The Ecumenical Jury at Switzerland's Locarno Film Festival awarded its prize this year to the film "Sibel," directed by Guillaume Giovanetti and Çağla Zencirci.
The Ecumenical Jury is appointed by Interfilm, an international interchurch film organization, and Signis, a worldwide association of Catholic communicators.
Founded in 1946, Locarno is one of the longest-running film festivals, known also for being a prestigious platform for art house films and this year it ran from August 7-17.
The festival screens films in various competitive and non-competitive sections, including feature-length narrative and documentary, short, avant-garde, and retrospective programs.
The Piazza Grande section is held in one of the world's largest open-air screening venues, seating 8,000 spectators, in the picturesque Swiss town in the Italian-speaking region.
The film tells the story of a young woman who lives in a community in the Black Sea region of Turkey, which preserves an ancestral whistling language and rituals.
Marginalized by society because of her muteness, Sibel spends most of the time in the forest, where she is seeking the freedom she is unable to find in the village.
Her love encounter with a mysterious fugitive starts a process of emancipation through which she discovers herself as a woman.
The movie creates a powerful image of a character who, by challenging patriarchal structures, becomes an example of dignity for the other women in the community.
"By depicting a woman overcoming challenges in physical, societal and spiritual realms, this film serves as an inspiration for women and for those who advocate for gender justice across the world," said Marianne Ejdersten, World Council of Churches director of Communication.
"The film industry is vital in creatively portraying the need to protect the human rights of all."
In addition, the jury awarded commendations to the film "Diane," directed by Kent Jones, and to "A Land Imagined," directed by Yeo Siew Hua.
"Diane," takes the audience on a woman's spiritual journey, which includes self-sacrifice in the service of others and highlights the tension between guilt and forgiveness.
"A Land Imagined" critically explores slavery in contemporary society, showcasing the plight of foreign workers in Singapore.
The prize is endowed with 20.000 Swiss francs by the Reformed Churches and the Catholic Church of Switzerland, and bound to the theatrical distribution of the film.
The 71st International Film Festival in Locarno, now called "Locarno Festival," opened on August 1.
It was the last festival year under the artistic direction of Carlo Chatrian, who has been appointed to succeed Dieter Kosslick in Berlin.
FESTIVAL OF DISCOVERIES
Locarno is a "festival of discoveries" and the international competition especially screens first and second films by young directors.
Next to it is the more popular program of the Piazza Grande with discoveries of other festivals, such as the new film by Spike Lee, "BlacKkKlansman", which was honoured in Cannes with a Commendation by the ecumenical jury.
Sibel, played by Damla Sönmez, has been mute since the age of 5 and communicates using the whistled language of her ancestors, wrote Screen Daily.
Her father Emin (Emin Gürsoy) is one of the few who can still understand her in the remote village where they live, nestled in the Black Sea mountains of Turkey.
It is an area of natural, rugged beauty that cinematographer Eric Devin captures in the bright glare of sunlight.
It also an area that seems stubbornly wedded to a past ruled by superstition, patriarchal values and adherence to a code of family honor regardless of the consequences for individuals.
Screen Daily's Allan Hunter says there are definite fairytale elements in Sibel.
A big bad wolf keeps everyone in fear. Sibel's domestic life makes her the Cinderella of the family and her spiteful sister Fatma (Elit Iscan) could just as easily be a wicked step sister.
"Her Prince Charming arrives in the shape of Ali (Erkan Kolçak Köstendil), an injured fugitive from justice. Her acts of defiance to protect and care for Ali put her on a collision course with her father, the local mayor, but also become the means by which she can express her independence," writes Hunter.
A tight, focused piece of storytelling, Sibel is impressive in the way it also embraces the journeys of the other characters. Sibel's newfound defiance and confidence in herself also changes her sister and allows her father to actively embrace a more modern view of the world.
"The film's ace is Damla Sönmez, who is fiercely committed to the role. Her blazing eyes speak volumes about her sense of injustice and her use of the whistled language throughout seems natural and effortless. It is impossible not to identify with her and want to fight her corner," says Hunter.
During its long history, the Locarno Festival has welcomes stars as Marlene Dietrich, Jean-Luc Godard, Quentin Tarantino, Susan Sarandon, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Juliette Binoche, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Adrien Brody.