A Night That Gathered the Best in Asian Cinema - 27th SGIFF Silver Screen Awards

The 27th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) announced its winners of the Silver Screen Awards at Marina Bay Sands this evening, wrapping up an exciting year for the region’s filmmakers. This year saw 14 awards being presented, with the crowd-favourites Asian Feature Film Competition and Southeast Asian Short Film Competition awarding nine of them.
White Sun (Seto Surya) by Nepali director Deepak Rauniyar emerged as the Best Film of the Asian Feature Film Competition. Through the story of a Maoist who returns home to bury his father, the film trots through the scars that remain from Nepal’s civil war between supporters of the monarchy and the Maoist faction. The jury found it to be “an exceptional and incisive film about civil war and memory that encapsulates the never- ending conflict that is the state of the world today, with a message of hope that a different future for all of us can be possible through our children”. 

Turah (actor Ubaidillah pictured left), the debut feature film of Indonesian director Wicaksono Wisnu Legowo, was given Special Mention by the jury for Legowo’s “exposure of the corruption and hypocrisy inherent in our society through the microcosm of a small village, showing how the strong oppresses the weak, while never losing sight of the inherent humanity in all his characters”. Inspired by the lives of the inhabitants from a village in Tegal, Central Java, the film paints an authentic picture of the struggles of the lower class amidst corruption and indifference from the privileged upper class.

Bangladeshi film Live from Dhaka (pictured below) also clinched the Best Director for Abdullah Mohammad Saad and Best Performance for cast Mostafa Monwar. This debut feature film by Saad tells the story of a partially handicapped man who lives his days in anguish as he tries to find a way to leave Dhaka. Shot in grainy black and white, it paints a riveting and complex portrait of a man pushed to his very extreme and his struggle between morality and the instinct for self-preservation.

The winners of the Asian Feature Film Competition were decided by a jury panel, headed by Naomi Kawase, one of the most respected and adroit filmmakers in contemporary Japanese cinema, and a Cannes Film Festival regular. At 28, she received the Camera d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, making her the youngest director to win the award. Other jury members include veteran Hong Kong director of the well-received film Ip Man, Herman Yau, Lebanese director Jocelyne Saab, and versatile Singapore actor Sunny Pang.

In the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition, Indonesian film In the Year of Monkey (Prenjak) by Wregas Bhanuteja (pictured below) was awarded Best Southeast Asian Short Film. The jury found it to be “inventive in its story and imagery” and “presents a dynamic new voice in Indonesian cinema that challenges social mores that is both eclectic and humanist”. Deemed to be “bold yet sensitive – sharp yet delicate” by the jury, the film tells the story of protagonist Diah who needs money desperately and seeks help from her friend, Jarwo by selling a matchstick for 10,000 rupiahs. In return for each matchstick bought, Jarwo also gets to see Diah’s genitals. The film also won the Leica Cine Discovery Prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

Singapore’s Liao Jiekai (pictured below) won the Best Director for the film The Mist, which features two women who recollect the sounds and images from places in their collective memories in this evocative dance-inspired film. The jury shared that Liao “successfully translates collective memory in a poetic way” through sound and image, “without falling into experimental film pretension”. Liao was conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council of Singapore in 2012.

Singaporean filmmaker Chiang Wei Liang received the Best Singapore Short Film for Anchorage Prohibited that features two migrant workers with no money and a child, and their search for employment opportunities. According to the jury, the film “shows the challenges of a day in the life of migrant workers without going into tropes of melodrama, with an observational style that makes the characters’ plight resonate”. The film also won Best Short Film at the Taipei Film Awards and the Audi Short Film Award at the 66th Berlinale.

Indonesian director Bayu Prihantoro Filemon’s directorial debut On the Origin of Fear (pictured left) was given Special Mention by the jury for its “existential exploration on the evils of humanity, brought to light in a surprising environment that makes this exploration even more chilling, with a gut-wrenching performance by Pritt Timothy. The short film is set entirely in an audio recording studio as the director pushes a soldier to the limit by taking on the roles of both victim and aggressor in a scripted anti-communist propaganda campaign recording.

