Tokyo Film Festival: Kosovo’s ‘Vera Dreams of the Sea’ Wins Top Prize

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Kosovo filmmaker Kaltrina Krasniqi’s semi-autobiographical drama Vera Dreams of the Sea won the Tokyo International Film Festival’s Grand Prix Monday night at a virtual ceremony streamed from the Japanese capital.

Loosely based on the real-life experiences of the filmmaker’s mother, the film follows a sign-language interpreter who is forced to battle the patriarchy for her inheritance after her husband dies by suicide.

“When I got the news this morning that the film has been awarded Tokyo’s Grand Prix, I was screaming, laughing and crying from the joy,” said Krasniqi, noting that Vera Dreams of the Sea was Kosovo’s first film to ever compete in Tokyo. “Thank you so much for this honor,” she added.

Romanian director Teodora Ana Mihai’s drama La Civil, also loosely based on a true story, took home Tokyo’s second place Special Jury Prize. The film follows a woman who takes matters into her own hands after her daughter is kidnapped by a Mexican cartel and her ex-husband and the police fail to take the case seriously.

Tokyo’s winners this year were selected by a jury led by French screen icon Isabelle Huppert. The fact that two women took the Japanese festival’s top two prizes for the first time in its history was doubly meaningful given that the event recently became the first major film festival in Asia to sign the international “5050×2020” pledge, which commits festivals to taking tangible steps towards gender parity.

The prize for best film in the Asian Future section, which highlights emerging talent from the region, went to World, Northern Hemisphere, by Iranian director Hossein Tehrani. The film follows a 14-year-old boy who is forced to become his family’s breadwinner following his father’s untimely death.

The Tokyo festival introduced an all-new prize category this year in partnership with Amazon. The Amazon Prime Video Take One Award goes to the winner of a short film competition that selects from a pool of submissions from up-and-coming Japan-based directors. Filmmaker Kim Yunsoo’s short Sunday & Calm Sea took home the new prize, which comes with an award of 1 million yen ($8,815) and the opportunity to explore the production of a feature with Amazon Studios.

With COVID-19 cases in Japan reaching multi-month lows, the Tokyo International Film Festival was able to hold most of its functions as in-person events and screenings again this year. Running Oct. 30 through Monday, the festival screened 126 films this year, just slightly fewer than in years past. Tokyo’s complete winners’ list for 2021 is below.

Grand Prix
Vera Dreams of the Sea by Kaltrina Krasniqi

Special Jury Prize
La Civil
 by Teodora Ana Mihai

Best Actress
Julia Chavez, The Other Tom

Best Actor
Amir Aghaee, Fatih Al, Baris Yildiz and Onur Buldu, The Four Walls

Best Artistic Contribution

Crane Lantern by Hilal Baydarov

Audience Award

Just Remembering by Matsui Daigo

Asian Future’s Best Film Award

World, Northern Hemisphere by Hossein Tehran

Amazon Prime Video Take One Award
Kim Yunsoo, Sunday and Calm Sea


Amazon Prime Video Take One Award Special Jury Prize
Sangoumi Midori, Under The Bridge

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