The world’s latest crop of genre films got its annual boost in the recently-concluded15th Puchon International Fantasy Film Festival. Also called PiFan, the festival, which makes its home in the bustling cultural center of Bucheon, was held from July 14-24, 2011.
The NETPAC juryawarded its Best Film to Hospitalite, directed by Fukuda Koji.The Japanese film was cited“for its subtle use of comedy in portraying the domestic and social impact of foreigners in a small community amidst a rapidly-globalizing world.”
The NETPAC Jury at the 33rd Moscow International Film Festival presented its award to The House Under the Water (Khaneye Zire Âb), directed Iranian filmmaker, Sepideh Farsi. In its citation, the jury singled out the film for its "achievement in crafting an intriguing story with social consciousness, ethnical sensibility and visual force".
The House Under the Water is an intricately weaved film noir centred on Morteza (Masoud Raygan), an ex-convict accused of drowning a teenager. Filmmaker Sepideh Farsi questioned the meaning of truth to a disillusioned man haunted by the long shadow of his past.
The following films were nominated for the 2011 NETPAC Award by IFFR held from 26 January to 6 February 2011:
Black Blood by Zhang Miaoyan (China/France)
My Father's House (Jia Yuan) by Zhao Dayong (China/Hong Kong)
Love Addiction (Fuyu no kimono) by Nobuteru Uchida (Japan)
Hot as Hell: The Deadbeat March (Seishun hakaba) by Okuda Yosuke (Japan)
Hospitalité (Kantai) by Koji Fukada (Japan)
Kommander Kulas: The One and Only Concert of the Amazing Kommander Kulas and His Poor Carabao in the Long and Unwinding Road of Kamias by Khav (Philippines)
Presa by Adolfo B Alix Jr (Philippines)
Paradise City (Anyang) by Park Chan-Kyong (South Korea)
Characters by Son Kwangju (South Korea)
Flying Fish (Igillena maluwo) by Sanjeewa Pushpakumara (Sri Lanka)
The Day I Disappeared by Atousa Bandeh Ghiasabadi, (Iran)
One cannot deny that Pusan film festival has become the premier Asian film festival in the past 10 years. Kim Dong-ho and his colleagues, especially Kim Ji-Seouk, have increased the standards of Korean and Asian cinema through their festival. What festival in Asia and apart from A-caliber events like Cannes, Venice, Berlin and even in other parts of the globe can screen 315 feature films, including 85 world premieres! Everyone once attending Pusan would confess how wonderful is the audience in this festival and this year the audience total hit record levels with a total of 198,818 admissions which proves a seat occupancy rate of 72.3%. The total number of guests, according to festival organizers, reached 11,110, including 3038 domestic guest, 638 international delegates and 1594 media people.
Apart from opening and closing films, there were various sections, including Gala Presentation with 4 Asian films, the non-competitive A Window on Asian Cinema with 50 movies, the competitive New Currents with 14 mostly low-budget independent films from Asian newcomers, Korean Cinema Today included Panorama with 12 mostly established filmmakers and Vision with 8 independent films. The Korean cinema Retrospective showcased 8 films by Han Hyung-mo under the title of The Alchemist of Popular Cinema and two more titles by Kim Ki-young.
The World Cinema's selection consisted of 67 titles and the competitive Wide Angel screened 70 films. The sections including Open Cinema, Flash Forward, Retrospective of Taviani Brothers, Romanian New Wave, Superheroes in Asian, Ani-Asia 2008 Asian Omnibus Collection, Music Videos by Asian Film Directors and Midnight Passion could meet any audiences' expectations.
The Pusan Film Festival has truly become the hub of Asian cinema as this event provides whatever an audience and professional look for! The Asian Film Academy ran from 25th of September till the end of festival and hosted 24 young filmmakers from Asian countries who all attended several courses and workshops by Hou Hsiao Hsien and his colleagues. The 11th Pusan Promotion Plan hosted film directors and producers of 30 selected Asian film projects and Asian Film Market also was held from 3rd to 6th of October with 4640 guests. The Asia-Pacific Film Policy Forum ran for two days on 4 & 5 October and held several conferences on various issues and topics relating to Asian film industry.
