29th September 2023
Sofía Otero receiving her award.
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Spanish girl, aged 8, wins top acting award at Berlinale film festival

The Berlinale Film Festival has awarded its best acting award to an eight-year-old Spanish girl, Sofía Otero, for her performance in 20,000 Species of Bees, the youngest person ever to win the prize.

The young actress from Basauri in the Basque Country fought back the tears as she thanked the team behind 20,000 Species of Bees, the feature debut from Spanish director Estíbaliz Urresola Solaguren.

Otero won the prize for playing a transgender child, even though in real life she is not, something the director received some criticism for.

Selected among a pool of 500 children, Otero had no previous acting experience. But now her name will feature alongside that of other Silver Bear winners of the calibre of Michelle Pfeiffer, Nicole Kidman or Meryl Streep.

Critics have lavished praise on the film. Screen Daily, for one, predicted that ‘arthouse audiences worldwide should respond to the pathos, breadth and humanity of a film that takes a while to build but, when it does, never loses its grip’.

The Golden Bear top prize went to documentary On the Adamant by French director Nicolas Philibert. This comes more than 20 years after Philibert’s acclaimed education documentary To Be and To Have, is about a floating day-care centre for people with psychiatric problems on the Seine in Paris.

Thanking the jury, Philibert, 72, said ‘that documentary can be considered to be cinema in its own right touches me deeply’.

Hollywood actress Kirsten Stewart, at 32 the youngest president in the festival’s history, said the jury had been asking themselves all week ‘what makes a movie a movie’.

They had set aside ‘invisible parameters’ in awarding the Golden Bear, she said, because ‘when you focus too much on what something is you tend to lose track of what it does’.

‘This is a boundary-pushing festival and so it offers us the opportunity to be expansive in how we define those things, how we value works of art, how we categorise them,’ she said.

There was more success for France as Philippe Garrel, 74, won the Silver Bear for best director for The Plough, a drama about three siblings from a family of puppeteers coping with the death of their father.

After two years of a reduced format due to pandemic restrictions, the 11-day Berlinale got back in full swing this year, with A-listers such as Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren and Steven Spielberg walking the red carpet.

The festival, which ranks alongside Cannes and Venice as one of Europe’s top cinema showcases, also marked the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and highlighted anti-government protests in Iran with new feature films and documentaries.

There were 19 films from around the world vying for this year’s Golden Bear, which was awarded at a gala ceremony by a jury led by Stewart.

Sofía Otero receiving her award.
Sofía Otero receiving her award. (Richard Hübner / Berlinale 2023)

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