'Kung Fu Zohra' and Iranian short 'Nazarbazi' awarded at IFFR

French-Tunisian filmmaker Mabrouk El Mechri's latest starring Sabrina Ouazani, and Maryam Tafakory's short tackling the ban on touching in Iranian cinema, win the audience VPRO Big Screen Award and Ammodo Tiger Short Award respectively in Rotterdam.
'Kung Fu Zohra' and Iranian short 'Nazarbazi' awarded at IFFR

The awards at the 51st International Film Festival Rotterdam have been handed out. The festival still lasts through the 6th of February, having kicked off on the 26th January as an online edition.

Festival director Vanja Kaludjercic had this to say to celebrate the winners and the successful festival run: “We are immensely proud of the extensive range of this year’s Tiger Competition selection. Even though we were forced to host our 51st edition online, we were determined to provide the competition filmmakers who trusted us with their films with a visibility platform to press and industry. We cannot wait to share these outstanding films with our audiences later in the year, in the way they were intended: on the big screen in the presence of the filmmakers. Congratulations to all the award winners.”

The main Competition, Tiger Award went to EAMI by Paraguayan filmmaker Paz Encina, while Excess Will Save Us by French filmmaker Morgane Dziurla-Petit and To Love Again by Chinese director Gao Linyang each won Tiger Competition Special Jury Awards. The Tiger Competition jury was made up of Zsuzsi Bankuti, Gust Van den Berghe, Tatiana Leite, Thekla Reuten and Farid Tabarki.

The Ammodo Tiger Short Awards were handed out to Becoming Male in the Middle Ages by Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Neves Marques, Nazarbazi by Iranian director Maryam Tafakory and Nosferasta: First Bite by American filmmakers Bayley Sweitzer and Adam Khalil.  IFFR additionally nominated Becoming Male in the Middle Ages by Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Neves Marques to the short film category for the European Film Awards (EFA). The short film jury featured Tim Leyendekker, Nduka Mntambo and Rieke Vos who selected the winners from 16 films between 1 and 63 minutes long and awarded each of them an equal prize worth €5,000.

A still from 'Nazarbazi'

Finally, the Big Screen Competition presented a wide-ranging selection of 9 titles, bridging the gap between popular, classic and arthouse cinema. An audience jury selected the VPRO Big Screen Award which went to Kung Fu Zohra, by French-Tunisian filmmaker Mabrouk El Mechri. The winning film, starring French-Algerian actors Sabrina Ouazani and Ramzy Bedia received a guaranteed theatrical release in the Netherlands as well as the chance to be broadcast on Dutch TV by VPRO and NPO. The award is accompanied by a €30,000 prize, shared equally between the filmmaker and the distributor who will release the film.

Audience awards are always the perfect indication of what the general public wishes to watch in cinemas, and on their streaming platforms. It's a positive sign that this film, a sort of Tarantino-esque adventure performed by hyphenated North African actors and helmed by a filmmaker with MENA roots, won this prize and an indication that stories with a Arab characters can reach across different cultures -- especially when they tell universal stories.

The synopsis of Kung Fu Zohra reads: “Convinced that a breakup would break her little daughter’s heart, Zohra cannot leave her husband Omar despite the violence she endures. It is then that she meets a Kung-Fu master who will teach her to defend themselves and to return blow for blow!" That the film is about a woman empowering herself in the face of domestic violence only adds icing on the proverbial cake.

Nazarbazi by Maryam Tafakory is also a film which is long on empowerment, even if short in length. The film's title Nazarbazi translates (from the Farsi) as "the play of glances" which refers to the trail of looks and gestures that are used in modern Iranian cinema. This is since the 1979 Revolution, when male and female characters in cinema were forbidden from touching, sparking a series of symbolisms and subterfuges which aimed at inventing imaginative ways through which acts of intimacy could be suggested without being portrayed.

For more information about IFFR and the prizes, check out the festival's website.

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