Loading...
 

Festival Reports

BUSAN INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL 2024

Mrudula Wednesday June 5, 2024

The Busan International Short Film Festival held from 25 – 30 April 2024 screened one hundred and thirty-six short fiction, documentary and animation films from forty-three countries. This was the festival’s forty-first edition. It is the oldest film festival in Busan, city of beautiful beaches, dizzyingly tall skyscrapers, the smell of sea food wafting slong the street markets, and home to the well-known Busan International Film Festival, one of the most important festivals in the world. The BISFF began by showcasing only Korean films, but from 2010 it has gone international. This year’s edition had, in addition to the international competition and the Korean competition, several other sections. There was, for instance, the experimental and immersive works section - the ‘3D Cinema’ programme, the ‘XR’ programme and the ‘Interactive’ programme. The festival has been recognized by cinema academies around the world and has become a qualifying event for the BAFTA Awards, the Academy Awards, the Goyas, and the Canadian Screen Awards. The festival also had masterclasses, special lectures and workshops.

The ‘Guest of Honour’ at the festival this year was Italy. The inauguration had a well-known Italian pianist play to the images of famous Italian films, including the neo-realist ones by Rossellini, De Sica and Fellini. The poster for the festival was inspired by Fellini’s La Strada. The opening ceremony had an artist create a part of the poster for the festival with a paintbrush attached to a drone on the stage.  

NETPAC Jury members (From left to Right in the): Ms. YOUN Sungeun (Republic of Korea)  Prof. Ms. Rashmi Doraiswamy (India) Chairperson  Ms. Nishitani Kaoru (Japan)
NETPAC Jury members (From left to Right in the): Ms. YOUN Sungeun (Republic of Korea)  Prof. Ms. Rashmi Doraiswamy (India) Chairperson  Ms. Nishitani Kaoru (Japan)

 

Reality, Virtuality

The theme of the festival this year was ‘Cinema and Reality’. Among the three films screened at the inauguration was My Mother’s Story by Kim Soyoung and Jang Minhee (2023). It was an impressive South Korean animation that dealt with a mother reminiscing about her life to her daughter. Her memories encapsulated the history of Korea. The daughter imagines her mother’s home, and draws it, with a bird that flies over all boundaries and reaches the home of her mother’s childhood. 

Koi Wang Chao’s Chuf Chuf Chuf (2023) was a Macao-Taiwanese production, a short fiction, that portrayed the theme of the of the festival of virtuality and reality. A woman and man are travelling in a train with the world passing by the window. It is not clear who is ‘real’ and who is being ‘imagined’. The woman gets off the train at the end, pulling her trolley bag along. Was this virtual reality, where a journey can be undertaken as a game?

Family Relationships

Shalini Adnani White Ant (UK/India 2023) tells the story of an elderly man who returns to his ancestral home to find that it is infested with termites. When the termites are cleared, the house collapses. Were they destroying the house or holding it up? The white ants are a metaphor for familial and societal relationships. The idea of the carnival, a travelling van-carousel (odong odong) is explored in Basri and Salma in a Never-Ending Comedy by Khozy Rizal (Indonesia, 2023, fiction). The images of the colourfully lit up van going in the night to far off places, bringing joy to children, are mesmerising. The irony is that this couple who bring joy to children have a complicated relationship with their family and between themselves on the issue of children. 

Han Changlok’s Peeper (South Korea, 2023, fiction) explored the broken relationship between a father and daughter by stylizing the father’s affairs through dance movements in a stable where people with masks look like horses. This ‘story’ is narrated by a fan who walks up to a film director and tells him that she can give him an idea for his new film. Park Jubin’s Gazagaze (South Korea, 2023) is a fiction short about the mental block an animator faces, because he has to deliver hundreds of drawings before a deadline. There were other short films, too, at the festival that referred to mental health or psychological issues. 

Sports and Beyond

There were films on sports that managed to speak of larger issues in their ‘short’ narratives. Wen Qi and Z Zheng’s fiction short Questions to Heaven (China, 2023) dealt with a girl overcoming her fear of swimming. It stretched the narrative of this personal fear to questions posed centuries ago by thinkers to the universe. Another interesting film on the theme of sports was Cho Heesoo’s experimental documentary Ironman Triathlon (South Korea, 2024) which examined the sportsman’s need to push oneself to excel, the proximity to drugs and death and the humble origins of many of the sportsmen for whom this is a make-or-break profession. The film was visually interesting with athletes leaving traces of running on snow like a cosmic design; cycling with the camera rotating with the wheel and stylization of actors’ movements. 

Migrants and Outsiders

The issue of migration and migrants was dealt with in some of the competition films. Of these Daood Alabdulaa’s documentary Fata Morgana (Germany/Syria, 2023) was an international coproduction and portrayed the life of a migrant labourer who is working as a truck driver, transporting materials for the construction of stadiums for the World Cup in Qatar. His life is all about waiting in queues of trucks that take sand from one place to another location, where they have to wait in line again. In Lee Sunu’s The Net (South Korea, 2024, fiction), Rahul is an illegal immigrant whose choices unleash a tragic chain of results. Yun Doyeong’s Slaughter (South Korea, 2023)  depicts the special relationship with a cow that a worker develops on a farm where they are bred for beef. Even though he needs the money that he would earn from every slaughter to sustain his family, he finds he does not have the ‘masculine’ ability to kill. The film charts his ironic journey from being unable to slaughter to becoming one who trains others in the job. Morad Mostafa’s I Promise you Paradise (Egypt/France/Qatar, 2023) is about a father who is determined to save his little daughter after a violent incident in Egypt, even if this means sending her away and being separated from her.

The NETPAC Award went to Omer Ferhat Ozmen’s fiction short, Minus One (Turkey, 2024). In an apartment block, the new tenants in the basement become the object of a signature campaign. The owner of the block finds a ‘strange’ smell coming from their flat, so he meets the other tenants of the huge apartment building, with its ornamental winding staircase, to have them thrown out. In the short span of less than fifteen minutes (14’47’’) it manages to convey complex ideas on diversity, intolerance and acceptance.

The Transmedia Forum

The BISFF was preceded by a one and a half day long Forum on ‘Reality, Virtuality and Cinema’ on 24th and 25th April. There were thought-provoking presentations by Korean and foreign experts on AI, virtual production, virtual humans, 3D media broadcasting services, visual storytelling and activism, home movies archive, new viewing practices from the public to the private and new narratives in the old and new media followed by insightful commentaries by the discussants. The second day had presentations by Bill Morrison and Pip Chodorow with a screening of Morrison’s latest work, Incident. Bill Morrison usually uses found footage to make his films. Incident marks a break with his previous filmmaking because it creates a testimony of a shooting incident in which an African American is shot by police officers and there is an attempt at a cover-up. The bodycams of the police officers, dashcam footage, footage from surveillance cameras and mappings from Google Earth are used to create parallel images on the split screen, where all run simultaneously at the same time. The ‘testimony’ is not of one person, but is non-human. It is that which emerges from the disjuncture in the narratives of all these parallel images. The truth of the incident becomes evident in the automatically recorded footage, despite the attempts of the police officers to self-censor what they are saying when they are being recorded. Bill Morrison presented his own work and this was followed by a talk by Chodorow entitled ‘Bill Morrison’s Reality Show’, analysing Morrison’s work and placing it in the context of how the very concept of the panopticon has changed with the advent of new media. 

The Busan Transmedia Forum (BITF) and the Busan International Short Film Festival (BISFF) put together much food for thought in the week-long events of discussion, presentations and films in their wonderful city. 

