Kirill Mikhanovsky’s “Give Me Liberty” and Gu Xiaogang’s “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains won the best picture prizes in the international and Chinese cinema sections on Tuesday at the International Film Festival and Awards Macau (IFFAM).

“This film shouldn’t have existed because there were so many obstacles. Everything was a miracle. Us being here is an utter miracle,” said Mikhanovsky, who took the stage with his producer Alice Austen to describe the frenzy of trying to shoot their film for a quarter of their original budget.

“If someone had asked us a year ago if we’d like to show our film in Macau, we’d have said man, you’re out of your mind,” he laughed, before thanking the festival. “This is such a gathering of minds and intellects and true lovers of cinema, which is very rare. You’ve truly crafted a one-of-a-kind global event.”

In the international competition, “Lynn + Lucy” won best director for Fyzal Boulifa and best actress for Roxanne Scrimshaw, who got the part by responding to a Facebook ad, and said in a teary acceptance video that the prize had “changed her life.” Sarm Heng from Rodd Rathjen’s Australian drama “Buoyancy” won best actor, while Hamish Bennett won best screenplay for New Zealand’s “Bellbird.” The section was judged by jury president Hong Kong director Peter Chan Ho-sun, British actor Tom Cullen, veteran producer Ellen Eliasoph, Burmese director Midi Z, and Indonesia’s Dian Sastrowardoyo.

The new Chinese cinema section jury was led by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu and included London Film Festival head Tricia Tuttle, former Toronto selector Noah Cowan, Singaporean director Kirsten Tan and Chinese director Qiu Yang,

In that portion, Singapore’s Anthony Chen nabbed best director for his second feature. “This was a film that was quite painful to make. I’m really glad that everyone persevered,” said Chen. An hour later he returned to the stage to accept the Cinephilia Critics’ Award for the film — after his two main actors, clearly not expecting another win, had already quietly slipped out of the theater.

Chen thanked the festival for giving his film a bigger platform to reach audiences in Greater China, admitting that coming from a small country that makes at most ten movies a year, “it’s very hard for Chinese language films to be seen and heard.”

Zhou Dongyu, already in attendance as the Festival’s actress in focus, won the best actress prize for her role in the youth drama “Better Days,” and said she hoped the film, which is still in theaters and has now grossed $219 million (RMB1.54 billion) at the box office, would help draw more attention to the issue schoolyard bullying.

The best actor prize went to Wu Xiaoliang of Chinese drama “Wisdom Tooth,” in his first-ever individual prize. He admitted that “most people here probably don’t know who I am” but thanked his team.
Chinese-Canadian director Johnny Ma took home the best screenplay award for “To Live To Sing.” He took his time at the podium to urge the audience to “please go watch movies.”

“It’s not easy make a film and have it shown in the theaters, so for us who make independent films, it’s really difficult to meet our audience,” he said. Ma later came back up to receive the NETPAC Award, and added that he’d like to thank his main actors, since he was “using their real-life scenarios and dramas and just tweaking them a little to make it cinematic” when he wrote his script.

Other prizes included the Macao Audience Choice Award, which went to “Buoyancy,” and the Cinephilia Critics’ Award for Best Macau Film, which went to “Years of Macau.”

Talent ambassador Juliette Binoche took the stage in an bright red and flared pantsuit to present the Asian Blockbuster Film 2019 award to Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” which his producer accepted on his behalf.

“To be honest, I’m not too familiar with the word “blockbuster” I’ve never directed a blockbuster film,” he laughed in a video acceptance speech, saying that he assumed that he was getting the award because “Parasite” might seem to be a “blockbuster in the audiences’ mind,” and as a film well-received not just in Asia but worldwide.

Festival organizing committee president Maria Helena de Senna Fernandes, who also opened the evening with a Mandarin-language welcome speech, closed the night by offering veteran Chinese director Li Shaohong the “Spirit of Cinema” achievement award.

Li said she was very pleased that the award was going to a female director, but joked that as she still was young, it seemed like she’d earned the prize “a little too soon.” It was especially meaningful to her because this year marks the 20th anniversary of Macau’s handover to mainland China, an occasion for which she also shot her “A City Called Macau.”