The four-member jury of New Currents awarded Korean Land of Scarecrow and Japanese Naked of Defense. NETPAC award went to two films, Members of Funeral and Treeless Mountain. The Korean Cinema Award was presented to Richard Pena, director of New York's Film Society of Lincoln Center and the award for The Asian Filmmaker of the Year was given to Gulnara Sarsenova, director of Kazakhstan's Eurasian Film Festival who has been the first female recipient of this award, however, as a NETPAC member, I believe this award had to go to Aruna Vasudev for her incomparable contribution on Asian cinema in past 30 years.
The 5th Eurasia International Film Festival (Sept 7-13 2008) was given a rebirth in the capital city of Astana, a glittering brand new city, instantly built from scratch, over five years, like a cross between the stately Canberra and the synthetic pomp of Las Vegas.
By the time the wonder of the iconic buildings fade (when you finally get over the fact that the Opening Ceremony takes place in a pyramid-shaped auditorium), you are left with a dedicated programme of Central Asian films, the first time that the festival made their regional cinema the focus of their main competition.
It makes a lot of sense considering that the birth of this region's national cinemas took place during the thaw of the Soviet 60s, then a rebirth at the end of the Soviet era in the 90s, so today, the region is ripe for another make-over.
This was particularly seen in the short film competition where the brave young works left you with many jaw-dropping moments. The rising star must surely be Adilkhan Erzhanov whose two films, Self Portrait and Bakhytzhamal, are an exercise in idiosyncratic filmmaking. Bakhytzhamal, which took the second prize of the Shorts Competition, is particularly powerful in throwing the viewer off-balance by the cranky antics of two friends. It is only later that you realize that one of them is a mental patient who wants to visit the home of his beloved 10 years later but cannot remember where to go. The emotion is surprising but deeply felt, and the shifting tones are a constant surprise.
Akjol Bekbolotov's Everything is OK did not win a prize (though it has won in other festivals) but shows the new sensibility of this generation of new wave directors. Here, the inner world of Krygyz street kids is shown graphically but the film has an unusually gentle heart, unlike most in-your-face street children films.
The NETPAC prize which looks at the main competition features as well as the Central Premieres section, went to second-time director, Daniyar Salamat's Together With Father. It is a simple tale of a young boy with his single-parent father. But the ironic observations of day-to-day urban life in Almaty make this an effective slow burn. From the father's wood-making students who unknowingly provide him extra income when he sells their works, to a bar-girl that he brings home to their one-room apartment, the distance and closeness between father and son are constantly challenged.
But the grand epics are still being made. Satybaldy Narymbetov's Mustafa Shokai, is a big budget biopic on the life of the legendary leader of the Turkic people, who wanted to create a new country called Turkestan. Hounded by the Soviets for his separatist vision, then later manipulated by the Nazis, Shokai maintained his independent spirit till the end. Narymbetov, who directed the famous Story of a Young Accordionist (1994) and recently, Steppe Express (2005), weaves Shokai's story with grand drama and poetic longing.
But if there is any sign that indeed, a new spirit is emerging from Central Asia, it was confirmed in the Opening Film, Sergei Dvortsevoi'sTulpan. Shot over three years by Russian documentarist, Dvortsevoi, this co-production marks his debut feature. About a family of sheep herders in the Steppes, the film pays close attention to the hardships of a very stark life, alleviated only by the romantic hopes of the shepherd's son. The documentary-styled cinematography brings to life the raw beauty and harshness of a poor shepherd's life and each scene is pure distilled drama.
Coupled with the young next-wave generation, it is clear that Central Asian cinema will be making many steppes (sic) forward.