 

WRITTEN BY Dr. Rashmi Doraiswamy

Chairperson of  the NETPAC Jury (India)

Dr Rashmi Doraiswamy studied Russian language and literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.  Her doctoral thesis was on Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian philosopher. She is Professor at the Academy of International  Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. 

Her writings on literature and cinema have been published in prestigious Indian and foreign publications. She was the recipient of the National Award for the Best Film Critic in 1994. She was awarded the MAJLIS research fellowship in 1999 for a project entitled ‘Changing Narrative Strategies of Hindi Cinema’.  

Her entry on ‘Film and Literature (India)’ has appeared in the Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Literatures in English (Routledge, 2005). Her entries on Indian and foreign cinemas have appeared in The Little Black Book: Movies (Cassell Illustrated, London, 2007). ). She is author of The Post-Soviet Condition: Chingiz Aitmatov in the ’90s (Aakar, 2005) and Guru Dutt: Through Light and Shade (Wisdom Tree, 2008). She is editor of Cultural Histories of Central Asia (Aakar, 2009), Energy Security: Central Asia, India and the Neighbourhood  (2013) and Perspectives on Multiculturalism: Pre-Soviet, Soviet and Post-Soviet Central Asia (2013).  She is co-editor of Being and Becoming: The Cinemas of Asia (Macmillan, 2002), Globalisation and the Third World (Manak, 2009) and Asian Film Journeys: Selections from Cinemaya (Wisdom Tree, 2010).

She has participated in national and international seminars on cultural issues and has served on several statutory and non-statutory film festival and critics juries in India (including the national award critic, documentary and feature film juries) and abroad (Mannheim, Taiwan, Sochi, Toronto, Karlovy Vary, Alma Ata, Busan). She was associated for many years with Cinemaya, The Asian Film Quarterly, where she worked as Assistant,  Deputy and Executive Ediitor in an honorary capacity.  She has served on the Preview Committee for films for the International Film Festival of India for several years.  She has lectured extensively on cinema at film appreciation courses. She was on the guest faculty for many years at the Mass Communications and Research Centre at Jamia Millia Islamia.  

 

 

15th Bangaluru International Film Festival, India

Mrudula Saturday March 30, 2024

The FIAPF accredited 15th Bengaluru International Film Festival run by the Karnataka Chalanachitra Academy, Government of Karnataka, and presided over by the Honourable Chief Minister Shri. Siddaramaiah was held in the capital of the state of Bangalore from the 29th of February to March 7th, 2024. ‘Sandalwood’ is the entertainment industry moniker and 2024 saw it celebrate its 90-year milestone. It was also the 50th anniversary of the State being named Karnataka. Some 5000+ Kannada films have been produced across these 9 decades.

This industry has grown from a handful of production companies to 200 plus and they make over 300 films annually. Kannada is the main language of the state of Karnataka, where it is spoken natively by 40.6 million people, or about two thirds of the state's population. Kannada art titles make the rounds of the international festival circuit while domestically the discerning film goer/local audience also support the big budget extravaganzas and commercial cinema. The 15th edition presided over by Artistic Director Shri. N Vidyashankar was the 13th edition he has worked on since his involvement in establishing, along with others, this cinema delight. It is clear the government (election year) sees cinema as a powerful tool for education and social cohesion and a way to integrate these cinematic learnings viewed by audience throngs into the community’s fabric. Thematically the festival was looking at upholding human dignity, social justice, environmental concerns, and women’s involvement alongside addressing gender inequalities. I am pleased to report there were many women jurors across the five juries of impressive international and local industry and academic, literary stalwarts. The Artistic Director had just under three months to assemble this impressive festival both creatively and logistically. 320 film entries had to be reduced to 36. They gave a 10-day entry submission window and were inundated. Four selection committees reduced the submissions.

The Kannada Cinema Competition Jury co-ordinated by NETPAC was chaired by me alongside eminent colleagues Andronika Martonova from Bulgaria and Dr Rajappa Dalavai from Bangalore. We had 12 Kannada films in competition that looked at micro and macro concerns. I would add that powerlessness, revenge and masculine violence play out in many of these films underpinning the social barriers and patriarchy structures existing. Corruption is also a common theme – “Corruption is an everyday story.” (Dooradarshana). Twin themes featured in several films mirroring the logo of the Festival, the Ganda berunda the two headed bird of Hindu mythology. It is said to have magical powers and was the emblem of the Mysore dynasty under wodeyar kingdom. It is still the official emblem of Karnataka as it is considered to have immense strength. Village films superseded those of urban modernity. The portrayal of women in much of these films was of strong, nagging, and demanding women versus subservient. In most films we saw the exceptional ecology and landscapes of the State of Karnataka, something most in this state are immensely proud of. Biodiversity and ecology were strong themes in the Ricky Kej (three-time Grammy award winner) extraordinary performances at the Opening Night festivities of the 15th BIFFes. A delight for fellow juror Andronika and myself was the exceptional trailer for the festival honouring the ancient folk-art traditions of the region. It was a privilege to see these 12 selected Kannada films. Naanu Ivala Abhimani by Vinod Kumar G was a platform to advocate for cochlear implant surgery and disability in general. Dealing with the tale of a 12-year-old girl who was born deaf due to interfamily marriage. Alindia Radio by Rangaswamy S a period piece deals with the influence of radio on a common man who sang the history of Madappa and how it leads to his ultimate demise. Chow Chow Bath by Kenja Chethan Kumar touts itself as one of the first Hyperlink Romantic comedies in the local industry. An intertwining mostly urban narrative of six characters who navigate the heady perfume of love, man’s obsession with woman and the societal pressures to marry. Dooradarshana by Sukesh Shetty another period piece explores how a tranquil village life is disrupted when a television comes to town. Alongside this are themes of corruption, loss of friendship and striving for love destinies. Garuda Purana by Manjunath B Nagba is an urban serial killer police crime thriller with a romantic story sideline. Kandeelu by K Yashoda Prakash, the one female director in competition, deals with the important issue of locals who pass away whilst working overseas to support their families and the sense of powerlessness and difficulties of navigating village recriminations, customs, superstitions, and the labyrinth of bureaucracy barriers to try and bring their loved ones home for last rights. Kshetrapathi by Shrikant Katagi is an epic price-gouging corruption revenge film of farmer suicides and the ensuing farmer fightback and strikes.

This commercial film weaves around these struggles and the loss of farming practices to big business and how big business purchase price does not cover the cost of agricultural production. “Nothing humiliates a man more than hunger and poverty.” Commercial village bro-film Lineman by V Raghu Shastry looks at townsfolk who are reliant on electricity and wish to mark the 100-year birthday of their village midwife. However, a nesting bird at the powerplant divides the village as the lineman cuts power to save the eggs. The dual eco-system story plays out; that of the eggs and that of the village. “Man is a sinner son. You can’t touch the bird eggs. The mother won’t sit on them.”There is light, and dark inside us.” Ravike Prasanga by Santhosh Kodankeri is finally a courtroom satire that delves into the areas of objectification of women, sexual repression, patriarchy, and coercive control. Is marriage the end game for women? It centres around a young woman wanting to do something extraordinary with her blouse to meet her intended match and the tailor confused by numerous changes by the client, gets it wrong. She wants revenge for her deep sense of lost opportunity. Swathi Mutthina Male Haniye directed by Raj B Shetty is his first attempt at a love story and it is remarkable. “To love as a woman is not wrong. If you ask me as a woman who is married, it is wrong, but as a woman, it is not. I am glad you found it.” Shetty also made two films in one year including this awarded film and works in multiple genres including experimental. This is a talent to watch. “I want to die as only a human being. A no-one.” Chosen unanimously by the Jury as the receiver of the NETPAC Award the citation reads:  For its masterful sensitivity and artistic achievements in all cinematic departments. For its visual and narrative poetry, and universal profundity of how to transcend finally, this mortal coil with dignity and grace.  A deeply moving portrayal of those who assist the dying and those left behind. 

