown in the Panorama category, which focuses on arthouse and independent filmmakers. A total of 30,000 votes were cast, with one prize awarded to best feature film and another for best documentary.

Junction 48 is Aloni's sixth feature film and tells the story of two Palestinian musicians living in a downbeat part of Israel while battling repression and their own conservative communities.

The Heymann brothers' film follows the story of a gay Israeli man living with HIV. He feels like an outsider until he joins the London Gay Men's Chorus.

The festival's Teddy Award for gay cinema went to Austrian director Handl Klaus' film Kater (Tomcat), about two men whose idyllic life together is shaken by a sudden outburst of violence by one of them.

Now in its 30th year, the Teddy Award forms a unique part of the Berlinale.

While there are a large number of gay film festivals around the world, the Teddy is embedded in the Berlinale with a separate jury assessing films for their contribution to promoting gay images in movies.

The announcement of the prizes comes ahead of a Hollywood-style gala ceremony later on Saturday, where a seven-member jury headed up by three-time Oscar-winner Meryl Streep will hand out the festival's top prizes, among them the Golden Bear for Best Picture.

Alongside Cannes and Venice, the Berlinale is one of the world's top film festivals. With a program featuring 434 movies this year, it also claims to be the world's biggest.

A batch of movies has emerged as frontrunners for the Berlinale's awards, including a documentary from Italian director Gianfranco Rosi's Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea), which was part of a series of films screened at the Berlinale that focused on the plight of migrants around the world. A win for Rosi on Saturday night would represent the first time that a documentary has been awarded a Golden Bear in the Berlinale's 66-year history.

In addition to the festival's Golden Bear, the jury also hands out awards for best acting performances, prizes for best director as well as best screenplay and cinematography.

Another one of the film critics' 2016 favorites is a romantic drama, Hedi, from Tunis-born director Mohamed Ben Attia about a young man torn between a traditional and a modern way of life.

U.S. director Jeff Nichols' science-fiction thriller Midnight Special also won plaudits from festivalgoers.

The festival included several strong acting performances. Leading French actress Isabelle Huppert starred as a woman facing up to onset of old age after the shock breakup of her marriage in French director Mia Hansen-Love's fifth feature L'avenir (Things to Come). The other French film in the race for this year's Golden Bear was Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17) from veteran director Andre Techine, who has a film career dating back to the 1960s. One of the stars of the film, French actress Sandrine Kiberlain, was seen by festivalgoers as also one of the many commendable female acting performances in the Berlinale.

Oscar-winner Colin Firth was also praised by critics in Berlin for his role as the legendary New York literary agent Maxwell Perkins in British director Michael Grandage's Genius.