Women and diversity triumph at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival

Chinese female director Yang Mingming at the premiere of her directorial debut

At the 42nd Hong Kong International Film Festival, which ended after two weeks of exclusive screenings and events, women filmmakers took home the festival’s biggest and most prestigious prizes – recognising how their work is bringing to light timely social and cultural issues with a unique touch.

Since its establishment in 1976, the festival has been a pioneering event, introducing global filmmakers to Chinese audiences and Asian cinema to global ones. This year, however, many productions also touched upon completely new topics and themes.

Yang Mingming won two of the major awards (the Firebird and the Fipresci Prizes) for her compelling drama “Girls Always Happy” while Toda Hikaru’s Japanese gay documentary “Of Love and Law” won the Firebird Award for best documentary.  

In her directional debut, Yang chronicles the complicated and fragile relationship of a mother and a daughter living in a traditional two-storey building in one of Beijing’s last surviving Hutong – the first of the many allegories that reference contemporary China’s social and cultural contrasts.

“Through biting dialogues and playing the heroine herself, the director presents a vivid picture of urban values and culture in modern China, without overstating nor sugar-coating her main characters’ flaws, and shows a self-assurance of tone that is remarkable for a first feature,” the jurors said of the movie.

With sarcasm and intelligence, Yang’s screenplay also gives voice to an emerging generation of Chinese movie makers and writers that are re-shaping and giving momentum to the country’s art-house films.

While Xi Jinping is on a mission to expand China’s cultural influence beyond East Asia by investing money into Hollywood in a ploy to boost the country’s entertainment industry with big budget blockbuster movies, independent and indie local productions are proving to be China’s best shot at becoming internationally relevant.

“Of Love & Law”

“Of Love & Law” follows the personal and professional lives of Kazuyuki Minami “Kazu” and Masafumi Yoshida “Fumi” who run Japan’s first openly gay law firm in Osaka. Toda details the couple’s successes and struggles, as well as their continuous fight for civil rights.

With a tender and yet firm approach, the documentary also shows aspects of Japanese society that are too often neglected and not seen by the rest of the world: the traditional myth of silent obedience that still regulates many aspects of everyday life and the wave of neo-conservatism and growing nationalism that tremendously influence personal expressions.

“Through solid activist filmmaking, Toda captures the singular quirks of the Japanese legal system while emphasising the need for diverse expression in any conformist society,” the jury highlighted. 

The winners at this year’s festival, echo, in many ways, the trends that have been dominating award season in Hollywood and Europe in the past months. Finally, inclusivity, diversity and small productions are slowly starting to be recognised and celebrated on the world stage. 

Here’s the complete list of winners

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