Das leere Grab

The Empty Grave
Songea, Tanzania. John Mbano is on a mission to find the human remains of his great-grandfather, Songea Mbano, who was executed by the German colonial army. The family’s mourning has been passed down through the generations at Songea’s grave in which his head never found a resting place. Instead, it was shipped to Germany for racist research. John and his wife Cesilia embark on a life-changing journey. Buoyed by their resilience as they research, they finally decide to travel to Berlin to find the remains of John’s ancestor. There, they encounter activists whose voices are fighting Germany’s culture of denial. Along with them, the Mbanos confront those in power with their need to bring their ancestor home. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of new hopes and familiar disappointments. Even the historic visit of the German Federal President to John’s hometown fails to bring the beloved ancestor back home. The family’s search continues.
Das leere Grab offers a personal perspective: behind the global debate about the return of ancestral remains, we find real people. People violated by a colonial past and its aftermath to this day. Their struggle paves a way to a future disentangled from a painful past.
by Agnes Lisa Wegner, Cece Mlay
with John Mbano, Cesilia Mollel, Felix Kaaya, Ernest Kaaya, Mnyaka Sururu Mboro
Germany / Tanzania 2024 Swahili, German, English 97’ Colour World premiere | Debut film | Documentary form


  • John Mbano
  • Cesilia Mollel
  • Felix Kaaya
  • Ernest Kaaya
  • Mnyaka Sururu Mboro


Directors Agnes Lisa Wegner, Cece Mlay
Screenplay Agnes Lisa Wegner, Cece Mlay
Cinematography Marcus Winterbauer
Editing Donni Schoenemond
Music Hannah von Hübbenet
Sound Design Oliver Stahn
Sound Oliver Stahn
Producers Christoph Holthof, Daniel Reich, Amil Shivji, Luna Selle
Commissioning Editor Sara Günter
Co-Production Kijiweni Productions Daressalam
ZDF Mainz

Agnes Lisa Wegner

After taking degrees in American studies and film sciences in Berlin and African-American studies at Harvard University, she worked for several years in non-governmental organisations in Germany. In 2013, she began to work as a freelance writer and filmmaker. Since then, she has written and directed a number of films that have screened in international festivals as well as on German public television and Netflix Europe. Her award-winning documentaries foreground an intense engagement with topics including discrimination, racism, human rights and solidarity.

Filmography (documentaries)

2014 Goodbye G.I.; co-director: Uli Gaulke 2015 Amanda und das Land am Ende der Straße (Amanda and the Country at the End of the Street); short film 2018 Und jetzt sind wir hier (And Now We Are Here); series · No Fucking Ice Cream 2019 Das Mädchen mit den langen Haaren (The Girl with the Long Hair); short film · Sunset over Hollywood; co-director: Uli Gaulke 2020 König Bansah und seine Tochter (King Bansah and His Daughter) 2024 Das leere Grab (The Empty Grave); co-director: Cece Mlay

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2024

Cece Mlay

The filmmaker comes from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and is currently working as an assistant director and creative supervisor at Kijiweni Productions. Her work ranges from mentoring young filmmakers in Tanzania to film production and exhibition. She has collaborated with artists from various disciplines and backgrounds on projects produced both by Tanzanian and international filmmakers which take a critical and honest look at social, political and historical issues. Das leere Grab, co-directed with Agnes Lisa Wegner, is her debut feature film as a director.


2023 Apostles of Cinema; short film, co-directors: Darragh Amelia, Gertrude Malizana, Jesse Gerard Mpango 2024 Das leere Grab (The Empty Grave); co-director: Agnes Lisa Wegner

Bio- & filmography as of Berlinale 2024