Uni film awards to go ahead

Having organized the Global Chinese Universities Student Film and Television Festival since 2003, the Academy of Film at Hong Kong Baptist University has decided to go international instead of being limited to the Chinese language world, in response to president Roland Chin’s ambition.

Envisioned as a University Oscars since its launch in 2018, the first Global University Film Awards took only nine months to prepare.

It received an unexpected 1,841 short films from 99 countries and regions.

The awards were one of the most celebrated international events in the city, gathering world-class film professionals and scholars and more than 300 international students to celebrate the three days of shortlisted film screenings and a series of masterclasses.

It drew young film enthusiasts from across the world and raised their expectations for future awards.

Unfortunately, the second GUFA was not so lucky. Due to the city’s social unrest last year, it was postponed to April this year from last November, and was then caught up in the global Covid-19 outbreak.

With no grand opening with marvelous light shows, no chance to talk with veteran filmmakers and no idea exchanges and network fostering when meeting other experts, it was disappointing.

“It’s understandable if they feel disappointed, but it’s not necessarily a negative thing,” said Man Shu-sum, GUFA’s vice chair and associate director of the Academy of Film.

“A good storyteller needs different life experiences, and I believe that their experiences during the outbreak, including an online version of GUFA, would be a rare collective memory in their life.”

It received 2,503 submissions from 104 countries and regions, including film festival frequenters like Britain, the United States, Germany, China and India, and minor countries in the industry such as Venezuela and Yemen. Winners will be chosen from 48 shortlisted films in six categories: narrative, Asian narrative, documentary, animation, experimental and the HKBU Academy of Film’s choice.

Knowing how important and motivating it is for those taking part to be honored and recognized on a grand occasion, GUFA’s chair and director of the Academy of Film Eva Man Kit-wah said the organizing team has tried its best to make it memorable.

“They deserve a celebration,” she said.

The organizer will hold an award presentation ceremony on November 6 from 7 to 9.30 pm at the university’s Academic Community Hall on the Kowloon Tong campus. Audiences can expect award presentations from big names in the industry, such as Chang Ai-chia, Hui On-wah and To Kei-fung.

The ceremony will also be live on GUFA’s YouTube channel, while a recorded TV broadcast will be aired to the public on Hong Kong International Business Channel at 9 pm on November 15.

Although most people will not attend, all the winners have prepared a 90-second video of an acceptance speech to introduce their city, their film schools and the story behind the film, followed by a video of the categories’ chief jury.

The judging panel of GUFA 2020 comprises of more than 30 film professionals and scholars, including Disney’s animation producer Max Howard, documentary filmmaker Christian Frei and media theorist Siegfried Zielinski – invited by Eva Man in person when attending the Berlin International Film Festival.

“They are very willing to participate in the judging work because they are excited by the high quality of those films produced by the young talents, who never limit themselves to any paradigms and tell what they really believe in their stories,” she said.

Although there is no specific theme, many films GUFA has received this year invariably show humanistic care.

For example, an animation from France, No Gravity, depicts the story of an astronaut struggling to stay grounded and connected to a world with gravity again. Mother’s, a documentary from Belgium, shows four generations of a family making a living as drag queens.

Chen Chen tells the story of a guy who wants sex workers to serve his cerebral palsy brother after discovering the disabled also have sexual desires like ordinary people.

Eva Man said the films are sure to be an inspiration to all people, especially students in Hong Kong. “For Hong Kong, the city’s positioning to go international is essential, and students must have a global perspective,” she said.

Man Shu-sum agreed that the greatest significance of GUFA is to allow student film enthusiasts worldwide to collude culturally and intellectually.

At the next GUFA, expected to be held in 2022, Eva Man believes that we will see down-to-earth and social-issues-related films. She is also looking forward to the documentary unit.

“The world has changed a lot, and in the past year we have witnessed the imbalance of social values and the struggle of people in Hong Kong. The real world is more dramatic than we imagine.”

In response to the national security law, she added that GUFA will be an open platform without censorship, as the school always encourages students to tell the stories that they believe in and what they care about.

Until November 8, the online screenings of about 150 shortlisted and finalist films will be available for free to audiences registered at af.hkbu.edu.hk/gufa/en.

(This article was published at The Standard on November 3, 2020: Education: Uni film awards to go ahead )

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