Asiaticafilmmediale’s Encounters with Asian Cinema, now in its eleventh year, is at once a serious and light-hearted event: serious in intent, light-hearted in its informality, camaraderie and warmth. Director Italo Spinelli who is always available for everyone, has a nose for handpicking some of the most remarkable Asian films. Whether they premiere at the festival or not (some are premieres, though, and most were shown for the first time in Italy) is not his primary aim. Rather, he garners the best he can for a dedicated audience of Asian film buffs in Rome. And one can hardly quarrel with his choice.
The focus of the 11th edition (12-20 November 2010) was China. And what the audience got was more than just cinema. It was a multifaceted glance at this economic giant through films, serious discussions, essays, publications and an exhibition. A seminar on “Asia: Democracy and Economic Development: China, India and Iran” had high-level discussants – career diplomat, scholar and author Roberto Toscano who was Italy’s ambassador to Iran and India; author and well-known journalist and author Prem Shankar Jha from India who has written extensively on both China and India; former President of Rome’s Chamber of Commerce and of the Fondazione Cinema per Roma, Andrea Mondello; and journalist, writer and economist and Editor or the daily Il Messagero, Roberto Napoletano.
An excellent if small poster exhibition on the Cultural Revolution and on Italian films released in China during the 50s was enough to give viewers a whiff of the cinema of those years, of their heavily socialist realism themes and their accent on the masses, shown mostly in a spirit of revolt, courage and triumph. As for Italian films in China, Bicycle Thief was, unsurprisingly, the first to be screened in that country in 1954. A dozen other neo-realist films were exhibited over the following eight years till imports were halted in the early 60s.
The exhibition complemented a set of three films in a section called Chinese Memoirs and eleven films on the Cultural Revolution, mostly from the 70s, except for one made in 2003. The festival catalogue contains detailed and informative articles on a number of topics related to that era of Chinese history: Eleven Suggestions from the Cultural Revolution, China 1971, Cultural Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Cinema, A Survey of Cultural Revolution Movie Publications, Chinese Cinema at the End of the Cultural Revolution: the Cinema of the “Gang of Four”, The Cultural Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Literature, and Censorship and Propaganda in China Today.
The Opening and Closing films were also from China: Fei Mu’s Confucius (1940) and Jia Zhangke’s I Wish I Knew (2010) respectively. And then, there were a large number of publications from China, India and Iran and meetings with European and Asian publishers and writers accompanied by extracts from films relating to the themes discussed.
There was space for much else besides. The Feature Film Competition had a set of seven excellent films, while the Documentary Competition had six. Seven films were part of the Taiwan focus, while three paid tribute to Tsai Ming-liang. Five were stories on human rights apart from a wealth of features and documentaries out of competition. All of this apart from the daily discussions that were both eclectic and wide-ranging: from Roland Barthes in China to Prague Mirroring Kolkata, from the short stories of Sadat Hasan Manto to Travel Stories, from Maoist Influence in Cambodia, Nepal, India to “In the Kitchen of Love”.
Girish Kasaravalli’s Riding the Stallion of Dream (India) walked off with two awards: Best Feature for “successfully featuring all the elements needed to film and narrate a complex story full of ethical values”; and the NETPAC award “for its astute cinematic handling of a precarious situation that straddles real life and superstition”. The film shared the NETPAC award with Hao Jie’s A Single Man (China) – a vivacious tale of old bachelors - “for a daring and original documentation of the psyche of the Chinese peasant life and for the filmmaker’s ability to transcend a serious social problem with humour and humanity.” Both films were marked by an originality and freshness of approach to their subject.
The Special Jury Award went to Food and the Maiden (Japan) by Minoru Kurimura, a strange film about the preparation and consumption of food and its relationship to the characters in the story - while the Best Documentary Award was shared by 1001 Iransby Firouzeh Koshrovani (Iran) and War and Love in Kabul by Helga Reidmeister (Germany). The Japanese and Iranian films also took the Audience Award.