Tatsama Tadbhava by Vishal Atreya is a police crime thriller centring on psychological fractures and good versus evil. Does it preside in us all? Nirvana by Amar L is an atmospheric film set in heavy rainfall as a heavily pregnant young woman, about to have her first child, is alone for a day and evening.

Written by Maxine Williamson – (Australia) Chairperson of the NETPAC Jury. 

UNCOVERING “ASIA” AT THE KOLKATA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Mrudula Monday January 22, 2024

On the threshold of its third decade, the Kolkata International Film Festival held on 5-12 December 2023 returned bigger than ever, with over 200 films across 22 programs shown on 23 screens around the state cultural capital, along with talks, masterclasses, exhibits, and the annual Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture.

From the festive opening night at the Netaji Indoor Stadium befitting the incomparable movie fandom in India through the daily long lines and packed screenings to the emotional closing ceremony at Nandan, the droves of people—the culturati alongside the adoring mass audience—enthralled by the diverse selection of world cinema were a sight to behold for a first-time observer like me.

KIFF’s deep appreciation of regional formations in cinema particularly interested me. Apart from the International Competition, the festival promoted overlapping notions of regional cinema: the documentary and short forms competing on a national scale, filmmaking in subnational regions in various Indian languages, and a special interest in the festival’s home region’s proud Bengali cinema tradition.

A MULTIFACETED “ASIAN” REGION

Even the Asia Select, awarded by the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC), whose jury I chaired, featured seven films that projected a broader imagination of Asian cinema, a region all too often typified primarily, if not only, by East Asian films. Interestingly, in this case, East Asia is not represented.

From Central Asia came Kyrgyzstani Asel Zhuraeva’s God’s Gift; from South Asia, Bangladeshi Syeda Neegar Banu’s Barren Waters, Indian Pranab Aich’s Nanda School of Tradition, and Nepalis Rajan Kathet and Sunir Pandey’s No Winter Holidays, from Southeast Asia, Filipino Joel Lamangan’s Walker and the Burmese collective Ninefold Mosaic’s Broken Dreams: Stories from the Myanmar Coup; and from West Asia, And, Towards Happy Alleys, a documentary about repression in Iran made by Indian filmmaker Sreemoyee Singh.

NETPAC Jury at the Kolkata International Film Festival
NETPAC Jury at the Kolkata International Film Festival

 

MARGINALIZED PLACES, FORMAL EXPLORATIONS

Some films looked back on the formal traditions of their respective film cultures and retraced them anew. They opened windows for their viewers to witness often literally remote, socially marginalized, and figuratively hidden places.

God’s Gift derives its power from the folktale structure, reflecting on a society’s capitalist present, soviet past, and still deeper Kyrgyz cultural memory in a deceptively simple tale of an old couple finding a baby on their doorstep. Deftly, it depicts the avarice of this generation, which looks at an abandoned infant and sees an opportunity to make money, the state bureaucracy’s regimentation of people’s domestic lives, and, in these contexts, the capacity of the elderly to choose a new path and draw new life from age-old stories.

Both multicharacter narratives centered on vulnerable women, Barren Waters and Walker turn to the long-popular episodic melodramas of Bangladesh and the Philippines, respectively, to depict harsh social realities and women’s plight.

In Barren Waters, a restrictive culture in a disenfranchised community, prejudiced against migrants, transwomen, and the displaced, is unveiled. It combines the familiar song-and-dance interludes with the weepies and theatrical performances, punctuating the plot and providing space for emotional expression.

In Walker, it is police brutality that poor women must suffer that is exposed. Daringly referencing state corruption and inhumanity during the recent Duterte regime, the film unflinchingly uses the idiom of social realism, a political form with a long history in the country, as an artistic protest and means of revelation.

THE DISCIPLINE AND DEMANDS OF THE DOCUMENTARY

Three works illustrate the versatility and intensity of the documentary, each one showing the great lengths documentarists take to accomplish their work and explore new styles.

Nanda School of Tradition combines creative reenactment and daily observation to examine a centenarian guru’s exemplary life. The work, filmed over many years, is, in parts, a lighthearted drama, an existential-religious meditation, and a proud celebration of an exceptional man from the living culture of the filmmaker’s homeplace.

For No Winter Holidays, the filmmakers braved deathly winters. They visited their subjects on and off for months and stayed with them in the deserted Himalayan mountains for over a hundred days, cut off from contact with the outside world. The documentary masterfully portrays nature’s cycles, a village’s customs, and two elderly women’s personal histories and inner lives in affective, ethnographic, and figurative ways. 

In And, Towards Happy Alleys, a young woman—a cinephile and a singer—follows the trail of Iranian artists for years, learning their language and immersing in their culture. She interviews Iran’s leading filmmakers, among others, until her journey becomes a means of self-discovery and lending her voice to the cause of a people oppressed by their government.

URGENT CALLS FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE

The profound need for freedom—political, cultural, and personal—expressed as unsung songs, hushed murmurs, and anguished weeping—is the theme that weaves together all the films in the Asia Select category.

Broken Dreams captures these many sentiments and the current travails of different Asian societies and peoples today. Composed of nine short films—some non-narrative experiments, others documentary-like in their treatment, and still others straightforward stories—this omnibus is directed by eight political émigrés and refugees who fled the iron-hand rule of the military junta in Myanmar. Remarkably, despite the dangers to their lives and loved ones, they continue to make films that reveal and record heinous injustices and rally and clamor for freedom.

With screenwriter Ilgar Guliyev from Azerbaijan and filmmaker Modhurima Sinha from India joining me to complete the jury, we awarded the prize on 12 December to Broken Dreams and offered this citation:

“For its daring narratives and poetic visual language, weaving together multiple perspectives of protest against oppression and hope against all odds, produced collectively by freedom-fighting artists in exile despite limitations, restrictions, and threats, using the unique platform of film for social justice, the Asian Select Prize is given by the NETPAC jury in solidarity with Ninefold Mosaic to the omnibus Broken Dreams: Stories from the Myanmar Coup.”

 

Written by Patrick F. Campos

*A different and shorter version of this was published by The Telegraph India.

Patrick F. Campos is a film critic, programmer, and associate professor at the University of the Philippines. He is a member of NETPAC and FIPRESCI.

2023 QCINEMA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL

Mrudula Saturday December 30, 2023

A year after the first-decade milestone of the QCinema International Film Festival (QCIFF), it remains the main gateway of Manila audiences to world cinema and the point of convergence in the Philippines for international film artists and professionals.

The 11th edition, dubbed “Elevated,” which ran from 17-26 November 2023 in six venues, showcased ten impressive programs comprising 63 films and four parallel events. The non-screening events included a Project Market where 19 productions from the Philippines and Southeast Asia vied for grants, the launch of a book on Philippine independent cinema, a film industry conference, and the inaugural Young Film Critics Lab dedicated to emerging film journalists.

A still from the movie 'Mimang' directed by Taeyang Kim
A still from the movie 'Mimang' directed by Taeyang Kim

 

DIVERSE PROGRAMS WITH AN ASIAN CINEMA EMPHASIS

QCIFF’s diverse and well-curated programming featured some of the best in contemporary cinema from around the globe but strongly emphasized Asian cinema in the overall selection. The festival opened with Yorgos Lanthimos’s Venice Golden Lion prizewinning period dark comedy Poor Things. It closed in multiple sites with Anthony Chen’s Gen Z existential drama The Breaking Ice, the Singaporean entry for the year’s Oscars, set in the frozen border city between China and North Korea.

