Awards

45th Hong Kong International Film Festival – Firebird Awards 2021

We present the list of winners of the Hong Kong International Film Festival that took place in-theatres and online from April 1st – 12th (2021) in Hong Kong.

Young Cinema Competition (Chinese Language)

Firebird Award

The Day is Over by Qi Rui – China | 2021 – 108 minutes

Living quietly in the mountains, a young girl humiliated by her classmates is eager to go find her father in the city. Her plan is wrecked when the travel money fetched by her good friend is accidentally lost. Unable to repay the loan, and without hope of seeing their parents, the girls take refuge in the pond, where they feel safe and warm, as if returned to their mother’s womb. Shot with naturalistic cinematography, Qi Rui’s directorial debut is imbued with a lyrical tone and sympathetic tenderness reminiscent of Kiarostami’s cinema. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
Unfolding at a steady pace, the film intercuts between long and short takes, static and dynamic shots, delivering a spot-on and rhythmic clarity. The child actors perform impressively, using simple yet authentic dialogues.  The way they express their frustrations toward family and society is innocent and direct.  The film aptly portrays contemporary society’s lack of care for the young generation and the subsequent impact on the development of their personal values.

Best Director

Han Shuai for Summer Blur – Hong Kong | 2020 – 88 minutes

Thirteen-year-old Guo longs to reunite with her newly remarried mother in Shanghai. Instead, she is forced to live in Wuhan with her unwelcoming aunt, her spoiled cousin and a classmate with a disturbing infatuation. When she indirectly causes the drowning of a friend, Guo’s desperation to escape leads to her psychological undoing. Filmed with the propulsive energy of a thriller, Han Shuai’s psychological coming-of-age drama depicts the terror of puberty through the eyes of a strong-willed protagonist. FIPRESCI Prize, Busan. Generation Kplus for Best Film, Berlinale. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
Summer Blur is a stylised film.  The creative intent matches its form, in which the ambience and mise-en-scène are under befitting control.  Addressing the complex theme of coming-of-age, the director demonstrates his impressive ability in portraying the characters’ psyche, and eliciting a good performance from non-professional actors.

Trailer:

Best Actress

Huang Tian for Summer Blur (dir. Han Shuai) – – Hong Kong | 2020 – 88 minutes

Jury’s Commentary:

The winning performance intelligently guides the audience into the tender inner world of a young girl developing her own mind and independence.  The actress subtly projects a range of emotions embodying the confusion, loneliness, and melancholy of the character.  Her devotion to the complexity of the role makes the film a perceptive and authentic portrait of youth.

Best Actor

Huang Xuan for Wuhai (dir. Zhou Ziyang) – Hong Kong | 2020 – 103m minutes

Money is the terrible root of a married couple’s woes in director Zhou Ziyang’s highly anticipated follow-up to his critically acclaimed debut, Old Beast (2017). Set in the titular Inner Mongolian city, this sobering character drama follows the plight of an aspiring entrepreneur, who finds himself mired in debt after a failed business venture. Looked down upon by his wife and her parents, he tries to escape his predicament. But like a man trapped in quicksand, every desperate act sinks him deeper into trouble. FIPRESCI Prize, San Sebastián. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
The winning performance brilliantly exhibits the anguish and torment experienced by a man on the brink of crisis.  The actor is especially commendable in challenging long takes that demand a complete command of his physical presence and the character’s psychological trajectory. His delivery is precise, convincing, and a joy to watch.

Trailer:

Young Cinema Competition (World)

Firebird Award

The Wasteland by Ahmad Bahrami – Iran | 2020 – 102 minutes

Born on a factory site in an Iranian desert backwater, the forty-year-old supervisor is destined to share the fate of the doomed brick structure itself. Acting as go-between for the workers and the boss to settle their disputes, he is hardly prone to any act of kindness, not even from the woman whom he strives to safeguard. In chiaroscuro grace and artful long takes, the late Kiarostami’s protégé Bahrami crafts a bleak, haunting drama of a world hellbent on destroying itself. Orizzonti Award for Best Film, Venice. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
For his ability to create a black & white cinematic world of remarkable narrative coherence where each character must find his place by negotiating with the smallest leeway; for the attention given to each character as a chance to exist in the eyes of the spectators; and for the well-weighed metaphor of a state of the country (political, ecological, social) that the film manages to suggest.

Best Director

Norika Sefa for Looking for Venera – Kosovo | 2021 – 111 minutes

Teenager Venera is growing up in a small, desolate town in Kosovo – where everybody knows one other, and emancipation proves difficult. Befriending the rebellious Dorina, she begins going out and showing interest in men. Yet, her efforts are thwarted by these same men, who make sure wives and daughters are kept in their place. Norika Sefa’s debut is at once intimate, tender and suffocating, exploring the struggles faced by younger generations. Special Jury Award, Rotterdam. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
The winning director displays great sensitivity and delicacy in the mise-en-scène in portraying two intelligent teenage girls who try in vain to test the norms of their confined community. Her delicate directing is consistent throughout the film in upkeeping an intimate yet uneasy distance with the key characters while allowing room for exploring tension and attractions from the side characters.

