'Back to 1942' Wins Top Prize at Beijing Film Festival

Feng Xiaogang’s historical epic also takes home the visual effects award, with Yang Bingyan winning local cheers by netting the best actress trophy.

BEIJING – Back to 1942 emerged as the big winner at the Beijing International Film Festival by capturing the best feature film and visual effects awards.

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With Saturday’s deadly tremors in Sichuan still very much hovering over the proceedings at the festival’s awards gala Tuesday night, Feng Xiaogang’s natural-disaster epic – which revolves around the famine that devastated the province of Hunan during the World War II – has proved to be an apt victor in the inaugural edition of the festival’s Tiantan Awards.

The predominantly Chinese audience also erupted as another homegrown talent, Yan Bingyan, nabbed the best actress title for her performance in the Chinese film Feng Shui.

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Meanwhile, three other entries took two prizes each. Cate Shortland’s Lore won in the directing and cinematography categories; Song for Marion brought director Paul Andrew Williams a best screenplay prize and his star Terence Stamp the best actor title; and Armenian production If Only Everyone won best supporting actor (for Vahagn Simonyan) and best music.

Helena Bonham Carter, who wasn’t present at the ceremony, was crowned best supporting actress for her turn in Mike Newell’s Great Expectations, while Canadian-French co-production Inch’Allah was given a special jury award.

Led by Russian filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov – who was honored at the festival with a four-film retrospective – the seven-strong judging panel also included Toronto International Film Festival's artistic director Cameron Bailey, International Federation of Film Producers Associations executive committee member Geoff Brown, South Korean director Kang Je-gyu, British director-screenwriter Ivor Benjamin and Chinese directors Gu Changwei and Zhang Yibai.

Fifteen entries competed for the awards, which were given out for the first time this year at what is the third edition of the Beijing festival.

In a statement of intent to boost the festival’s credentials – and that of China as a cultural superpower – the awards ceremony at the Chinese National Convention Center was staged with bombastic, multimedia performances and featured appearances by Jackie Chan, Jay Chou, Zhang YimouJohn Woo, Luc Besson and Keanu Reeves.

Back to 1942 star Xu Fan performed a traditional Peking Opera number celebrating Beijing and the Tiantan Awards, and British singer Sarah Brightman delivered live renditions of Scarborough Fair and the theme song of Phantom of the Opera.

The ceremony took on a solemn note in the face of the earthquake, which has killed more than 180 people and injured thousands more, with the organizers replacing the red carpet with a blue one and asking arriving guests to dress in either black or white as a sign of respect.

The show itself began with a note of remembrance to the victims of the tremors at Ya’an municipality, with director Chen Kaige’s introductory speech – delivered amid acrobatic and dance performances showcasing Chinese culture – laced with condolences to those who perished in the catastrophe. 

Email: Clarence.Tsui@THR.com