The Screen International program featured films by renowned directors whose works are screening in or have been awarded by distinguished film festivals, including Ali Ahmadzadeh, Radu Jude, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Aki Kaurismäki, Wim Wenders, Tran Anh Hung, Christian Petzold, Andrew Haigh, and Ena Sendijarević.

The Before Midnight and Special Screening programs presented works by We Jun Cho, Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, Junta Yamaguchi, Pascal Plante, Quentin Dupieux, Garth Davis, Gaspar Noé, Moshe Rosenthal, and Wei Shujun, while the Restored Classics section brought back to the big screen a Stanley Kubrick, two Wong Kar-wais, and a Bruce Lee.

Two of QCIFF’s distinctive programs are the New Horizons, which is composed of directorial debuts, and the LGBTQ+ section, RainbowQC. Films by Vuk Langulov -Klotz, Ira Sachs, François Ozon, Michał Englert and Małgorzata Szumowska, and a selection of shorts by Whammy Alcazaren and Pedro Almodóvar were shown in the latter, while the former showcased Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir’s City of Wind (Mongolia), Victor Iriarte’s Foremost by Night (Spain), Charlotte Regan’s Scrapper (UK), Delphine Girard’s Through the Night (Belgium), and Jeremias Nyangoen’s Women from Rote Island (Indonesia).

A HARVEST OF NEW PHILIPPINE FILMS

While QCinema boasts a diverse world cinema selection, it is consistently a platform alongside the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival for catching the year’s cutting-edge new works from the Philippines and the Philippine diaspora. Three works from different sections illustrate this well.

Emergent Manila-based filmmaker JT Trinidad’s short the river that never ends is a tender look at the life of a middle-aged transwoman struggling to survive with her aged father by the historic Pasig River in a decaying metropolis. 

UK-based British -Filipino Paris Zarcilla’s Raging Grace is a knowingly postcolonial and teasingly allegorical thriller following the horrors faced by an undocumented Filipina immigrant and her daughter in the “haunted” house of a British “master” and his scheming heir. Filipino auteur Lav Diaz returns to the festival with his ongoing response to Duterte’s brutal regime and the Philippine National Police’s complicity in the ex-president’s genocidal “war on drugs” in Essential Truths of The Lake, about a police lieutenant’s obsessive Sisyphean investigation of a desaparecido artist-activist.

QCIFF has also consistently supported Philippine documentaries and short films by simultaneously including them in various programs without setting them apart, maintaining programs specifically for documentaries and shorts, organizing an annual competitive section, and providing grants for their production. In 2023, the support for the Philippine documentary was apparent when the three formally and thematically audacious QCDox selections were screened for free.

Joseph Mangat’s Divine Factory brings viewers to a factory on the outskirts of Manila. In this paradoxical space, members of the LGBTQ+ community lovingly produce religious figurines sold to devotees, many of whom shun them for a twisted understanding and outworking of their religion.

In Nowhere Near, film diarist Miko Revereza examines the formation of his unsettled, alienated self as a once-undocumented immigrant in the US and now itinerant artist through his visits to his native Pangasinan in the Philippines and the familial mythologies and imperial histories that entangle him with this homeplace and continue to influence his striving toward liberation.

Khavn’s National Anarchist: Lino Brocka is a punk tribute to the revered Philippine social realist director, deconstructing fearless Brocka’s themes, imagery, dramaturgy, and soundscapes by reworking the auteur’s surviving films into a seemingly anarchic but meticulously montaged collage film.

Meanwhile, the QCShorts competition premiered six films that received production grants from the festival. These new works by seasoned and debuting filmmakers explore queer issues or employ queering aesthetics, not only in terms of gender representation but also of social, historical, and ecological critique. 

Myra Angeline Soriaso’s A Catholic School Girl is a lesbian coming-of-age story set in Iloilo in a brilliantly designed and photographed convent, by turns comforting as a home and claustrophobic as a cage, about a girl discovering the pang of desire and anguish in the same moment.

Apa Agbayani’s Abutan Man Tayo ng Houselights, on the other hand, penetrates the private world created by and between two aging will-they, won’t-they lovers, each other’s hard-to-kick bad habit, spending a drunken, pulsating, end-of-the-world-like rave night before attempting as the morning light rises to bid farewell and move on, yet again, perhaps finally.

Offering a daring juxtaposition is Lino Balmes’s Microplastics between the trauma of a boy whose yearning for closeness with his father is denied, leading to a series of unfulfilling and aggressive relationships as an adult, and plastic’s insidious and disastrous infiltration of nature, in time destroying everything it penetrates from the inside.

In the tragicomic unraveling of a rural couple’s marriage because of their excessive love for their pets, Aedrian Araojo’s Animal Lovers dissimulates the affliction developing from repressed queer desires when substituted by socially sanctioned but hollow and eventually antagonistic relationships.

The genesis of the Tamblot and Dagohoy revolts waged in Bohol against the Spanish empire is the subject of Roxlee’s characteristically vivacious and rough-hewn worlding, whose historiographic process, creative ritualism, and narrative logic follow no other rules but the artist’s, vividly setting Tamgohoy apart from the polished seriousness of the abovementioned works.

Finally, animator Che Tagyamon returns to QCIFF with Tumatawa, Umiiyak, packing an emotionally complex and broad-ranging social critique in an eight-minute film, combining the bright innocence evoked by doodles and cutouts, the ruing voice of a man grieving the passing of a beloved and the seasons fading in one’s memory, and the images of a decaying city, inhabited by indigents and migrants and neglected and, more recently, violated by state forces.

A still from the movie 'Mimang' directed by Taeyang Kim
A still from the movie 'Mimang' directed by Taeyang Kim

A PRODUCTIVE YEAR FOR SOUTHEAST ASIAN CINEMA

Besides heralding the arrival of new Philippine films, QCIFF offers a clear vision of the direction of cinema in Southeast Asia. On its 11th edition, the festival inaugurated QCSea, a new short film competition for emergent filmmakers from Southeast Asia, a fitting counterpart to both QCShorts and the Asian Next Wave. Out of over 300 submissions, ten eclectic short films competed in its first iteration.

These are Khozy Rizal’s Basri and Salma in a Never- Ending Comedy (Indonesia), a raunchy and irreverent comedy about social mores surrounding sex and child-bearing,; Toan Thanh Doan and Hoang- Phuc Nguyen-Le’s Buoyant (Vietnam), a queer and ebullient fabulist dance film; Sam Manacsa’s noir Cross My Heart and Hope To Die (Philippines), an exploration of the mundane obscurity of death for the rank-and-file; Bea Mariano’s anti-imperial photographic archival experiment, Dominion (Philippines); Stephen Lopez’s dystopian sci-fi cum political allegory, Hito (Philippines); Giselle Lin’s inward-looking personal documentary of trauma and healing, Look into the Mirror and Repeat Myself ( Singapore); Seth Andrew Blanca and Niño Maldecir’s tender comedy Kung nga-a Conscious ang mga Alien sang ila Skincare (Philippines), about the adversity faced by children reared by the LGBTQ+; Moe Myat May Zarchi’s The Altar (Myanmar), a Buddhist meditation about existence and political critique of her country’s oppressive military rule; and Kayla Abuda Galang’s Filipino- American slice-of-life dramedy When You Left Me On That Boulevard (Philippines), about the need to belong in a foreign land.

This year’s Southeast Asian cinema harvest put developments in Malaysian filmmaking in sharp relief, especially revealing considering the censorship its artists continue to face at home. Starting from an ordinary lunch break at a furniture store, Joon Goh’s Mop, from the QCSea Shorts competition, dramatizes power dynamics and the abuse of authority by occasioning for the viewer the virtual embodiment of force and vicarious experience of pain.

