The film, writer and director Feo Aladag's first full-length feature, tells the story of a young Turkish-German woman called Umay, played by actress Sibel Kekilli, who struggles against the will of her traditional Muslim family to escape an abusive relationship.
“'When We Leave' examines one woman's struggle for personal freedom. It's a theme that is often explored – but rarely told with such humanity, subtlety, craftsmanship or immediacy, as in tonight's winning entry,” the jury said in a statement. “The result is a film that balances complex social issues with honest human yearnings.”
The jury also lauded actress Kekilli, who first gained attention for her performance in Fatih Akin's award-winning 2004 film “Gegen die Wand,” or “Head-On,” for her “brilliant” performance.
“By turns this actress was joy and sorrow, and love and hope, a woman both strong enough to stand against generations of Muslim traditions and vulnerable enough to express the pain of a daughter cast aside by all who have loved her,” the statement said.
This year's festival included 85 features and 47 short films from 38 countries. The event was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 following the attacks on the World Trade Center with the aim of encouraging economic and cultural development in the lower Manhattan district.