Sebastian Meise’s “Great Freedom,” a prison drama about a gay man repeatedly incarcerated under a draconian law outlawing homosexuality in West Germany, won the award for best feature film at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

The Austrian director took home the Heart of Sarajevo at Thursday night’s ceremony, while leading man Georg Friedrich won the award for best actor for a film that won the runner-up prize in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard sidebar. The prizes were handed out by a jury led by Serbian actress Jasna Đuričić and including American writer-director Mike Cahill, Hungarian director Lili Horvát, Vienna Film Festival artistic director Eva Sangiorgi, and Austrian Film Commission executive director Martin Schweighofer.

Serbia’s Milica Tomović was named best director for “Celts,” which follows three generations who converge at a child’s birthday party against the backdrop of the former Yugoslavia’s painful breakup. The trio of Flaka Latifi, Era Balaj, and Urate Shabani, meanwhile, won the best actress award, sharing the honors for their performances in Luàna Bajrami’s “The Hill Where Lionesses Roar,” about three young and spirited women on a search for independence.

Marta Popivoda won the Heart of Sarajevo Award for best documentary feature for “Landscapes of Resistance,” a film that follows a 97-year-old antifascist fighter who was one of the first female partisans in Yugoslavia and a member of the resistance in Auschwitz. A Special Jury Award was given to Stefan Pavlović’s “Looking for Horses,” while Vlad Petri’s “The Same Dream” earned a Special Jury Mention.

The Human Rights Award for the best documentary feature dealing with the subject of human rights went to “Les Enfants Terrible,” by Ahmet Necdet Çupur. The Special Award for Promoting Gender Equality, which was handed out for the first time this year, went to “Looking for Venera,” by Norika Sefa.

Earlier in the evening, the CineLink Co-Production Market handed out its awards, with the Eurimages Co-Production Development Award in the amount of €20,000 ($23,400) going to Serbia’s Marko Grba Singh for “Forget the Ocean, Why Not Try Surfing These Insane River Waves.” The full list of industry awards can be found below.

The 17th Docu Talent Award for the most promising Central and East European documentary in post-production, which is accompanied by a $5,000 cash prize, went to the Russian project “Freedom Squared,” directed by Anastasia Zverkova. The award is bestowed by Ji.hlava Intl. Documentary Film Festival, but announced at Sarajevo.

The awards ceremony capped a festive week in the Bosnian capital, a year after the coronavirus pandemic forced the organizers to scrap their plans for a physical event just days before opening night.

“We’re back. Cinema is back. Life is back,” festival founder and co-director Mirsad Purivatra told Variety on the eve of the award ceremony, at an intimate lunch celebrating honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award winner Michel Franco. “It’s the same feeling I had after the war. Everyone is so enthusiastic to be here.”

This year’s festival was the first event of its kind in Bosnia requiring attendees to show either proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test, or proof of recovery from COVID. Temperature checks were conducted outside cinemas, where overall seating capacity was reduced to 45% across all venues, and attendants were on-hand with spray bottles of hand sanitizer and disposable masks for those who needed them.

Such measures didn’t appear to sour the mood. “I was surprised with the ease that people accepted these rules, which are obviously an obstacle to attendance,” said festival co-director Jovan Marjanović. “Obviously, this will not be a year that can be easily compared to 2019…which was really a record year for us. But we had more screenings, we had more venues. So maybe that can compensate for some of the reductions [in attendance].” He added: “Under the circumstances, it was great.”

This year’s edition was going to have a different look and feel out of necessity, with a significant portion of the CineLink Industry Days program taking place online. Events throughout the week ran smoothly, with the organizers opting to add three additional dates in September to facilitate online meetings for participants who were unable to take part in this week’s hybrid event.

But despite the success of the online platform, Marjanović said this year’s festival was a resounding endorsement of the in-person experience.

“What we learned is that without coming together, without filmmakers meeting their audience, meeting each other, without the festival atmosphere, it really doesn’t make sense making a festival solely online,” he said. “There’s a lot of thirst to meet the audience and meet each other.”

Here is the complete list of award winners from this year’s Sarajevo Film Festival:

Heart of Sarajevo Awards:

Best Feature Film: “Great Freedom,” by Sebastian Meise

Best Director: Milica Tomović (“Celts”)

Best Actress: Flaka Latifi, Era Balaj, Urate Shabani (“The Hill Where Lionesses Roar”)

Best Actor: Georg Friedrich (“Great Freedom”)

Best Documentary Film: “Landscapes of Resistance,” by Marta Popivoda

Special Jury Award: “Looking for Horses,” by Stefan Pavlović

Special Jury Mention: “The Same Dream,” by Vlad Petri

Human Rights Award: “Les Enfants Terribles,” by Ahmet Necdet Çupur

Best Short Film: “Everything Ahead,” by Mate Ugrin

Special Jury Mention: “Displaced,” by Samir Karahoda

Best Student Film: “Summer Planning,” by Alexandru Mironescu

Special Award for Promoting Gender Equality: “Looking for Venera,” by Norika Sefa

Special Jury Mention: “Playground,” by Laura Wandel

Heart of Sarajevo TV Awards:

Best Drama Series: “The Family”

Best Comedy: “Big Perica’s Diary”

Best Series Creator: Bojan Vuletić (“The Family”)

Best Actor: Boris Isaković (“The Family”)

Best Actress: Jasna Đuričić (“The Group”)

Rising Star: Ivana Zečević (“The Group”)

CineLink Co-Production Market Awards:

Eurimages Co-Production Development Award: “Forget the Ocean, Why Not Try Surfing These Insane River Waves,” by Marko Grba Singh

ArteKino International Prize: “Lust,” by Ralitza Petrova

Film Center Serbia Award: “Vanja,” by Aleksandra Odić

Film Center Montenegro Award: “Hesitation Wound,” by Selman Nacar

Special Mention: “Lunatic,” by Igor Šterk

CineLink Works-in-Progress Awards:

TRT Award: “A Ballad,” by Aida Begić

Post Republic Award: “The Taste of Apples is Red,” by Ehab Tarabieh

CineLink Iridium Nagrada: “Citizen Saint,” by Tinatin Kajrishvili

CineLink Drama Awards:

Croatian Audiovisual Center Drama Award: “Hooked” (Romania)

TV Drama Vision Pitch Nagrada: “Jinx” (Croatia)

Docu Talent Award:
“Freedom Squared” (Russia), by Anastasia Zverkova