We Jun Cho’s Hungry Ghost Diner, from the Before Midnight section, is a joyous and endearing comedy celebrating the poignant aspects of Malaysian culture, including the centrality of food in relationships, running a family-owned restaurant, faith in resplendent ritual and the existence of the supernatural, and desire for familial reconciliation.

THE ASIAN NEXT WAVE

The Asian Next Wave, featuring eight full-length directorial debuts, also included two strong entries from Malaysia.

Tiger Stripes, which won the QCinema Pylon for Best Picture, is Amanda Nell Eu’s exuberant debut, exuding the verve and energy of new cinema, unflinchingly mixing body horror with kampung folklore, and critiquing the patriarchal regimentation of religion to control women’s bodies and identity formation, even from the onset of their puberty.

Another Malaysian triumph, Jin Ong’s Abang Adik, hews closer to the popular episodic melodrama familiar across the region. Still, it breathes new life into the form and, even through its suspenseful and action sequences, unapologetically depicts men weeping and openly invites us to weep with and for them as the film reveals the plight of stateless refugees, who must choose their own family and look after each other in a society where nobody seems to care for them.

The following complete the films from the Asian Next Wave. Thien An Pham’s Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell (Vietnam) and Nicole Midori Woodford’s Last Shadow at First Light (Singapore) contemplate how death and loss span the gaps between worlds and otherworlds.

Yellow Cocoon is a stunningly photographed, enigmatic road film in the vein of Asian works roughly categorized as “slow films” that dreamily follows the wandering of the bereaved in search for faith from the dense pleasure dens of city alleyways to the open and breathing landscapes of remote provinces.

Last Shadow is likewise a dreamy road movie, accompanying a young woman’s journey to find her mother, from Singapore to Japan, then from bustling Tokyo to the eerily quiet places in the Tōhoku region devastated by the tsunami, and from denial to acceptance. Like Yellow Cocoon, Last Shadow embraces the apparitions from the spirit world that break through the ordinary to imbue humanity’s loneliness in the material world with transcendent meaning.

Patiparn Boontarig’s Solids by The Seashore (Thailand) and Jopy Arnaldo’s Gitling (Philippines) are about crossing cultural borders and, in the process, finding solace in the company of the stranger.

Solids tells of a Bangkokian artist spending time in a southern Thai city to research and produce art concerning the seawalls that have caused environmental havoc and who falls in love with a woman from the Muslim minority population who is already arranged to be married.

While Solids employs the metaphor of art production in critiquing culture and imagining ideal social orders, Gitling utilizes the subtitles and the processes of cultural and linguistic translation between a Japanese artist visiting a southern Philippine city to finish his film, and his translator, who speaks five languages, including an invented one, in dramatizing how human bonds are sealed. From an initial transactional relationship, the two develop an intimate friendship that provides a respite from each one’s worlds and allows them to inhabit a liminal space where they can rethink their lives.

The last two films are from East Asia. Love Is a Gun (Taiwan), the directorial debut of actor Lee Hong-chi, who also stars in and co-wrote the film, is about an ex-convict wanting a fresh start but who finds himself without opportunities, sucked back into the life of syndicate crime.

Finally, Kim Tae-yang’s deceptively simple and anti-romantic but symbolically layered and emotionally subtle Mimang (South Korea) is structured around the act and movement of walking and three chance meetings across a significant period of time. It was filmed over several years, faithfully documenting the physical changes in its lead actors’ demeanor and the capital city of Seoul. The film’s three corresponding episodes meditate on rare chances, what we do in response to them, and how our lives play out based on our choices.

THE YEAR’S NETPAC PRIZE

The NETPAC award at the QCIFF is uniquely considered the festival’s Jury Prize. Moreover, unlike in other festivals, the NETPAC jury is joined by the main jury for the Asian Next Wave in deciding the Jury Prize and vice-versa. In 2023, the jury was composed of the following: Patrick F. Campos (Philippines, NETPAC member), chairperson, Panagiotis Kotzathanasis (Greece, NETPAC member), Anita Lee (Canada), Mark Meily (Philippines), Quark Henares (Philippines)

We met on the 22nd of November and unanimously decided to award the NETPAC Jury Prize, the following night, on the 23rd of November, out of the eight entries, to Mimang “for its precisely structured screenplay and corresponding long-durational filming approach that capture the simultaneity and multiple perspectives of regret, nostalgia, yearning, and anticipation paralleling an ever-changing city.”

Photo of Asian Next Wave Jury Members (from left) QCinema International Film Festival Artistic Director Ed Lejano with Jury members Quark Henares, Mark Meily, Panos Kotzathanasis, Anita Lee, and Patrick Campos
Photo of Asian Next Wave Jury Members (from left) QCinema International Film Festival Artistic Director Ed Lejano with Jury members Quark Henares, Mark Meily, Panos Kotzathanasis, Anita Lee, and Patrick Campos

 

Written By   Patrick F. Campos

PATRICK F. CAMPOS is a film scholar, programmer-curator, associate professor at the University of the Philippines Film Institute, and a leading scholar of Philippine and regional cinemas. Author of articles and books on media, art, and cinema, including The End of National Cinema and Scenes Reclaimed, he edits Pelikula: A Journal of Philippine Cinema and Moving Image, curates the annual Tingin Southeast Asian Film Festival in Manila, and co-organizes the biennial and itinerant Association for Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference. He has programmed, juried, or served on the selection committee for Singapore, Guanajuato, and QCinema International Film Festivals, Jogja Asian Film Festival, Asian Film Archive, Image Forum Tokyo, Minikino Bali, Cinemalaya, Cinema One Originals, SeaShorts Malaysia, and Cinema Rehiyon, among others. He is a member of both NETPAC and FIPRESCI.

 

23rd Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2023

Mrudula Wednesday December 20, 2023

After a three- year absence, Jio MAMI (Mumbai Academy of Moving Image) 2023 was back in Mumbai in a blaze of glamour, style and drive. The Opening Ceremony (despite its tardy start) at the Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre – rated the most technologically advanced theatre in India – boasted opulence and design. Acclaimed actress and Festival Chairperson Priyanka Chopra Jonas moderated the event while other well-known stars (Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Kamal Hassan) had their moments on the stage.

It was an evening full of impassioned speeches and one of awards that had been decided earlier. Veteran Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam and Italian filmmaker and producer Luca Guadagnino were honoured with Excellence in Cinema Awards, while Aruna Vasudev (Founder of NETPAC) received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her extensive work on Asian cinema, as did Nasreen Munni Kabir and Uma da Cunha – both of who have dedicated their lives to promoting cinema in many different ways.

NETPAC Jury at MAMI, 2023
NETPAC Jury at MAMI, 2023

 

This 23rd edition of the festival (it was launched in 1997) returned to Mumbai after a three year gap. And it brimmed with ambition: bringing in new cinematic voices, promoting collaborations and business opportunities and showcasing South Asian Cinema apart from, of course, world cinema. And one cannot miss the fact that three young women were at the helm of this complex operation: Anupama Chopra (Director), Maitreyee Dasgupta (Co-Director) and Deepti D’ Cunha (Artistic Director).

More than 250 films in 70 languages were screened  across the city. The fourteen competing films from South Asia were viewed by a four member jury headed by acclaimed director Mira Nair and other well-known personalities – Edouard Waintrop, David Michod and Isabel Sandoval.  Jio MAMI has made it its goal to become a hub for South Asian and South Asian Diaspora cinema. The non-competition section, too, comprising both features and non-features, had a focus on South Asia.

