43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival – Firebird Awards 2019


We present the list of winners of the Hong Kong International Film Festival that took place from March 18th until April 1st, 2019.

Young Cinema Competition (Chinese Language)
Firebird Award

A First FarewellA First Farewell by Wang Lina – Hong Kong | 2018 – 87 min.

An ode to her hometown in Xinjiang: Wang Lina tells a quietly moving comingof- age story about a Muslim farm boy. Happy moments of raising a lamb with his cheerful girlfriend, taking care of his deaf-mute mother and wandering across the land gradually give way to sadness of separation, as the boy learns his lesson of farewell. A drama of poetic realism mixing nature’s beauty with children’s innocence, reminds us warmly of Kiarostami’s contemplative masterpieces. Winner of the Grand Prix of Generation Kplus, Berlinale. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: Through a farewell, the film offers a lucid exposition of the characters’ heart and mind, and the actions driven by their inner selves. A debut feature that achieves high congruity between form and contents. For a debut feature, it’s near perfection!



Best Director

Give Me A RideXu Zhenhao for Give Me a Ride – China | 2019 – 103 min.

In sprawling Chongqing, the quiet life of a divorced taxi driver erupts after he gives a ride to a mysterious woman coming home after two decades. Reigniting his sexual desires, she also releases his suppressed angst about his paralyzed mother and rebellious gay son. Shrouded in dark tunnels and deep fog, he sees no light ahead. This mesmerizing drama, at once gloomily real and luminously surreal, evokes a time when dreams are lost, and no hope can be found. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: A nuanced portrayal of the characters’ suppression and solitude in the city of Chongqing, where tormented souls resonate with the misty and gloomy environment. The director demonstrates his expertise in mise-en-scene, and his strong potential in this debut feature.



Best Actress

The CrossingHuang Yao for her role in The Crossing (Bai Xue) – China | 2018 – 99 min.

Produced by Tian Zhuangzhuang, this bracingly real youth drama represents an astonishing debut for writer-director Bai Xue. 16-year-old Peipei smuggles iPhones across the Hong Kong-China border, bringing her a bounty in cash but also causing new conflicts. Bai Xue explores contemporary issues while spinning a uniquely local coming-of-age tale, discovering Huang Yao, whose expressiveness brings the young smuggler to life. Best Film and Best Actress in the Fei Mu Awards at the Pingyao International Film Festival. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: The eight actresses are different in age and yet all delivering remarkable performances. Upon knowing the background of each actress, we appreciate a young actress who was born in Foshan, grew up in the north and yet is able to portray a student across the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border so naturally and convincingly.



Best Actor

Give Me A RideDeng Yu for his role in Give Me a Ride (Xu Zhenhao) – China | 2019 – 103 min.

Jury’s Comments: When you can no longer distinguish the boundary between the actor and the character, it’s a triumph of the performance. The Best Actor Award goes to DENG Yu who has reached that level in GIVE ME A RIDE.

Young Cinema Competition (World)
Firebird Award

You Have the NIghtYou Have the Night by Ivan Salatic – Montenegro, Serbia | 2018 – 82 min.

Montenegro’s debut in global film festivals, with Salatić’s compelling story of a city by the sea undercut by the end of socialist Yugoslavia. Old and young silently watch its lifeblood drain away with the closure of a shipyard that sustained life under capitalism and socialism. Strong characters face dilemmas that cut across generations, whether trying to find a reason to stay or leaving home behind. And we understand the forces that toss lives, like boats, across the eternal Mediterranean. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: The Firebird Award goes to an emerging nation in world cinema and a director who is in total control of his media. Its depiction of a city by the sea and the closure of a shipyard is also a portrayal of several generations, and the political evolution of a country. A special mention to Ivan MARKOVIĆ for his cinematography.



Best Director

HellholeBas Devos for Hellhole – Belgium, Netherlands | 2019 – 90 min.

It’s a blue sky, with nothing but emptiness. The aftermath of Brussels terrorist attacks lingers, haunting people in the darkness of the world. An Algerian youth suffering from persistent headaches; a Flemish doctor worrying about his son on a military mission in the Middle East; a chronically exhausted Italian woman slowly losing control of her demanding life. A disenchanted portrait of a deeply wounded city, Devos’ (Violet, 38th) voyeuristic camera movement probes the soul of its lonely inhabitants, exposing life in its hollow banality. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: In this film, the director masterfully conveys the invisible yet profound trauma of the city, which is still suffering from recent incidents, in such a delicate yet powerful style with multiple layers from the various types of citizens.



Best Actress

IrinaMartina Apostolova for her role in Irina (Nedejda Koseva)
Bulgaria | 2018 – 96 min.

