It was a time for celebration and renewal for NETPAC which completed 20 years in 2010. The Network was born in August 1990, at an international seminar on “Promoting Asian Cinema” organized by Cinemaya The Asian Film Quarterly in New Delhi. For all these twenty years, NETPAC has been a staunch standard-bearer for the cinemas of Asia, doggedly supporting them, publishing books, holding conferences, programming Asian films for various film festivals, founding a NETPAC festival in Jogjakarta and instituting the NETPAC award for the Best Asian Film, now given away at about thirty festivals worldwide. The year’s flagship event was undoubtedly Imaging Asia the NETPAC Festival held in New Delhi in August. But the celebrations were not confined to Asia alone. They took place in Europe as well, proving that NETPAC’s friends, well-wishers and followers are lodged everywhere and that the spirit which inspired the creation of the Network remains intact and constant.
It all began at the 16th edition of the Vesoul International Festival of Asian Cinema in January. The festival issued a press release about the origin, development and activities of NETPAC, and the city’s Deputy Mayor, Mr. Alain Chrétien, conferred the Medal of the City of Vesoul on Aruna Vasudev, NETPAC’s Founder-President for her tireless efforts in bringing Asian cinema to the forefront.
There followed seminars in Rotterdam and Berlin in January and February, to which the directors and staff of the two festivals provided unstinting support, reinforcing their historic seventeen-year association with NETPAC.
It began in Berlin in 1994 when the first NETPAC award was presented at the International Forum of New Cinema. While no official prizes are normally awarded at the Forum, several independent juries do confer awards (FIPRESCI, NETPAC, the Caligari and Ecumenical Prizes) within its framework. The winner that year was Japanese director Sai Yoichi for All Under the Moon, a film that went on to garner many more. It was also in Berlin that Jia Zhangke took his first award - the NETPAC award - for his debut feature, Xiao Wu.
Also in 1994, the Rotterdam festival organised a two-day conference during the festival’s 24th edition as a joint initiative of IFFR, NETPAC and Filmstiftung Nordrhein Westfalen, mainly through the driving force of the late Wouter Barendrecht, a member of both IFFR and NETPAC. The NETPAC award was established at IFFR the following year.
The 2010 seminars on Asian cinema at these two festivals, organised by NETPAC member Wong Tuck-Cheong, brought together a number of directors of films nominated for the NETPAC award. In Rotterdam: John Torres, Adolfo Alix Jr. (both from the Philippines, whose films have found a ready audience at festivals round the world) and Mostofa Sarwar Farooki (from Bangladesh, and the harbinger of a new style of filmmaking in his country); in Berlin: Yang Yong-hi (Japan-Korea), Yang Rui (China), Arvin Chen (Taiwan-US, his film, Au Revoir Taipei, went on to win the NETPAC award at the Berlinale), Hou Chi-Jan (Taiwan) and Laxmikant Shetgaonkar (India).
From July through September, NETPAC’s enthusiastic new member Lekha Shankar put together a package of six NETPAC award-winning films at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok. Her initiative received full support from the embassies of the countries to which the films belonged. FCCT’s monthly film-screenings are a popular event, and the NETPAC festival was no exception.
Well-covered in the local press, and a well-deserved spring-board for NETPAC in Thailand, it drew a large, eclectic crowd, both expat and Thai, many of whom seemed fairly new to Asian cinema, and were curious to know more. The films shown were Aparna Sen’s Mr & Mrs Iyer (India, NETPAC award-winner in Locarno in 2002), Nonzee Nimibutr’s famed ghost-drama Nang Nak (Thailand, awarded in Rotterdam in 2000), Prasanna Vithanage’s Akasa Kusum (Sri Lanka, awarded in Granada in 2009), Riri Raza’s mother-daughter dramaEliana Eliana (Indonesia, awarded in Singapore in 2002), Ralston Jover’s moving docu-feature Bakal Boys (Philippines, awarded at Cinemalaya in 2009) and Yeo Joon Han’s sharp satire Sell-Out (Malaysia, awarded at the 2008 Taipei Golden Horse Festival). Nang Nak, one of the biggest hits in Thai cinema history, was screened in the presence of director Nonzee Nimibutr and lead actor Winai Kraibutr, as was the Closing Film, Sell-Out. Director Yeo Joon Han and NETPAC President Aruna Vasudev flew down specially for the event and interacted with the audience through a Q & A session. But there was more than just fine films to hold the attention of the audience. Tables full of gourmet food from these countries, and in some cases (India, Sri Lanka) Ambassadors personally presenting the films and joining in the discussions. In August came the centerpiece – Imaging Asia, the NETPAC Festival, a vibrant, multi-faceted cultural event organized by NETPAC India in New Delhi with the support of our many NETPAC members. Held in association with the Goethe Institut, Max Mueller Bhavan, and several other institutions (Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, Asian Heritage Foundation, Casa Asia, National Film Development Corporation, Cervantes Institute), Imaging Asia once again had the support of UNESCO – Cinemaya’s partner twenty years ago for the seminar at which NETPAC was born. The Festival comprised a Conference on “The Culture and Politics of Asian Cinema” with some sixty participants and seven different topics and panels, a festival of 30 NETPAC award-winning films, evening performances and exhibitions featuring Asia’s proto-cinema (see Events). Also in September, the Fukuoka Festival held screenings over two days of Japanese NETPAC award-winning films. Significantly, the programme included Sai Yoichi’s All Under the Moon. Again, Aruna Vasudev introduced the six films and explained the genesis and growth of NETPAC and the reasons that led her to focus on Asian cinema.
