SINGAPORE - For the first time since the launch of the Silver Screen Awards in 1991, a Singapore film has won Best Film in the Asian Feature Film Competition.
Writer-director Yeo Siew Hua's mostly-Mandarin drama, A Land Imagined, picked up the prize on Saturday night (Dec 8) at Capitol Theatre. The awards are the traditional closing event of the Singapore International Film Festival, which this year opened Nov 28, and ends on Sunday.
In his speech, Yeo said that having the film win in Singapore and premiere to a sold-out hall held a special meaning for him.
"I had always just been an audience member at the festival and now getting my film screened here, and getting this award is a very special moment... We have been travelling with this film for the last few months and to finally be home where it's meant to be seen is really amazing."
In the film, a Singaporean detective looks into the vanishing of a Chinese migrant worker from a land reclamation site and, in the process, peeks into a corner of the island carved out by men and women from China and Bangladesh.
There are plans to release the film in cinemas here next year.
A jury of five industry professionals, led by Hong Kong filmmaker Stanley Kwan, picked Yeo's film from a shortlist of eight nominees.
Jury member Daniel Dae Kim, an American actor, director and producer, said in an interview before the ceremony that A Land Imagined is "a very accomplished film", one that, like several of the other nominated films, "dealt with isolation and loneliness".
The prize for Best Director went to Pham Thu Hang for her documentary The Future Cries Beneath Our Soil, about how the effects of war over 40 years ago linger in Vietnam's Quang Tri province, a site of many pivotal battles.
The film festival, now in its 29th edition, gave its highest honour, the Honorary Award, to leading Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh, for his many works in fiction and documentary films. The award is given for "exceptional and enduring contributions to Asian cinema".
For three decades, he has also worked to keep older Cambodian films and other cultural artefacts from being lost to decay and neglect.
In his speech, he said that it was his mission to help save his country's works of art and nurture the next generation following the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime, which sought to erase the past to create a new future.
"After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, there was no cinema left in Cambodia. Only a few survived, but now, we are capable of making films again."
Chinese-American actress, director, producer and writer Joan Chen was given the Cinema Legend Award, which is given to "an Asian actor who has made an indelible mark with her or her performances". Past recipients include Malaysian actress and producer Michelle Yeoh and Japanese actor Koji Yakusho.
Chen's acting career began in the 1970s in China, where she became a star. She then moved to the United States and starred in films such as the historical epic The Last Emperor (1987) and the period thriller Lust, Caution (2007). She can now be seen in the popular Chinese dynastic drama series, Ruyi's Royal Love In The Palace (2018). She also won the Best Director and Best Film Golden Horse awards for the coming-of-age story, Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (1998).
In her speech, she joked: "Now at last, I can tell my daughter I am no longer just a legend in my own mind.
"At age 14, cinema found me and gave me the opportunity to tell stories. Looking back, I can't believe my luck. I am a very shy, introverted person who fell into this profession like a bear falling into a honey jar."
In the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition, the award for Best Southeast Asian Short Film was given to the drama A Million Years, from first-time Cambodian director Danech San. In her film, two people who are strangers to each other begin telling stories of fear. The Best Director award went to Aditya Ahmad from Indonesia for his short film Kado (A Gift), which deals with a teenager whose gender choices cause friction with her Muslim family.
The prize for Best Singapore Short Film went to Chiang Wei Liang for his black comedy Luzon, about fishermen from two countries whose minor squabble at sea takes a sinister turn.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.