CIVIS Media Prize 2023
Wow Feelings in the „Chapel“
The location is called “chapel”, and a special vintage is on offer. The mood, no wonder, is splendid. CIVIS is celebrating an anniversary. For the 35th time, the European Media Prize for Integration and Cultural Diversity is awarded. And in appropriate fashion. In what you could call full Berlin evening regalia, including the licence to rub shoulders with around 300 fellow guests. Not, as during the Corona regime, reduced to an afternoon studio format and the obligation to keep one’s distance.
For the first time in four years, the CIVIS community is once again gathered in full size, alive and kicking. The setting is the imposing Gründerzeit building of the erstwhile Carl Bolle dairy in Berlin-Moabit. From here, “Bimmel-Bolle” sent his horse carts with fresh milk on their delivery tour of the city. Tonight, the dark brick red walls of the “Kapelle” provide a festive ambience to the CIVIS extravaganza.
“75 minutes in which you will see and hear incredibly good films, very special audio pieces and quite fantastic authors,” promises moderator Natalie Amiri. It is the short-list selection from nearly 900 applications for one of the coveted CIVIS prizes. They came from 22 EU countries and Switzerland. Several selection committees and juries spent weeks meticulously sifting through the submissions from radio, television and the Internet, choosing the very best among the many good ones and nominating them for the final round.
Every adult should see this film!
They are all about the core concern of CIVIS: the coexistence of people of different origins and backgrounds. They are about mutual respect but also about the experience of mutual enrichment and the willingness to engage in new things. Amiri: “Whether that works depends on how people see each other. And how people see each other depends decisively on how they are presented on television, radio, Internet or cinema.” The result is not always a positive picture, which is why CIVIS is so necessary. It is needed “because the media industry tends to report in a polarizing and sometimes generalizing manner about concerns of the immigration society”, says Christiane von Websky from the CIVIS partner Stiftung Mercator in her video greeting.
CIVIS – i.e. the large field of applicants for the media prize – shows that it is possible to be different: precise instead of woolly, empathetic instead of discriminatory, encouraging instead of degrading.
In other words: Being there is worth it. “CIVIS is not to be missed because here, socially relevant topics are explained, sorted out and presented in an outstanding way,” states Friederike Behrends, Chairwoman of the Management Board of the Deutsche Postcode Lottery, which has become a partner of the CIVIS Media Foundation this year, same as the Open Society Foundations, another new addition to the circle of friends and sponsors. Deutsche Welle, with its director Peter Limbourg, has been a member for a long time. “My message to the nominees is: “Be happy because you are part of CIVIS!” The call visibly meets with general readiness to follow the advice.
The first winner of the evening has been chosen by the audience: David Wnendt and Fabian Gasmia receive the CIVIS CINEMA AWARD for their film “Sun and Concrete”, an adaptation of Felix Lobrecht’s novel of the same title. It is the story of three boys having a rough time in Berlin’s Gropiusstadt 20 years ago..
In the first six weeks alone, more than a million people have seen the film. Some recognised themselves in it. A girl from a hostel in Stuttgart has written to the makers: “It’s exactly like that, our life is exactly the same. When you go out – there is violence and aggression all over the place. There is no peace anywhere and not a single kind word. I wish every adult would see this film!”
At the party, producer Fabian Gasmia also has a piece of advice to offer – not entirely serious – that he owes to his dad, a native Algerian. What do you do to avoid being racially harassed at German motorway service stations? Carry a Bild newspaper under your arm … if only that were a joke.
The award winner in the VIDEO Information category has targeted one of the CIVIS key themes, which is again the focus of many of productions submitted this year: Flight and its consequences. In the arte production “Last Refuge – The House at the Gate to the Sahara”, Ousmane Samassékou reports from the ‘House of Migrants’ in the Malian city of Gao. On the hopes of those setting out on the perilous route to Europe or North African countries, and on the despair of those who have tried and failed.
For two years, Samassékou has followed the life and suffering in the migrant house. “CIVIS takes patience and time to look at the topics more intensively,” says Stefan Raue, Director-General of Deutschlandradio, in the Friends and Sponsors’ interlude. The result is, in the words of the CIVIS jury, “a masterpiece about people on the move, on the southern edge of the Sahara, about their dreams and traumas … Anyone who has seen this film will delete the term ‘illegals’ in connection with refugees from their vocabulary.”
Ousmane is beaming. He thanks in English and French and is “extremely happy to be here”. Does he have an opinion on the European Union’s current efforts to further tighten its border regime? “There’s a danger of trying everything to keep people out, who continue to risk their lives … For me, it’s a decision for people themselves whether to go or come back.”
The award for best podcast has also been awarded by public voting, on a proposal of five choices by the CIVIS Audio jury. In “Among Almans,” a production for Radio BremenICOSMO, host Salwa Houmsi interviews entertainer Parshad Esmaeili, who explains how the Hanau attack has changed her life. A racist assassin shot nine people there in 2020, then himself and his mother. The father of Hamza, who was killed, is quoted as saying, “No matter what I do, I will never be properly recognized as a German.” “So what needs to change?”, Natalie asks the award-winning team of producers and writers. “Incredibly much,” says Isabelle Werner, adding that detailing the necessary changes in politics would go beyond the scope of this event. But “the CIVIS Media Prize is already a step in the right direction – that we are sitting here, that we recognize that these are issues we have to talk about!”
