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Migrant island documentary "Fire at Sea" wins at Berlin International Film Festival

"Fire at Sea," a documentary about Lampedusa, an Italian island that is many migrants' first destination on risky journeys toward safety and a better life in Europe, won the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin International Film Festival.

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Director Gianfranco Rosi poses with the Golden Bear award for the Best Film for the movie 'Fuocoammare' (Fire at Sea) after the awards ceremony at the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, February 20, 2016. "Fire at Sea" is a documentary about Lampedusa, an Italian island that is many migrants' first destination on risky journeys toward safety and a better life in Europe.

Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

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"Fire at Sea," a documentary about the Italian island of Lampedusa — many migrants' first destination on risky journeys toward safety and a better life in Europe — won the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday.

A jury headed by Meryl Streep chose director Gianfranco Rosi's movie from a field of 18 contenders at the first of the year's major European film festivals.

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In "a year of thrillingly diverse films, the jury was swept away by the compassionate outrage of one in particular," Streep said.

"It's a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do," she said. "It is urgent, imaginative and necessary filmmaking."

Rosi contrasts the native islanders' everyday life with the arrival of the many men, women and children making the dangerous trip from Africa across the Mediterranean Sea on decrepit smugglers' boats. Many of the migrants drown on the perilous passage to Europe, their dead bodies often pulled out of the water around Lampedusa.

"It's not acceptable that people die crossing the sea to escape from tragedies," Rosi said.

Danis Tanovic's "Death in Sarajevo" won the festival's grand jury prize, which comes with a Silver Bear statuette.

Mia Hansen-Loeve of France was named best director for "Things to Come."

Best actor was Majd Mastoura for his role in Tunisian director Mohamed Ben Attia's "Hedi," and Trine Dyrholm was honored as best actress for her part in Danish director Thomas Vinterberg's "The Commune."