Singapore — A first-time filmmaker from Saudi Arabia won the coveted Best Asian Film Feature Award at the 30th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) this weekend. “Scales” (‘Sayidat al bahr’) was directed by Shahad Ayeen. The film picked up the Silver Screen Award at the SGIFF ceremony on Saturday night, November 30, at the National Museum of Singapore. The award for Best Director, however, went to Oren Gerner for “Africa.”

The movie centers around a 12-year-old girl, Hayat, who lives in a fishing village that believes that every year a girl should be sacrificed in order to guarantee a good season, as well as to appease sea monsters. The young girl is saved from being sacrificed by her father and goes on to slay other monsters.  A clip of the film can be viewed here.

Ms Ameen said in her acceptance speech, “It took me six years to make this film, the way I wanted, as feminist as I wanted.”

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The jury, which was headed by India’s Anurag Kashyap; Malaysian movie producer, Amir Muhammad; veteran Hong Kong director and screenwriter Pang Ho-cheung; and Indonesian filmmaker Nia Dinata, found “Scales” to be a “very original and strong film from a first-time filmmaker who speaks about patriarchy with the simplicity of a fable.”

The director told Variety in an interview last September, “I wanted to tell the story of how the pressure of being a girl in Saudi society can kind of ruin the idea of being a woman for you in the future. That’s been my story. But I felt it’s not just me…

When I was in school I remember lots of little girls, the ones who liked sports, we were saying: ‘of course we want to be boys. Who would want to be a girl! That’s what it was like until I was, like, 23. And then I was like: ‘of course I want to be a woman!’ You have to unlearn a lot of the things that they taught you about yourself, about your body. To find peace with them. And I wanted to tell that story. For me that’s Hayat’s journey. Finding that peace. Finding that strength in her, that she didn’t realize she had.”

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The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton, who reviewed the film in Venice, had this to say about it:

“With its stunning rocky landscapes and luminous monochrome visuals, Scales is a gorgeous sensory experience. A droning, fragmentary score by Mike and Fabien Kourtzer heightens this sense of sensual, otherworldly beauty. A 15-year-old big-screen novice, (Baseema) Hajjar also gives a commendably powerful lead performance full of expressionistic gestures and wordless, defiant brooding. For a first feature by a 31-year-old rookie director, this is all classy material.”

Here is the list of winners at SGIFF:

  • Best Film: “Scales” (Sayidat Al Bahr) directed by Shahad Ameen
  • Best Director: Oren Gerner for “Africa”
  • Best Performance: Kristoffer King in “Verdict”
  • Special Mention: “Passed by Censor” dir. Serhat Karaaslan
  • Best SE Asian Short Film: “I’m Not Your F***ing Stereotype” diected by Hesome Chemamah
  • Best Singaporean Short Film: “Adam” directed by Shoki Lin
  • Special Mention (short film): “California Dreaming” directed by  Sreylin Meas
  • Best Director (short film): Zaw Bo Bo Hein for “Sick”
  • Youth Jury Prize (short film): “Sweet, Salty” directed by Duong Dieu Linh
  • Honorary Award: Takashi Miike
  • Cinema Icon Award: Yao Chen
  • Southeast Asian Film Lab – Most Promising Project: “Amoeba” by Tan Siyou
  • Southeast Asian Film Lab – Residency Award” “Bing.Bong.Bang” by Kristin Parreno Barrameda
  • Youth Jury and Critics’ Program – Young Critic Award: Lee Sze Wei
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