But awards rarely tell the whole tale. For, beyond the award-winners were many films of high quality: Mazdak Mirabedini’s minimalist, tightly spaced, tightly timed Butterfly in Sleep (Iran), for instance, was about a psychotherapist and his patients; or Sheika by Arnel Mardoquio (Philippines) which showed pitilessly yet through moments of intense contemplation a woman’s search for justice in a society bedevilled by poverty and violence; or Maida’s House by Teddy Soeriaatmadja (Indonesia), an engagingly charming film of a young girl’s idealism as she strives not just to help but to enliven the spirits of street children.
As an Italian audience soaked itself in the cultures of Asia, four Asian directors from the Philippines, Iran, China and Japan shot films during the festival on four internationally renowned Italian artists. This “Crossing Cultures: An Encounter between Asia and Europe” project, devised in collaboration with Cortocircuito Arte, was initiated well before the filmmakers arrived in Rome, was completed during the festivals and the films were screened before an international audience.
Encounters with Asian Cinema left much space for encounters with hosts and guests over lively dinners and good wine in the heart of a throbbing city where everything was within walking distance. And the heart was everywhere at once.
In October 2010 Hanoi celebrated the thousandth anniversary of its birth. And in continuation of the city’s the week-long celebrations came the First Vietnam International Film Festival. Organised by the Vietnamese Cinema Department – with the Pusan Film Festival in Korea as its partner - it had a competition of principally Southeast Asian films with an international jury, a NETPAC award with an all-Asian jury and a competition for short and documentary films judged by a mixed jury. The six-day event was packed with screenings, gala red-carpet evenings, dinners and receptions accompanied by traditional music and dance performances, visits to historic sites in Hanoi ... and 68 films in three different venues.
Accompanying the screenings were panel discussions and a workshop on shooting 3D with Panasonic. In the open space outside the Opera, an exhibition of giant photographs celebrated both the millennium of the city, and of its cinema.
It was an experience that went beyond cinema into enticing glimpses of Vietnamese culture. Even if not impeccably organized, even if the films were not the best to be found, it still left an indelible impression, succeeding in the stated aim of the Festival to “experience historical moments in the Vietnamese culture and history.” As you drive through different parts of the city to the grand opening and closing ceremonies at the National Convention Centre, the city comes alive. And, therefore, .”
Two Vietnamese films were among the ten that competed for both the Netpac and the Festival awards. There was the historical film The Fate of a Songstress in Thang Long (i.e. “Ascending Dragon”, the earlier poetical name of Ha Noi) for which Nhat Kim Anh shared the Best Actress award with Hong Kong’s Fiona Sit (in Break-up Club) and Best Actor went to Ah Niu in the Malaysian film Puppy Love (Ice Kacang).
The other Vietnamese film in competition was The Lieutenant which harks back to the war years – but not nearly as successfully, dramatically or movingly as the classics When the Tenth Month Comes by Dang Nhat Minh, or The Wild Field by the late Hong Sen to whom a retrospective was devoted in the Festival. The NETPAC prize as well as the Best Film award went to the Singaporean filmSandcastle. This is the first feature by Boo Junfeng who has been winning accolades internationally for his short films. A multi-layered, intelligent and sensitive coming of age film that speaks to all generations, it well deserved both these awards along with a third for Best Director.
The First Vietnamese International Film Festival (27-31 October 2010) despite some inevitable glitches accompanying an event on such an ambitious scale, is a very welcome addition to the growing family of film festivals in Asia. It was most gratifying for NETPAC that at the very first film festival launched in Vietnam, the NETPAC award was instituted.
Jocelyne Saab (30th Apr, 1948 - 7th Jan. 2019) Jocelyne Saab, widely considered one of the most important contemporary Arab filmmakers, passed away after a brave and difficult battle with cancer on 7 January. Although death had long been hovering, many of us in contact only through texting or phoning, were taken by surprise, as the usual season's greetings had been exchanged with no hint that this beloved member of our film community would leave us within a week. Read More...