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Malaysian Short ‘Peon’ Sweeps Top Awards at SeaShorts Film Festival 2020

21 September 2020

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Malaysian Short ‘Peon’ Sweeps Top Awards at SeaShorts Film Festival 2020

SeaShorts Film Festival’s weeklong celebration of Southeast Asian stories concluded on 20 September with its award ceremony, where Malaysian short Peon emerged as this year’s biggest winner.

Co-directed by June Wong, Shaiful Yahya, and Syaz Zainal, Peon won the coveted SeaShorts Award, Next New Wave Award, and Best Editing Award. Based on actual events, the short depicts the country’s uneasy relationship with migrant labour through scenes played out entirely on a phone screen.

Commenting on Peon, this year’s jury described the short as one that “reinvented form and content to tell a story of the times”, while praising its “masterful narrative suspense.”

Prizes were also presented for outstanding achievements in direction, screenplay, cinematography, sound, and performance. Shortlisting and reviewing the 30 nominees fell on the shoulders of a panel of jurors comprising Cambodian-French filmmaker Davy Chou, Indonesian cinematographer Anggi Frisca, Philippine producer Bianca Balbuena, Singaporean sound engineer Rennie Gomes, and Malaysian historian Dr. Farish A. Noor.

Typically held in a different Malaysian city annually, this year’s edition of SeaShorts presented the new wave of Southeast Asian cinema to almost 600 viewers through parallel and dynamic digital streaming in light of social distancing restrictions. In retaining the communal atmosphere of the Festival, audiences were able to enjoy screenings, masterclasses, forums, and other interactive sessions with participating guests from the comfort of home.

“SeaShorts has long provided a window into the talents and visions of the region’s creative voices,” said Nicholas Chee, Festival Co-Director. “In a time when physical barriers are mandatory, there was an opportunity to widen the reach and get more eyes on the inventive storytelling found around our shores. We thank the filmmakers and our partners for helping us continue to showcase Southeast Asian stories and inspire further industry growth.”

SeaShorts 2020 was made possible with the support of National Youth Council Singapore, the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur, National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS), the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Malaysia and Taiwan Ministry of Culture, *SCAPE Singapore, Purin Pictures, Da Huang Pictures, Sinema Media, Aputure Imaging Industries, Zoom Corporation, CK Music, and Deity Microphones.

And the winners are:

AwardFilmJury Comments
SeaShorts Award for Best FilmPeon by June Wong, Shaiful Yahya, and Syaz Zainal (Malaysia)
The unanimous favourite, Peon reinvented form and content to tell a story of the times. A very engaging ride that is acted so naturally, with technical aspects on par with its excellent storytelling. A breath of fresh air.

Next New Wave Award for Best Malaysian Film
Peon by June Wong, Shaiful Yahya, and Syaz Zainal (Malaysia)
Stimulating, exciting, engaging, surprising, playful, innovative—and above all, the great quality of being unlike anything else. But it wouldn’t completely work without the real emotion at the end, conveyed by masterful narrative suspense.

Best Direction Award
Stay Awake, Be Ready by Pham Thien An (Vietnam)
Beautifully shot, acted, written, and executed. Culture, socio-economic class, poetry, and violence combine in a single shot, a single night, a single breath. An exquisite mix of detailed direction and raw unpredictability. A tour de force and a stunning work of art.

Best Screenplay Award
Evening Stroll by Candra Aditya (Indonesia)

So elaborate in its dialogue and writing that the words and scenes seem to unfold naturally and effortlessly.

Best Cinematography Award

BURA by Eden Junjung (Indonesia)

Even with limited resources, the cinematography is beautifully and intricately mounted to help the story move forward and convey characters’ emotions without showing too much. The camerawork is riveting, invoking the audience to quietly contemplate on their inner guilt as they have their expectations subverted.

Best Sound Award
BURA by Eden Junjung (Indonesia)
The sound design and mixing is crisp and balanced, weaved so well that they become an integral part of the narrative progression. Emotions were heightened and subdued with every audio cue, conveying a tumultuous story and implying violence in a way that feels raw and real.

Best Editing Award
Peon by June Wong, Shaiful Yahya, and Syaz Zainal (Malaysia)Through its editing, Peon straddles the delicate balance between moral commentary and narrative suspense, creating a framework that crystallises with real emotion in the end.

Best Performance Award
The Cloud Is Still There by Mickey Lai Loke Yee (Malaysia)

The intensity and accurateness of the two leads’ performance greatly serve the complex conflict at the heart of the story. Voices and eyes light up with emotional restraint. The audience is drawn into their world as they expose convoluted and suppressed depths of human nature.

Jury Award
BURA by Eden Junjung (Indonesia)
A courageous and important film, which touched upon an important episode of Indonesian history and dealt with issues of violence, fear, and anxiety with considerable sophistication. An important voice that needs to be heard.
Special MentionElsa by Lim Jen Nee (Singapore)
Strong, impactful, and meaningful message stemming from a simple idea and great use of emotion.
Audience AwardStay Awake, Be Ready by Pham Thien An (Vietnam)