Enriched with retrospectives, tributes, restored classics, virtual reality screenings, Marathi films (comedy, drama, history, romance, experimental works) and films from around the world, together with a homage to the eminent critic and historian Derek Malcolm who passed away recently,  Jio MAMI fitted the bill of a festival that is rooted as much in the state of Maharashtra and in South Asia, even as it  stretched out  its arms to the world

It was Against The Tide by Sarvnik Kaur (an Indo- French co-production) which walked off with the Golden Gateway Award, a gutsy film about two young fishermen friends who have to face a hostile sea because of climate change and personal challenges. The Silver Gateway went to the Indian film Bahadur – The Brave which dealt with Nepalese migrant workers who want to return to their country during the pandemic. While Agra (yet another Indo- French co-production) about the sexual evolution – even obsession – of a young man living in a crowded tenement.

A still from the film 'Rapture' by Dominic Sangma
A still from the film 'Rapture' by Dominic Sangma

The NETPAC Award was won by Rapture by Dominic Sangma. Coproduced by India, China, Netherlands, Qatar and Switzerland, this beautifully shot film is set in the verdant and hilly state of Meghalaya.  In a village peopled by the Garo tribe, Rapture has a variety of interwoven strands that merge nature, faith, corruption,  church, evil spirits,  rumours of strangers entering the village and of kidnapping and trafficking in human organs. The NETPAC jury commended it for “delicately combining the natural and the supernatural worlds inhabited by a community and for evoking the mysterious challenges it must overcome both in itself and beyond.” 

For ten days, Mumbai’s film lovers were treated to an exceptional feast. With the high goals it has set for itself, Jio MAMI has a long road to tread. 

Written by Dr. Latika Padgaonkar

23rd Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival

Mrudula Wednesday December 20, 2023

What surprised the most at the ceremony of the opening of the film festival: that the festival is organized exclusively by ladies. Festival director is Anupama Chopra, co-director is Maitreyee Dasgupta, artistic director is Deepti Dcunha. I remember that 20 years ago, when I participated at Third Eye film festival in India, this was also Mumbai film festival where all of the management was male. I remember the program director, Sudhir Nandgaonkar, who organized that film festival within 19 consecutive years. In January 2023, he, unfortunately, passed away. Nevertheless, he has contributed to the development of film festival communities and film clubs movement in India.

​ Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in its title means: 

Jio – main telecommunications eco-system in India and its creator is Mukesh Ambani, who is not only sponsoring this film festival, but he also built a cultural center, where the opening of the film forum was held. 

MAMI – Mumbai Academy of Moving Images, where film screenings and other events take place year-round. 

Mumbai Film Festival is the biggest South Asian Film Festival that has been held since 1997. 

Our NETPAC jury that consisted of Latika Padgaonkar from India, Nashen Moodley from Australia and myself, we were watching the program that is composed of films from South Asia along with the main competition jury members. South Asia program consisted of 14 movies from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. A number of films already took part in world known international film festivals such as Venice, Busan, Locarno, Saint Sebastian and Toronto. Five films had a world premiere in Mumbai.

​ Prior to discussion of artistic merits, it is interesting to learn the culture of the regions where those movies were filmed in. I could split those films into four categories: 

1. About rights and freedoms of women - A House Named Shahana (Bangladesh) directed by Leesa Gazi, Shivamma (India) directed by Jaishankar AryarA Match (India) directed by Jayant SomalkarThe Sentence (India) directed by Fazil Razak.

2. About a little man– Agra (India) directed by Kanu Behl, Which Color? (India) directed by Shakrukhkhan Chavada, Mithya (India) directed by Sumanth Bhat.

3. About immigrants – Bahadur –The Brave (India) directed by Diwa Shah, Dilli Dark (India) directed by Dibakar Das Roy.

4. About wonderful and mystical events in this world: Guras (India) directed by Saurav Rai, Rapture (India) directed by Dominic SangmaThe Monk and the Gun (Bhutan) directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, The Red Suitcase (Nepal) directed by Fidel Devkota.

Furthermore,  Against The Tide directed by Sarvnik Kaur deserves a special mention as it is the only documentary film in this competition and because it tells a story of fishermen of Mumbai city. This movie received the main prize - Golden Gateway. As Mira Nair said about this film:  “It is a pleasure to learn that such complex filming-wise movie has been created by a female film director.” Mumbai film festival was held parallel to APSA award ceremony and this film “Against the Tide” has received the award as being «Best Documentary» in Asia Pacific.

Among the films about females as a foreigner, I have been impressed by Indian culture of getting married that is still existing in the villages. In the house of a girl, a potential groom is visiting, along with his father and other male relatives. They are all asking her, the same questions: how old she is, what’s her height, what’s her education level, does she work in the fields and so on. Then they depart, with a promise to return back with an answer. That way in the movie A Match such humiliating way of getting married in a form of interrogation is happening seven times. In the movie, A House Named Shahana - a girl is getting married with the help of Internet, where she is traveling to an unknown Indian man in Great Britain. Two other movies are about elderly women who are having trouble to organize and to live their personal lives. 

Another category that was titled “a little man” - other stories about men or families that don’t fall into place. In the movie Agra that received a special jury prize young, sexually restless man who could build his family life despite his family that didn’t believe he could live normally.  In the movie Which Color? unemployed head of the family,   in the movie Mithya

– story of an adopted teenager, whose real parents passed away. 

It is interesting that the category of films about immigrants is completely different than in Europe. In Europe, we see immigrants that are trying to reach the west. And in this category of South Asian films, we see the stories of people who ended up in India. Undoubtedly Bahadur – The Brave deserves attention, it tells a story about Nepalese immigrants during the pandemic, and their inability to return back home because of the closed borders. This film received Silver Gateway award. Dilli Dark is almost a comedy about an African man who is trying to get going in Delhi.

Overall, the program was interesting and touching upon cultures from different angles. 

However, personally, I enjoyed the fourth category the most as it showed something extraordinary, mystical and spiritual. In the film Guras - a touching story about little girl, who is looking for her dog in the neighboring village, and parallel to her search she is communicating with neighbors and a monk and even with the spirit of a dead ancestor (this film received an award in Karlovy Vary). Nepalese film The Red Suitcase tells a story about the red suitcase and its owner, who is already in the coffin, and it returns back to the outskirts village and on the way, the driver is communicating the entire movie, who is the owner of that red suitcase, who was a business owner of  a road cafe in that same village (was shown in Venice). A film from Bhutan The Monk and the Gun shows of drama of the first democratic elections in the country. Why the gun? Because the monk is trying to bury two guns as a symbol of saying “no to war”. (Film was shown in Toronto, Telluride and at Mumbai, it got an award of the audience). North Indian film Rapture is a story of a small village, for me was as an Indian version of Hundred Years of Loneliness by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. There are so many extraordinary personalities, and the way they lives are intertwined is impressive. Routine and socially difficult life is weaved with magical and extraordinary. And in that small community, there is everything: faith, love, adultery, fear, corruption, death and rapture, spiritual virtues, and most of all formation of a young soul. 

After extensive discussion about following films -  Against the Tide, A Match (this movie already received NETPAC award), Mithya  and  Rapture, we decided to give Rapture our main prize with the following note: “for delicately combining the natural and supranatural worlds inhabited by a community and for evoking the mysterious challenges it must overcome both in itself and beyond.” 

Written by Gulnara Abikeyeva

NETPAC Jury members Dr. Gulnara Abikeyeva, Dr. Latika Padgaonkar, and Nashen Moodley
NETPAC Jury members Dr. Gulnara Abikeyeva, Dr. Latika Padgaonkar, and Nashen Moodley

 

23rd Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival NETPAC Jury bios

Dr. Gulnara Abikeyeva

Kazakh film critic and researcher Dr Gulnara Abikeyeva was an artistic director of the Eurasia International Film Festival in Almaty from 2005 to 2013, 2022. She launched the film magazine Asia-kino, served as editor-in-chief of Territoriya Kino, and produced TV programmes about Kazakh cinema. As a member of FIPRESCI and NETPAC, she is a frequent jury member at different international film festivals. She is the author of twelve books about cinema, mostly about Kazakhstan and Central Asian countries. 

