Iranian writer/director/producer Asghar Farhadi's Jodaeiye Nader az Simin (A Separation) has been voted the best film in the Asia Pacific region, at the fifth annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards, which took place in Queensland overnight.
Farhadi's film was the favourite to take out the top honours, with the tense drama about the repercussions of middle-class couple's plans to divorce, having already won the Golden and Silver Bears at the Berlin Film Festival (and also the Sydney Film Festival's competition award back in June).
The night's other big winner was Bir Zamanlar Anadolu'da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina), written and directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and produced by Zeynep Özbatur Atakan. The extraordinary cross-genre story tracks the events of a transformative night that a group Turkish authorities spend searching for a corpse amid the sparse landscape of the Anatolian Steppe. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia won three APSAs, including best director for Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the Grand Jury Prize, and best cinematography for Gökhan Tiryaki's illuminated night photography. Tiryaki and Zeynep Özbatur Atakan were present at the Gold Coast International Convention and Exhibition Centre to accept their film's haul of awards.
In announcing the night's major winners, jury president, Hong Kong filmmaker Nansun Shi said: “The films in the competition are all very, very wonderful films, but two films stood out to the Jury as outstanding in all aspects of their filmmaking – A Separation and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. They are very different kinds of films, but both of them are the same in their excellence in every aspect of their filmmaking: from screenplay, to directing, to performances, to their technical craftsmanship such as cinematography and editing, everything.”
Both A Separation and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia are their countries' official selections for the Academy Awards' foreign language film category and both films' ongoing awards success (Once Upon A Time in Anatolia was one of the Grand Jury Prize winners back at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival), will only increase the speculation – or “buzz” – about Oscar nominations for the two, when the contenders are announced 25 January 2012 (AEDT).
Fortunately, Australian audiences will have a chance to see both films when they are releases into local cinemas in 2012 through Hopscotch Films (A Separation) and Madman Films (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia).
The majority of nominees were in attendance, seated on the awards stage, with a notable absence of Iranian director Mohamad Rasoulof, whose film Goodbye was nominated for best film. Rasoulof was denied a visa to travel, given his conviction and one-year sentence (reduced from six on appeal), for his alleged crimes against the State. Rasoulof's film tackles the subject of a pregnant human rights lawyer who suffers a similar fate as she attempts to leave Tehran, an irony that was not lost on the APSA Awards attendees.
In other APSA awards, the Jury also decided to give a High Commendation for the Screen International Jury Grand Prize to the Ensemble Cast (actresses) of the Egyptian film Cairo 678 – Nahed El Sebai, Bushra and Nelly Karim.
Australian writer/director Ivan Sen had a pleasant surprise as his film Toomelah (which opened in Australian cinemas yesterday) received the UNESCO Award for outstanding contribution to the promotion and preservation of cultural diversity through film. “I thought I was just here as a bystander tonight,” he quipped as he accepted the award onstage with the film's star and best actor nominee, Daniel Connors.
A poignant moment of the ceremony acknowledged the spate of natural disasters in the region during the last 12 months, from earthquakes in Turkey and New Zealand, to the Australian floods and cyclones of early 2011 in Queensland, and of course, the catastrophic Japanese earthquake and tsunami. As a symbol of the restoration effort, an APSA gong was re-awarded to Japanese filmmaker Noritaka Kawaguchi, whose film 5 Centimetres Per Second was the inaugural recipient of the ASPA Award for best animation in 2007, but whose award (an elegant vase) was smashed in the Japanese earthquake.
The full list of APSA recipients is as follows:
Best Feature Film: A Separation (Islamic Republic of Iran)
Jury Grand Prize: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Jury Grand Prize (High Commendation): the Ensemble Cast (actresses) of Cairo 678 –
Nahed El Sebai, Bushra and Nelly Karim (Egypt)
Achievement in Directing: Nuri Bilge Ceylan for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Achievement in Directing (High Commendation): Andrei Zviagintsev for Elena (Russian Federation)
UNESCO Award for outstanding contribution to the promotion and preservation of cultural diversity through film: Ivan Sen for Toomelah (Australia).
Achievement in Cinematography: Gökhan Tiryaki Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Best Performance by an Actress: Nadezhda Markina for Elena (Russian Federation)
Best Performance by an Actor: Wang Baoqiang for Mr Tree (China)
Best Screenplay: Denis Osokin for Silent Souls (Russian Federation).
Best Screenplay (High Commendation): Yoon Sung-hyun for Bleak Night (Republic of Korea).
Best Documentary Feature: I Was Worth 50 Sheep (Sweden, Japan, USA.)
Best Documentary Feature (High Commendation): Pink Saris (UK, India)
Best Children's Feature Film: Buta (Azerbaijan)
Best Children's Feature Film (High Commendation): Wind and Fog (Islamic Republic of Iran)
Best Animated Feature Film: Leafie (Republic of Korea).
FIAPF Award for outstanding achievement in film in the Asia-Pacific region: Zhang Yimou