Best Actress

Kosovare Kraniqi for Looking for Venera (dir. Norika Sefa) – Kosovo | 2021 – 111 minutes

Jury’s Commentary:
The award winner convincingly exemplifies a character that embodies both the youthful energy to define her own identity and the intelligence to safeguard her dignity and self-respect. Her ability to stand out against Dorina, her rebellious soulmate in the film, while keeping her own pacing and temperament is at once adorable and breath-taking.

Best Actor

Ali Bagheri for The Wasteland (dir. Ahmad Bahrami) – Iran | 2020 – 102 minutes
*Not in picture

Jury’s Commentary:
For his naturalistic acting and solid facial texture that physically relates to everyone about an honest and unsophisticated lifespan, which last exactly as long as an isolated brick factory resembling a ruined wasteland. His minimalist body movement and “take-life-as-it-is” attitude makes his presence overtly sad and hopeless.

Documentary Competition

Firebird Award

Mr. Bachman and His Class by Maria Speth – Germany | 2021 – 218 minutes

In the industrial German town of Stadtallendorf, Mr. Bachmann, 65, is on the verge of retiring. His class, composed of immigrant children from various countries and religious backgrounds, offers an alternative, inclusive curriculum: empathetic and understanding of the migrant reality. Maria Speth paints a loving portrait of the relationship between educator and student, while the microcosm of the classroom offers a glance into Germany’s history of immigration and labour – from the forced factory work of the Nazi era to the current waves of economically-determined displacement. Silver Bear Jury Prize, Berlinale. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
This intimate documentary transcends the confines of its classroom setting, picking out individual lives from vastly different backgrounds and showing how they can be transformed, while, at the same time, encompassing a broad cultural conversation between a nation’s past and future.

Jury Prize

Sabaya by Hogir Hirori – Sweden | 2021 – 95 minutes

Five years after Daesh killed thousands of Yazidis in the Sinjar province ofIraq, 73,000 ISIS supporters are held at the Al-Hol Camp in Syria – labelleda “ticking time bomb” by authorities. Meanwhile, Mahmud, Ziyad and volunteers labour to save Yazidi women and young girls still held at the campas sex slaves (“sabaya”) – infiltrating tents at night with little information and protection. Swedish-Kurdish documentarian Hogir Hirori offers an unflinching look at the sexual violence perpetrated by Daesh, while shedding light on the brave efforts and humane gestures required to save them. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
As faceless figures, sex slaves kidnapped by ISIS are only briefly reported by mainstream media.  However, their faces are shown and their voices are heard in Sabaya.  Capturing two volunteers risking their lives to save the sex slaves in Syria, this powerful documentary illustrates a brutal world of war, extremism, and gender oppression.

Short Film Competition

Firebird Award

Motorcyclist’s Happiness Won’t Fit Into His Suit by Gabriel Herrera – Mexico | 2021 – 10 minutes
A proud motorcyclist is lauded for being the only one capable of exploring the jungle in this playful reenactment that takes aim at the hubris of colonial conquerors. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
The director uses a motorbike, an engine of the future, and a powerful protagonist in modern cinema to paint a nonconformist picture of the Spanish conquest of indigenous lands.  The post-colonial discourse is understood through the bodies itself and the relationship between new and ancient, modernity and nature. The cadrage of light and shadow with minimal action exudes the highly abstract power of a short film and its dynamic.  Cinema’s most direct power.

Jury Prize

Vadim on a Walk by Sasha Svirsky – Russia | 2021 – 8 minutes
Trapped in a dull, narrow cube, Vadim garners the courage to break out and confront what the world has to offer, the joy of running free, and the cruelty of power. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
Through the repetitive and transformative audio and visual with glitch-like effects, this film depicts the sense of hesitation and worry of the protagonist effectively, and the way the animation expresses the process of understanding the society and himself – how he chooses to live every day – is impressive.

Special Mention

Blessed Winter by Emetjan Memet – Uyghur | 2020 – 12 minutes
Two young lovers’ secret rendezvous is disrupted by the discovery of an anonymous love letter. The youth goes to warn his classmate, but is beaten by his friends. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
A deceptively simple coming-of-age film, executed with care in writing, staging, shooting and pacing without needless exoticisations, tells a story relatable to teenagers, parents and everyone from around the world.

FIPRESCI Prize

FIPRESCI Prize

The Story of Southern Islet by Chong Keat-aun – Malaysia | 2020 – 105 minutes

After a dispute with his neighbour, Cheong is struck with a mysterious illness that defies scientific explanation. Suspecting that he has fallen under a curse, his wife searches desperately for a cure, even turning to miracle workers and a shaman for help. Writer-director Chong Keat-aun applies his expertise and childhood memories to his feature debut, a visually arresting and fascinating magical realist tale that transcends genre constraints. Best New Director, Golden Horse Awards. (HKIFF 2021)

Jury’s Commentary:
It is awarded for its creative portrayal of spirituality in an increasingly ungodly world. Its photography depicts an ethereal dichotomy regardless of one’s faith in the supernatural, accompanying the protagonist’s quest for her husband’s wellbeing.  Her subtle character evolution is an inspiration for ethnic and religious conciliation and an embracement of cultural richness.

Trailer:

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