Dr. Latika Padgaonkar

Latika Padgaonkar is a columnist, editor, translator, former Joint Director of Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival, and former Executive Editor of Cinemaya, the Asian film quarterly. She was a foreign correspondent for The Telegraph in Paris in the 1980s; she has also worked for UNESCO in New Delhi and for the National Commission for Women’s Media Group. Currently, she is a member of the Media Foundation.

Nashen Moodley

Nashen Moodley is in his twelfth year as Festival Director of Sydney Film Festival. During his tenure, the festival has grown vastly. Moodley’s career in film programming has encompassed many leadership roles, including Manager at the Durban International Film Festival (2001–2011) and Programming Consultant for Dubai International Film Festival (2005–2017). 

 

43th Hawaiʻi International Film Festival, 12 to 22 October, 2023

Mrudula Tuesday November 21, 2023

 

A still from the film IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE
A still from the film IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE

The 43rd Hawaiʻi International Film Festival (HIFF) took place in Honolulu from October 12 to 22, 2023. 

Recognized as the vanguard forum of international cinematic achievement in the Asia-Pacific region, HIFF 2023 opened with Taika Waititi's comedy feature NEXT GOAL WINS (USA, 2023), along with feature documentary UNCLE BULLY's SURF SKOOL (2023, Hawaiʻi), they served as HIFF 43's two "Opening Night Films." Legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki's new animated feature THE BOY AND THE HERON (2023, Japan) was this year's Closing Night Film. 

Spotlighting exceptional works and discovering new talent, the NETPAC Award at HIFF honors one Asian Pacific title that is the first or second feature from the filmmaker(s). This year, the HIFF NETPAC Jury was composed of Gemma Cubero del Barrio (documentary filmmaker/producer, Talcual Films), Yuka Sakano (Executive Director, Kawakita Memorial Film Institute, Tokyo), and jury chairperson George Chun Han Wang (Professor, ACM: The School of Cinematic Arts, University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa, and NETPAC/USA Treasurer). 

Film Poster IOICH  

George Chun Han Wang and Gemma Cubero del Barrio announce the NETPAC Award winner at the HIFF 43 Awards Gala on October 22, 2023
George Chun Han Wang and Gemma Cubero del Barrio announce the NETPAC Award winner at the HIFF 43 Awards Gala on October 22, 2023

On October 17th, a brunch honoring the NETPAC jury was held at the Waihonua Clubroom. The event was hosted by NETPAC/USA president Vilsoni Hereniko and NETPAC Advisory Council member Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, and was attended by filmmakers and festival guests including actress Amy Hill, HIFF Artistic Director Anderson Le, and HIFF Executive Director Beckie Stocchetti. 

The HIFF NETPAC jury reviewed 8 feature films nominated by the festival this year. They are: CORD OF LIFE (China), A GIRL OUT OF THE COUNTRY (Taiwan), MY HEAVENLY CITY (Taiwan), ORPA (Indonesia, Papua), IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE (Mongolia), WHICH COLOR? (India), INSIDE THE YELLOW COCOON SHELL (Vietnam), and YOU & ME & ME (Thailand).

At the deliberation meeting that took place at the Halekulani Hotel on October 19 from 9:30 to 11:30am, the NETPAC jury selected IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE from Mongolia as this year's NETPAC Award winner at HIFF. An uplifting tale of survival and hope, IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE is the feature debut of Mongolian filmmaker Zoljargal Purevdash. Inspired by her own life experience of growing up in the impoverished yurt district in Ulaanbaatar, Purevdash's refreshing coming-of-age tale of a teenage boy’s arduous journey to keep his family warm while pursuing an alternative future through the promises of a better education, is also a gentle but unambiguous criticism of her fast-industrializing homeland's toxic air pollution that is taking a heavy toll on the vulnerable populations simply trying to keep themselves warm in the harsh winter months. 

George Chun Han Wang and Gemma Cubero del Barrio announced the NETPAC Award winner at HIFF 43's Awards Gala, held on Sunday October 22, 2023 at the Halekulani Hotel. IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE director Zoljargal Purevdash graciously accepted the award through a pre-recorded video speech. 

Other awards presented at the Gala include: HIFF Halekulani Maverick Award for Korean actor/producer Don Lee; HIFF Halekulani Vanguard Award for Japanese actress Sakura Ando; and HIFF Leanne K. Ferrer Pasifika Trailblazer Award for New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis. As HIFF 43 concluded on the island of Oʻahu, the festival continued through November 5, 2023, with screenings on neighbor Islands including Hawaʻi Island (Big Island), Kauaʻi, Lanai and Maui. 

Vilsoni Hereniko, Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, Anderson Le, Beckie Stocchetti, George Chun Han Wang, and Yuko Sakano at the HIFF 43 NETPAC/USA Brunch on October 17, 2023
Vilsoni Hereniko, Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, Anderson Le, Beckie Stocchetti, George Chun Han Wang, and Yuko Sakano at the HIFF 43 NETPAC/USA Brunch on October 17, 2023

by
George Chun Han Wang (NETPAC/USA)

Jury Members:

George Chun Han Wang (USA) (Jury Chairperson)

Gemma Cubero del Barrio (USA)

Yuka Sakano (Japan)

NETPAC Award:

IF ONLY I COULD HIBERNATE
(Mongolia, 2023, 96 minutes, Colour)

Directed by Zoljargal Purevdash (Mongolia)

Citation:

"for its insightful and cinematic portrayal of a teenage boy’s arduous journey to keep his family warm, while pursuing an alternative future through the promises of a better education."

Brief Synopsis:

A poor but prideful teenage boy Ulzii determines to win a Physics competition for a scholarship, but his illiterate mother finds a job in the countryside and leaves him with his siblings in the middle of the winter.

Cinemalaya: Unearthing fresh talent and on the cusp of a milestone  

Mrudula Saturday October 14, 2023

Cinemalaya is unlike any other festival, at least its feature competition section is. Usually, in film festivals, international or otherwise, entries are called for and programmers choose a certain number from among them using various criteria such as quality, theme(s) of the festival, representation of a wide base of nations, number of slots available, and so on. Some festivals don’t call for entries and get their content curated through experienced curators. But at Cinemalaya, held every year in the Filipino capital of Manila, the feature film competition comprises ten films made by young Filipino filmmakers who are chosen two years in advance, mentored and funded to make their films – with the end products competing exactly two years later.

The 19th edition of Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, as it is officially called, was no different. Held during August 4-13, it screened ten films whose directors were picked up a two years ago from nearly 200 screenplay entries received, shortlisted to top 15 and then further pruned to top 10. The two juries – the main Competition jury and the NETPAC jury – watched these ten films, as well as ten short films that were chosen from entries received through an open call, to choose the winners in various categories. The NETPAC awards only the best film award in both feature and short categories, while the main jury has a wide range of categories to decide. The festival also screens a selection of Asian films – both feature-length and short – in non-competitive sections (Visions of Asia comprising NETPAC award-winning films from other festivals, Dokyu comprising a curated package of documentaries, and several special screening packages of short films including one curated by Lorna Tee of The Asian Film Network Alliance) but the excitement clearly is around the competition films as the festival every year has been unearthing fresh talent, some of whom have gone on to become flagbearers of Filipino cinema in both independent and mainstream spaces over the years.

