'Pebbles' Wins Top Honor at 2021 Rotterdam Film Festival

'Pebbles'
Courtesy of the IFFR

'Pebbles'

"The jury was blown away by a seemingly simple and humble film we fell in love with instantly," the Rotterdam jury said of the Vinothraj P.S.' Southern Indian-set drama.

Pebbles, an Indian drama from director Vinothraj P.S., has won the top prize, the Tiger Award for best film, at the 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). 

The feature, set in an arid landscape in Indian's southern Tamil Nadu region, follows an alcoholic abusive husband who, after his long-suffering wife runs off, sets out with his young son to find her and bring her back. 

"The jury was blown away by a seemingly simple and humble film we fell in love with instantly," the Rotterdam jury said in a statement. "Creating a maximum impact with a minimum in means, the filmmaker reaches his goal with the same conviction and determination as his main characters. The result is a lesson in pure cinema, captivating us with its beauty and humor, in spite of its grim subject."

Special Jury Awards went to Pascal Tagnati's I Comete – A Corsican Summer, a coming-of-age tale set over a summer in a Mediterranean resort and Looking for Venera by Norika Sefa, the story of a taciturn teenager who lives with three generations of her family, and virtually no privacy, under the same roof in a small village in Kosovo.

The IFFR jury described I Comete as "a true love letter to humanity" and Looking for Venera as "an intimate slice of life...imbued with the precarious, yet resilient quest to find one’s young self."

Rotterdam's VPRO Big Screen Award, which brings with it a guaranteed theatrical release in the Netherlands for the winning film, went to The Dog Who Wouldn't Be Quiet, an experimental black-and-white feature from Argentine director Ana Katz. The award comes with a $36,000 (€30,000) bursary shared equally between the director and the Dutch distributor who releases the film. 

The second annual Robby Müller Award, given to an "image maker" — either filmmaker, cinematographer, or visual artist — who has created an "authentic, credible and emotionally striking visual language throughout their oeuvre" went to U.S. director Kelly Reichardt (First Cow). "We see in Kelly Reichardt, not just a liberating independence and clarity of aesthetic vision, but also someone who, in a self-evident way, carries on Robby Müller’s legacy," said the jury, referring to the award's namesake, the late Dutch cinematographer of such features as Breaking the Waves and Paris, Texas.

Rotterdam's Audience Award, and its $6000 (€5000) case prize, went to Quo Vadis, Aida? from Bosnian director Jasmila Zbanic. The feature, Bosnia's contender for this year's Oscar in the best international feature film category, is a harrowing look at the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, as seen through the eyes of a Bosnian U.N. interpreter. 

The Fipresci Award from the association of international film journalists was awarded to The Edge of Daybreak by first-time director Taiki Sakpisit. The Circle of Dutch Film Journalists gave its top prize, the KNF Award for best film from the Netherlands in the 2021 Rotterdam line-up, to  Manifesto from director Ane Hjort Guttu. The Youth Jury Award went to  Philippe Lacote's Night of the Kings, which is Ivory Coast's Oscar entry this year. 

Rising coronavirus infection rates in the Netherlands forced Rotterdam to split up the 2021 festival. From Feb.1-7, the festival held online-only events, including its industry-focused CineMart section for in-development productions seeking financing. COVID-19 conditions permitting, the Dutch port city is planning a public festival to celebrate its 50th anniversary this summer from June 2-6. 

"In these most challenging of times, we are incredibly proud to have brought an outstanding selection of titles in our reimagined festival format," said Rotterdam festival director Vanja Kaludjercic. "The expanded Tiger Competition included 16 films that reflect the plurality of voices and visions of talent that will continue to deliver great cinema for years to come. What we learned from this experience is that as resilient as the industry is, so are our audiences who fully embraced and celebrated the first chapter of this year’s festival."