Muslims in our society was a prominent theme at this year’s Berlinale. Two films portrayed Muslims in today’s Berlin, each in its own yet very much related way, one fictitious, one real. Berinale competition entry FAITH (SHAHADA, 2010) by Afghan-German filmmaker Burhan Qurbani elegantly weaves together the stories of three young Muslims living in Berlin – all at a crossroads of their lives and forced to make grave decisions about their future. Maryram (Maryam Zaree) is a young Turkish women raised in Germany who struggles to come to terms with her recent abortion; Turkish police officer Ismael (Carlo Ljubek), is haunted by a murder he accidentally committed with his weapon and Nigerian worker Samir (Jeremias Acheampong) does not know how to deal with his love for co-worker and friend Daniel (Sergej Moya ).
The three characters and their stories meet, develop, and depart at the local mosque, run by Myriam’s father, Vedat, a progressive and open minded Imam (Vedat Erincin). Interesting, and rather unexpectedly in Qurbani and Ole Giec’s script, is that in times of crisis the younger generation turns towards traditional values and away from their modern ways of life, instead of the older generation. Quite fittingly, the original title of the movie, SHAHADA, refers to the first of the five pillars of Islam – the profession of faith.
Produced by Pepe Danquewart’s production company BITTERSWEET PICTURES out of Berlin, Qurbani’s impressive debut work is well constructed, fittingly cast, and features striking cinematography by Yoshi Heimrath. The Guild of German Art House Cinemas confirmed Qurbani and his work and awarded FAITH with the Prize of the Guild during this Berlinale edition.
Another noteworthy film dealing with immigration in Berlin is the documentary NEUKOELLN UNLIMITED by Agostino Imondi and Dietmar Rasch, premiering in the Generation section of this years Berlinale.
Filmmakers Agostino Imondi and Dietmar Rasch’s portrait of the Lebanese immigrants, the siblings Lial, Hassan and Maradonna Akkouch, who live in the borough of Berlin-Neukoelln together with their brothers and sisters, all raised by their single mother. The three are talented performers: Lial is a singer in a girl band, Maradona a gifted hip hop dancer, and Hassan produces his own music and performs with a number of dance groups in Berlin and across Europe.
Over the course of a year, Agostino and Rasch accompany the three around Berlin and beyond, and it is most inspiring to witness how these three most charismatic protagonists try to keep their family together and fight against another deportation.
To visualize the backstory of what happened prior to Agostino and Rasch’s filming, the filmmakers creatively use a longer animation sequence to illustrate Hassan’s memories of their temporary deportation to Lebanon some years ago.
Fearing another permanent deportation is omnipresent in the lives of this family – and a constant concern for all of them. Therefore a good education, steady income and as little conflict with the authorities as possible is what guides Hassan and Lial’s lives, whereas Maradona’s erratic school performance and his provocative street-life create a lot of tension and anxiety for the family.
However, besides offering an intimate insight into the day-to-day struggles of an immigrant family, the film also captures some most uplifting and exciting moments, when the three siblings are at work – dancing, singing, and performing. They are truly talented, as the documentary shows.
And so this year’s Berlinale GENERATION Jury awarded the filmmakers of NEUKOELLN UNLIMITED with the Crystal Bear for “making an exhilarating movie about the simple life of an extraordinary family”.