the first international film festival award ceremony

FIRST International Film Festival Highlights Indie Films and Social Issues

The 17th edition of the FIRST International Film Festival highlighted major social issues, and the young filmmakers who grapple with them

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4:46 PM HKT, Fri August 4, 2023 1 mins read

From the urban-rural divide to intergenerational trauma, women’s issues to mental health, the independent films awarded at the FIRST International Film Festival (FIFF) covered a range of pressing social issues that represent the experiences and priorities of the country’s newest generation of filmmakers.

FIFF is the biggest indie film festival in China, with a focus on promoting young, up-and-coming filmmakers. Held in Xining, the capital of Qinghai province, the festival featured nearly 100 films over its nine-day run, and was attended by some 30,000 film fans from across China and the world.

This year’s edition of FIFF was notable for a high level of participation by women and younger generation filmmakers. Over 30% of submitted films were directed by women, and 23% were directed by filmmakers born after 2000 — the highest percentages of either group in the festival’s history.

qin tian's "fate of the moonlight" took home best feature film

Qin Tian’s full-length debut took home Best Narrative Feature

Fate of the Moonlight (但愿人长久), a three-hour drama directed by Qin Tian that explores themes of migration, urbanization, and identity, took home the sought-after award for Best Narrative Feature. The film is a feature-length directing debut for Qin, who worked as a food vendor and delivery driver prior to becoming a director.

Alan Zhang’s documentary-style This Woman (这个女人), which follows a Chinese woman navigating unemployment, a dying marriage, and passionate love affairs, won the First Frame Award; the prize is part of a program that focuses on emerging women directors and films about women.

the team behind fate of the moonlight poses at first frame award

The team behind Fate of the Moonlight poses at the First Frame Award Ceremony, during which their film was also recognized

Other winners included The Nest (巢), a documentary about a man who returns to live with his parents in a 30-square-meter apartment near Shanghai’s Jing’an Temple, and Galaxy Writer (银河写手), a film about young, struggling filmmakers.

“The reason why films by young people are particularly worthy of attention is not only because they may bring new approaches to film,” wrote Yu Yaqin, a reporter for Southern Weekly, “But also because these films open up a new dimension of discussion on social issues.”

Not all the films screened at the festival received such praise, however. For example, Go Photo Shooting (去马厂), which won the Spirit of Freedom prize, was lampooned on review aggregator Douban for depicting women as “idiotic” and “sensualized.”

Overall, though, both audiences and juries considered the featured films to be powerful depictions of real-life issues.

“They remind me of when I directed my first film,” actress Joan Chen, a FIFF jury head, told The Hollywood Reporter. “They have given me a great deal of inspiration. I come here and it reminds me how beautiful films can be, actually how beautiful life can be.”

zhang songwen at FIRST international film festival 2023

Zhang Songwen speaking at FIFF

Besides film screenings, FIFF also hosted Q&A sessions with an array of acclaimed actors, directors, and other industry veterans, including Zhang Songwen, breakout star of this year’s most-talked about TV show, The Knockout, and Wuershan, director of new box office hit Creation of the Gods.

For a full list of FIRST International Film Festival winners, click here.

All images via Weibo

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