TIFF at pandemic time focuses on human understanding

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Charge de Affairs of the Kosovan embassy in Tokyo Receiving the Grand Prix award from Isabelle Huppert on behalf of the director. Photo: TIFF 2021

A poetic expression centered on the lonely struggle of a widow in the backdrop of crime and violence rampant in newly independent states of Eastern Europe is what had been portrayed in the film that has been selected by the jury as the winner of this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF). The film “Vera Dreams of the Sea” is in short, the tragic turn out in the life of Vera, a middle-aged widow encountering strange twist of fate who the director of the film Katrina Krasniqi termed as a collateral damage of a turbulent time. Through the story of this particular widow, director of the film intended to depict the fate of all those who suddenly and unwillingly had to encounter a merciless society entangled in rampant corruption. The Albanian language film produced in Kosovo, a breakaway republic of former Yugoslavia, is a joint production of two other regional countries - North Macedonia and Albania; and at the just concluded 34th Tokyo International Film Festival the film has been chosen by the jury as the recipient of the highest Grand Prix award.

This year’s festival was the 34th yearly event of TIFF that started back in 1985 and is considered these days to be among the most prestigious film festivals in Asian continent. For a consecutive second year the festival had the misfortune of missing the crowded atmosphere of festivity as it was held amid still lingering COVID-19 pandemic; a situation that forced organizers to take necessary precautionary measures, resulting, as a result, in scaling down the scope of the whole event. This year’s arrangement, like the one in 2020, was a hybrid presentation where online events were held side by side with the real ones that allowed physical presence of the audience. Moreover, the participation of foreign guests and dignitaries too had to be scaled down significantly and most of the directors and film makers whose works were selected as competition entries in various groups had to make their appearances online.

Despite this drawback, the festival could attract significant number of entries from both Japan and overseas. A total 1,533 entries from 113 countries and territories were submitted for the 34th festival and out of which 15 were selected for the main competition. In addition, 10 more films from Asian countries were also chosen for the Asian Future group, a separate competition section designed to encourage young Asian film makers. One of the preconditions for joining in this group is that, it is open only to directors who until now have made no more than three films. Many of those competitive entries of both the groups also had their world or Asian premiere at TIFF.

The closing ceremony of this year’s festival was held in Tokyo on Monday, November 8. The event was watched not only by guests and participants gathering at the event hall, but also by the audience worldwide as video live streaming allowed people elsewhere to view the closing ceremony virtually. The closing session was addressed among others by the head of the five-member International Competition Jury, the renowned French actress Isabelle Huppert. First to speak at the closing event was TIFF Chairman Hiroyasu Ando, who expressed satisfaction over the reaction of the audience about participating films. Ando underlined that most of the films shown at various venues during the festival were well received by Tokyo audience. He also expressed satisfaction as the new location of the festival venue turned out to be lively despite the ongoing cautious public attitude due to the pandemic. This year’s festival was held at a number of locations in and around Tokyo’s Ginza/Yurakucho area which is well-known as a traditional film-town of the Japanese capital.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, who was supposed to brace the occasion as a distinguished guest, could not join the event due to an urgent call and instead had sent a written message that was read out by the Deputy Governor. In her message Koike reiterated that through this film festival Tokyo will further enhance the power of art and culture in fostering mutual understanding. Koike’s statement was followed by the announcement of winners in various categories.

Beside the Grand Prix and Asian Future prize, TIFF also has a number of other awards, including the awards for best director, best artistic contribution, as well as for the best actor and the best actress. The best director’s award went to the film director from Kazakhstan, Darezhan Omirbaev, for his film “Poet”, which is about the emotional bondage of two poetic personalities separated by the long gap of time. Hilal Bydarov’s film “Crane Lantern” was singled out for the best artistic contribution. The dialogue-driven drama of the Azerbaijani Director had focused on the ambiguity surrounding justice, sin and morality. The Asian Future category award went to Hossein Tehrani’s Iranian film “World, Northern Hemisphere”.

In her closing statement, Isabelle Huppert said that all fifteen films that made it to the competition truly represented great diversity of works by both established artists and new voices representing various communities around the world. She also highlighted the participation of women in this year’s festival, as a number of films in competition groups were not only the works of female directors, but the protagonists in most of the films too are women facing difficulties as they encounter corruption, crime, violence, abuse and neglect. However, she also noted that the charm of all these films can be traced in the underlying message that whether they win or lose their fights, they leave the lasting impression of looking towards the future.

The theme of this year’s festival was “Crossing Borders”, a broader conception that also includes the common human desire of overcoming barriers like the disruption of communication due to pandemic, gender inequality, economic disparity, as well as international conflict. Most of the films that had been shown at the festival in one way or another takes us to this understanding.

(Tokyo, November 10, 2021)

  • Grand Prix Award
  • Vera Dreams of the Sea
  • 2021
  • Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF)

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