In October Philip Cheah moderated an outdoor dialogue session with previous NETPAC award-winners - Yim Soon-Rye (Three Friends) and Roh Gyeong-Tae (The Last Dining Table in 2006) – on Haeundae Beach, the main site of the Pusan Festival. Three Friends was the first winner of the NETPAC award at Pusan in 1996. That year, in response to the emerging wave of Korean cinema, NETPAC took the historic decision of making Pusan the first festival where the award would be given away only to a Korean film. In doing so, it recognized talents such as Jang Sun Woo (Timeless, Bottomless, Bad Movie in 1997) and Hong Sang Soo (The Power of Kangwon Province) in the award’s initial years. Interestingly, while the directors admitted that the NETPAC prize gave them a sense of recognition and some added marketability, they wished that the prize also included cash. But what NETPAC stood for, they added, remained unclear to them. This is an ongoing issue, as several festivals have not devoted adequate space in their catalogues to explain the award.
In the same month in Vietnam, the first Hanoi International Film Festival, held as part of the celebrations to mark the founding of the city of Hanoi, one thousand years ago, instituted a NETPAC jury and a NETPAC award (see report by Aruna Vasudev). The first winner was Singaporean director Boo Junfeng’s film Sandcastle.
Third Eye, the Asian Film Festival, too, celebrated NETPAC’s twenty years at its 9th edition held from 28 October to 4 November in Mumbai. The festival showed a package of five NETPAC award-winning films – Adrift (Vietnam), August Sun (Sri Lanka), About Elly(Iran), Songs from the Southern Seas (Kazakhstan) and Sheika (Philippines), while its catalogue carried a long essay by Aruna Vasudev in which she explained the genesis and work of NETPAC. She also wrote about the website AsiaPacificFilms.com launched on 19 October 2009. This is “a premier collection of independent Asian and Pacific Island films that educate, entertain, inform and inspire. The on-line film collection of more than 400 films, programmed and organized by NETPAC members, offers instant access to culturally and historically important films from Asia to people throughout the world through streaming technologies.”
And in December, the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in Trivandrum invited Aruna Vasudev as NETPAC President to deliver the prestigious annual Aravindan Memorial Lecture on Asian Cinema. In her talk on 'The Journey of Bringing Asian Cinema Centerstage', Vasudev said that her discovery of Asian cinema in the 80s and the many encounters she had with Asian directors had led her to “reflect on cultural understanding and on the significance of cinema as the greatest carrier of culture. This brings me back,” she added “to my original thesis: cinema as a means of understanding ways of being of other peoples. And of bringing people together, turning strangers into friends.” Following the screening of his film Tropical Malady at IFFK, director and Jury member at the festival, Apichatpong Weerasethakul had a discussion with Lekha Shankar. Both are NETPAC members.
The year wrapped up with the release on 9 December of Asian Film Journeys: Selections from Cinemaya 1988-2004 by Mr Shashi Tharoor, MP, at a dazzling ceremony in New Delhi. Edited by Rashmi Doraiswamy and Latika Padgaonkar – both former Executive Editors of the Quarterly - and published by NETPAC and Wisdom Tree with support from the Ford Foundation, Asian Film Journeys contains an inimitable collection of articles on the cinemas of twenty-six Asian countries that appeared in the pages of Cinemaya, a Quarterly that kept its finger on the pulse of Asian cinema for over 16 years (see Publications).
Film screenings at and outside festivals, conferences, memorial lecture, book. All in all, it was a fitting conclusion to the twentieth year of NETPAC’s genesis. We would like to thank all those individuals, festivals and institutions that kept their faith in us along our journey. And now that Asian cinema has come of age, we at NETPAC will continue ensure that films do get seen in this region and around the world, in the belief that they will help cross the bridges to other cultures and peoples.
by Latika Padgaonkar