Berlin Bear Winner Forced to Seek Asylum
BERLIN – Nazif Mujic was the toast of the Berlin festival last year, winning the Silver Bear for Danis Tanovic's An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker. A year on, the Romani man from Bosnia is back in the German capital, this time seeking asylum for himself and his family.
A nonprofessional actor, Mujic played himself in Tanovic's drama, which recounts his real-life struggles as a scrap-iron collector whose wife suffered a miscarriage. When the family tried to seek medical help, there were turned away from Bosnian hospitals because of being Roma.
Iron Picker won two Silver Bears at the 2013 Berlinale, one for Mujic as best actor and one for the film itself. The film also made the Oscar long list in the best foreign language category.
But when Mujic returned to Bosnia, he was ostracized. His former colleges, reportedly convinced he was a big star, pushed him out of his old job and he was reduced to collecting garbage before a back injury forced him to leave that job as well. His family was so poor, "we couldn't even buy food," Mujic told assembled journalists at a press conference on Friday. That's when he decided to return to Berlin. Germany rejected his asylum application but the Berlinale has stepped in to help, taking up a collection to pay for an immigration lawyer and inviting the entire family to attend this year's festival. Mujic's lawyer has filed a petition to grant him residency status, which is currently under review.
For humanitarian reasons, the German government will not deport Mujic and his family until after the Bosnian winter.
"I don't want to be rich. I just want an ordinary job, a chance to feed my family," Mujic said. "I would give them my Silver Bear. If that is what it costs to be able to stay."
The Berlin festival said it has been inundated with offers to help – and several job offers for Mujic – since his plight became known. For the moment he's going through the surreal experience of getting the red-carpet treatment during the day before returning to a refugee shelter to sleep.
"The opening night gala was amazing; I felt like I was walking on clouds," Mujic said, recalling last night's premiere of Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. But his mood soon darkened. If his petition for residency is rejected, Mujic said he will seek asylum in other European countries. But he vows never to return to Bosnia.
"Bosnia betrayed me," he said. "I will not go back. I would rather hang myself."