The jury head for this year’s Southeast Asian Short Film Competition is Indonesian producer Mira Lesmana, who revitalised Indonesia’s film industry in the early 2000s and appealed the youths to local films. Other jury members include Programming Director of the Hawaii International Film Festival Anderson Le, and Singapore filmmaker Bertrand Lee.

Participants of the Youth Jury & Critics Programme, an SGIFF initiative to nurture critical cinema writers for the region, also selected this year’s Youth Jury Prize for the best Southeast Asian short film. It was presented to Filipino director PR Patindol’s first short film Still (Hilom), which was said to be “a delicate portrait that illuminates the strength of the kindred spirit” and “stands as a contemporary testament to the innocence of children and their resilience against the acerbity of adulthood.” The short film follows the journey of a pair of twin brothers as they find healing against the harsh landscapes of an island which is also trying to recover.

Two established Asian industry veterans were also celebrated at the Awards. Hong Kong film director Fruit Chan was presented with the Honorary Award this year, which recognises individuals who have made exceptional and enduring contributions to Asian cinema, especially within their own country. He received the award from SGIFF Executive Director Yuni Hadi, and Chinese actress Qin Hailu (pictured right), who starred in Chan’s feature film Durian Durian and won both Best New Performer and Best Actress in the 38th Golden Horse Awards.

With a career spanning nearly forty years, Simon Yam (pictured left) was also conferred the Cinema Legend Award, which recognises Asian actors and their outstanding achievements in bringing Asia’s story to life on screen. The award was presented to Yam by SGIFF Chairman Mike Wiluan, and Hong Kong director Herman Yau.

One of the region’s emerging filmmakers, Dong Phuong Thao from Vietnam was also awarded the Most Promising Project of the Southeast Asian Film Lab, an SGIFF initiative to nurture the future of Southeast Asian filmmaking. The project, Taste, features a Nigerian immigrant in the Vietnamese football league who has to find an alternative means of survival after having his contract terminated after breaking his leg. This was awarded after a six-day story development lab attended by 10 young talents and a pitch in front of an industry jury including Film Lab head and the face of the new wave of Indian Cinema Anurag Kashyap, and mentors – Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong and Malaysian filmmaker Bernard Chauly.

This year, the panel also awarded Special Mention to Thai project Rahula by Puangsoi Aksornsawang. It explores the parallel worlds of the filmmaker’s father and mother – one surrounded by a dream life in the countryside, another living a metropolitan searching dream. SGIFF also presented its inaugural Young Critic Award to Eliza Ho, a student from Nanyang Technological University. The award was a commitment by the festival in acknowledging the contributions young writers make to the film landscape. Film writing is just as important as the films themselves to develop the industry. 

Yuni Hadi, Executive Director of SGIFF said, “The Silver Screen Awards is integral to the Singapore International Film Festival as we seek to inspire the discovery of independent cinema. Each year, we chart the depth of Asian cinema, and recognise our regional talents, including up-and-coming filmmakers, many of whom become prominent filmmakers of our time. Through the competition, we also pave the way for our region’s film industry and provide opportunities for its growth and sustenance. Congratulations to all award winners this year, and we are already looking forward to uncover more hidden gems of the Asian cinema next year.”

The Silver Screen Awards saw a total of 10 feature films and 16 short films, including a Singapore feature film and three Singapore short films vying for the awards. The glittering red carpet affair was also graced by Chinese actress and international film festival darling Huang Lu, Indian veteran actress known for her role in Bandit Queen, Seema Biswas (pictured left), and Taiwanese singer-actress Yu Tai-Yan. The SGIFF is an event of the Singapore Media Festival, hosted by the Info- communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). SGIFF's Official Sponsors include Presenting Sponsor, Marina Bay Sands and Official Festival Time Partner, IWC Schaffhausen and Official Airline, Singapore Airlines.

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