A Sign of Darker Times
Which is why it is perhaps no coincidence but a sign of the times that in this year’s output it was the more somber, dark stories that particularly impressed the audience and the juries. Not a reason to be cheerful, for sure, but rather a question of honesty. Because “a problem at one end of the world can be felt everywhere, including here. And thus, CIVIS gives us a compass – for decades now – of how to deal with it,” notes WDR Director-General Tom Buhrow, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the CIVIS Media Foundation. His CIVIS main partner Andreas Freudenberg, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Freudenberg Foundation, agrees: “If these stories are not told, we will remain blind or short-sighted.”
Media people under 34 can apply for the YOUNG C. AWARD. This year’s winner is “Border Conversations” by director Jonathan Brunner, who is following the ceremony livestreamed tfrom Tel Aviv. His film centers on the desperate efforts of two Polish activists, Karolina and Kornelia, to help refugees on the border with Belarus. The jury recognizes in the piece “a borderline experience in the double sense and a powerful portrayal of the everyday scandal called pushback.”
“Border Conversations” is therefore one of the “stories that otherwise remain in the dark,” as Minu Barati-Fischer from the Producers Alliance says in her welcoming address. In order for this not to happen, “a great deal of courage and perseverance” is needed. Courageous persistence is the trademark of a WDR journalist who receives a special award in this anniversary year. Isabel Schayani, head of WDRforyou, is being honored “for her many years of outstanding and sustained reporting on the topic of flight and asylum,” according to the CIVIS VIDEO JURY’s statement. “She has made her personal concern for the fate of refugees the concern of the public at large… It is impossible not to become smarter from Schayani’s contributions.” That’s followed by a particularly warm round of applause – there are many in the audience who can attest to it.
Schayani can’t accept the award in person,. She is – no surprise – on assignment. This time in Ukraine, from where more disturbing news arrives. She thanks the WDRforyou team and CIVIS in a video message “for addressing this humanity issue of migration and flight – it really gives me strength!” When she’s back, says Natalie Amiri, she’ll come by with the prize stele, “and then we’ll also cook Persian food together again.”
Suspense and Awareness
In der Kategorie VIDEO Unterhaltung siegt ein Film, der zeigt, wie man mit Spannung Problembewusstsein schaffen kann: die Auftaktfolge der schwedischen Dramaserie „The Lost“. Autor Ulf Ryberg erzählt das Schicksal einer Gruppe von Flüchtlingen, die es im Inneren eines Tanklasters über die Grenze nach Schweden schaffen, bevor ihnen der Trucker aus Versehen die Luftzufuhr abdreht. „Enorme Sogkraft“, findet die Jury, „atemberaubend gut gespielt!“.
The subject is the same, the form completely different: In the SRF production “Flucht aus der Ukraine – Achterbahn der Gefühle,” author Roman Fillinger portrays war refugees torn between the desire to fully arrive in their new surroundings and the grief over the loss of their homeland. “The result of extensive research is brought to the point in a short format,” praises the jury. For this, the prize in the category AUDIO Short Programs is awarded.
This is followed by an entry of particularly stunning formal features: “Mohamed” by Katz Laszlo and Mohamed Bah, winner in the Social Media category. The title character from Guinea recounts his depressing experiences as an asylum seeker with the bureaucracy in Amsterdam in a video that is as smart as it is touching. The “magical visualization” allows a young audience in particular access to an extremely tough subject, according to the jury’s verdict. Thus “Mohamed” is a prime example of what SRG SSR Director Bakel Walden of the Friends and Supporters group values so highly in CIVIS: “I myself have learned through CIVIS that there are an incredible number of touching, funny and sometimes off-beat stories being told by new, creative voices.”
The CIVIS jury experienced a particular embarrassment of riches in face of the top-class candidates for the AUDIO Lange Programme section. As the winner, Natalie Amiri finally pulls out of the envelope: “Welcome Home Dr. Marco – Search for Identity between Karl-Marx-Stadt and Kenya”. Author Ute Lieschke from Deutschlandradio has followed Dr. Marco, a POC anaesthesiologist who grew up in the GDR and is prompted by his daughters to investigate his own origins.
It is, explains the jury, “the emotional and exciting story of three generations … The piece tells a lot about whites and blacks – and how absurd it is to racialize people.” It is thus entirely in line with the CIVIS mission, “to stand up against anti-democratic tendencies and racism in our society,” according to ORF Director General Roland Weißmann .
Presenter Natalie is also deeply touched, or , as she puts it, “shock infatuated”. That feeling becomes doubly plausible when you hear Lieschke on the genesis of her piece. As author, she had originally planned to add scripted elements of her own. Until an editor told her, “The piece will also work if we leave out your texts!” – not exactly an easy one to swallow.
Once again, the highlight of the gala is the Prize of Prizes: The CIVIS TOP AWARD, worth 15,000 euros, is given as an additional award to one of the category winners. Natalie, envelope in hand, takes her time for a 360-degree spin…. And then there is the longest applause of the evening, for the most happy man Ousmane Samassékou. Not having expected the award one bit, his acceptance speech consists mostly of the word “Wow!” And is finally followed by a very appropriate closing remark, “I think everyone here is somehow a winner!”
Header: WDR/ Dirk Borm
Photos: CIVIS/ Oliver Ziebe; WDR/ Thomas Kierok; CIVIS/ Bernhard Ludewig