A subtle yet profound challenge to the divisions of class that divide village and city, poor and rich in post-Communist Bulgaria. Irina sees her already drab and difficult life collapse around her when she loses her job and nearly loses her husband. An ad from a wealthy couple in Sofia looking for a surrogate mother offers her the promise of new life – but what will be the costs and benefits as that life grows inside her? (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: In a society of change, a young woman faces severe challenges. A personal struggle conveyed with great sensitivity, touching and moving.In a society of change, a young woman faces severe challenges. A personal struggle conveyed with great sensitivity, touching and moving.



Best Actor


Gustav Lindh for his role in Queen of Hearts (May El-Toukhy)
Denmark | 2019 – 127 min.

An ideal life under her full control: a loving family with her doctor-husband and twin daughters and a successful legal career specialized in juvenile sexual assault cases. The perfect picture is blemished when her estranged teenage stepson unexpectedly moves in, unleashing hidden desire that drives her towards a critical choice with fatal consequences. Berlinale Best Actress Trine Dyrholm anchors this psychological drama with a nuanced yet powerful performance after The Commune (SummerIFF 2016) and You Disappear (42nd). (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: A young man performs a figure that is strong and sensitive at the same time. He touches the audience in every moment without revealing the secret of the character. His performance is full of unexpected beauty.


Documentary Competition
Firebird Award

Midnight FamilyMidnight Family by Luke Lorentzen – Mexico | 2019 – 81 min.

Ambulances. In film as in real life, we can take them for granted until we need one, when they become the difference between life and death. But the nine million people of Mexico City share only 45 ambulances to serve all the needs of a complex, sprawling metropolis. And documentarian Lorentzen, in his second film, rides through the night with a family whose life blood is their ambulance, throwing us into a non-fiction universe more gripping than any medical thriller. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: A sensitive observational documentary about a private ambulance service run as a family business in a country with poor public ambulance services. Its non-judgmental approach to a story of interlocked poverty and tragedy is deeply moving.

Jury Prize

AdvocateAdvocate by Rachel Leah, Jones Philippe Bellaiche
Israel, Canada, Switzeland | 2019 – 108 min.

Lea Tsemel is called a “Devil’s advocate.” An Israeli human-rights lawyer who has been defending Palestinians against a host of criminal charges in courts for five decades, she is used to harsh criticism, but remains optimistically steadfast in her belief that justice can be served. Interweaving her defense of a minor accused of attempted murder with her career as a strong albeit often-unsuccessful advocate, this documentary exposes the human consequences of political conflicts, yet offers hope for humanity. (HKIFF Catalogue 2019)

Jury’s Comments: The film is a portrait of the Israeli human rights lawyer, Lea TSEMEL, in her defence of Palestinians on trial for alleged terrorist activity. The film is compassionate and honest in its depiction of both the advocate’s self-doubt and her commitment to the pursuit of justice, in the face of personal hostility from the media and members of the public.



Short Film Competition
Firebird Award

All These CreaturesAll These Creatures by Charles Williams – Australia | 2018 – 14 min.

An adolescent boy attempts to untangle his memories of a mysterious infestation, the unravelling of his father, and the little creatures inside us all. (IMDB)

Jury’s Comments: A non-linear narrative that blurs the line between dreams and realities, the film has a storyteller’s perspective to extend the poetics through the unflinching use of montage that demonstrates his mastery in short film production.



Jury Prize

The CallThe Call by Anca Damian – Romania | 2018 – 10 min.

A phone call, a bathroom and a woman are at the intersection of the worlds. (IMDB)

Jury’s Comments: The Jury Prize is given to a film that is a congruity between form and content. Under the guidance of a narrator and the use of animation, we empathize with the mother in her quest for liberty and familial love – binding yet fleeting as the lines are connected and entwined.




The goldThe Golden-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain by Ridham Janve
India | 2018

When an old shepherd hears the news about a jet fighter that has crashed, he remembers the stories about other plane accidents that made the finders very rich. Blinded by greed, he leaves his herd in the lurch and goes looking for the wreckage. However, the accident was on a holy mountain. While the shepherd roams with his impure intentions and tries to put other treasure hunters off the scent, predators attack his sheep. His assistant takes advantage of a bottle of alcohol he had hidden, and dies in an accident.

The Himalayas, which form the backdrop to this drama, are not the picture-postcard landscape familiar from nature documentaries. It’s a rough and inhospitable area. The men who work here, played by real local shepherds, know that danger is never far away. But if they disrupt the holiness of the mountain, and hence the order of things, the threat level transcends this world. (IFFR 2019)

Jury’s Comments: We selected a film that while using exceptionally limited resources weaves an unconditional and magical cinematic experience. The filmmaker assembles a narrative that blends nature and spirituality into an irresistible and immersive flow.



* Photo of Dronningen/Queen of Hearts by ROLF KONOW.

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