Utpal Borpujari of the NETPAC jury is presenting NETPAC awards at the Cinemayala Festival
Utpal Borpujari of the NETPAC jury is presenting NETPAC awards at the Cinemayala Festival

This year too was not different. The selection of the feature and shorts comprised a wide variety of filmmaking visions, and every film was different from the other in terms of visualization, treatment and overall design. Uniquely for Cinemalaya, this year saw the first-ever selection of animation and documentary films in the full-length feature competition, marking a step forward for the festival in terms of widening its scope and opening a new window of opportunity for young filmmakers focusing on these two genres. 

The feature competition comprised quite a few strong films, and the wide range of award winners reflect that fact. One of the most-striking film of the festival was “Iti Mapukpukaw” (The Missing), directed by Carl Joseph E. Papa, which swept the best film award in both main competition and NETPAC sections. Software engineer’s Papa’s animation film effectively utilized the rotoscoping technology to convert real-life footages into animation, creating not only stunning imagery but also using it as a tool to create symbolic layers to its storytelling. The film wowed audiences with its subtle nuances while dealing with several important issues, and the fine acting by its cast added extra zing to it. Subsequently, the film has been selected as the official entry of the Philippines in the Best International Feature category at the 2024 Academy Awards.

Another film that left a powerful impression was Dustin Celestino’s “Ang Duyan Ng Magiting” (The Cradle of the Brave). A no-holds-barred political story, the film’s strong dialogues and overall energy could overbear its weakness of being structured like a stage play across multiple sets. In the immediate context of the recent political history of the Philippines, it’s an important film, but lack of clear references to the timeline of the story might alienate international viewers from the very same context. But nevertheless, it stood out as a courageous film. Another courageous film thematically was Gian Arre’s “Tether”, which could attract viewers with its intertwining of obsessive love with a biological miracle, taking it to nearly-shocking levels. Its lead actress Jorrybell Agoto (who also features in Kevin Mayuga’s high-energy “When This is All Over” set during the Pandemic times) is a face to look out for in Filipino cinema for sure, and it might not be a surprise if she becomes an international breakout star in the future. And Arre too is a voice to watch out for.

The overall line-up in the competition, including the first-ever documentary “Maria” (Dir: Sheryl Rose M. Andes), an investigative, political film on wanton killings during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against drugs, coming-of-age teenage drama “Rookie” (Dir: Samantha Lee & Natts Jadaone), Japan- Philippines love story “Gitling” (Sugarland, Dir: Jopy Arnaldo), nostalgia-themed “Huiling Palabas” (Fin, Dir: Ryan Espiosa Machado) and “Bulawan Nga Usa” (Golden Deer, Dir: Kenneth De La Cruz) and “As If It’s True” (Dir: John Rogers) on the roller-coaster lives of a social media influencer and her untalented boyfriend, was quite interesting in terms thematic and linguistic diversity.  But it is not to say that all the films were perfect cinema, and a few of them would have surely benefitted from further fine-tuning of the screenplays.

In the shorts competition too, a couple of films stood out distinctly from others because of  innovative treatment (specially the NETPAC award-winner “Hinakdal/Condemned”, Dir: Arvin Belarmino) or simple-yet-heartfelt storytelling (the main Competition award-winning “Sibuyas Ni Perfecto/Perfecto’s Onion”, Dir: Januar Yap). One would eagerly wait for quite a few of the shorts directors to come up with their full-length features in the coming years.

Next year, it would be 20 years since Cinemalaya had started. And like every year, the 10 finalists of the 2024 edition of Cinemalaya were presented on stage during the Awards night on August 13. These 10, who were chosen in 2022 and have undergone the Lab & mentoring process during 2023, have exactly a year to film their projects and showcase them in the Competition section in 2024. Cinemalaya is, very encouragingly, a good example of public-private partnership – a joint venture of the Cinemalaya Foundation, Inc., and government-owned Cultural Center of the Philippines. Starting with the 2023 batch, whose films competed this year, each of the chosen films are getting financial grants of Two Million Pesos – which come from equal contributions of One Million Pesos each from the Cultural Centre of the Philippines and the Film Development Council of the Philippines. Cinemalaya has, over the years, unearthed several generations of new cinematic voices, and this year was no different. The only dampener perhaps was that the usual venue, the grand Cultural Center of the Philippines, is undergoing a massive renovation, forcing the festival to temporarily shift for the next couple of years to the nearby and equally-grand Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), which is not exactly equipped to be a perfect film screening facility.

 

By Utpal Borpujari

(The author served as the chairman of the NETPAC jury at the 19th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival, Manila, August 4-13, 2023)

THE KAZAN INTERNATIONAL MUSLIM FILM FESTIVAL

Mrudula Saturday October 14, 2023

The Kazan International Muslim Film Festival was held from 5 – 9 September 2023 in the beautiful capital of Tatarstan where Slavic and Islamic cultures meet. The festival is organized by the Government of Russia, The Rais of Tatarstan in partnership with the strategic vision group ‘Russia – Islamic World’ with the motto, ‘Through the Dialogue of Cultures – to the Culture of Dialogue’.

The festival offered a wide selection of feature films and documentaries in the following sections: Competition which included the full length and short features, full-length and short documentaries and a selection of films from Tatarstan. The Chairman of the International Jury was the eminent Senegalese director, Moussa Toure. The non-competition programme included films from the Turkic World, Ethnic Cinema, a retrospective of Andrei Konchalovsky’s films. A pre-recorded address by Konchalovsky was screened (since he could not be present) at the gala opening in which he stressed the importance of cinema (and the other arts) as a form of cognition of the world, which was different from, but as important as the knowledge given by science. The opening film was Two Captains by Bair Uladaev (Buryatia, 2023)

The 100th anniversary of Cinema in Tatarstan was celebrated with an exhibition and screenings of films. The highlight was a programme at the Kazan Kremlin in which live jazz music was played to accompany excerpts from the first silent Tatar film, the historical Bulat Batyr (1928). There was also a section of films for children entitled ‘Visiting Childhood’. Days of Turkish, Syrian, Chinese, Greek and Georgian Cinemas were also presented. Student films from VGIK were showcased. Emir Kusturica was the Guest of Honour at the festival with a screening of his 2016 film, On the Milky Way.

NETPAC Jury members at Kazan International Festival: Sergei Kapterev, Rashmi Doraiswamy, Ildar Yagafarov (From Left to Right)
NETPAC Jury members at Kazan International Festival: Sergei Kapterev, Rashmi Doraiswamy, Ildar Yagafarov (From Left to Right)

Films in Competition

The film awarded by the NETPAC Jury, Ada (Russia, 2023), a feature debut by Stanislav Svetlov, took a refreshingly new look at the coming of age of a young girl in a small hamlet nestled in nature on the banks of the Oka River, a tributary of the Volga. Twelve-year old Ada is loved by the community she lives in and warmly welcomed wherever she goes, by fishermen, by teachers…. The opening sequences that ‘locate’ this hamlet and Ada and the elders she meets are masterful in their pacing and rhythm that allows us to experience the temporality of that space. The high shots of the lush forest, that are repeated through the film give us a feel of life untouched by the high rises of modernity. This idyll is real, though. Ada draws and leaves her scratched drawings as imprints of her having been in those places. In the postbox Ada posts letters without any address to her absent and unknown father. Ada lives with her single mother who loves and supports her. Their relationship is very warm and tender, without both of them losing their independence. Her mother plans on making her relationship with Eduard, a teacher in the local school, permanent. Ada herself is fascinated by Viktor, one of the boys at school. The only ‘conflicts’ in the narrative is Ada inadvertently seeing a moment of intimacy between her stepfather-to-be and his colleague, or that between Viktor and his alcoholic grandfather. The rites of passage - of growing up, first make up, first love, first menstruation, first ‘betrayal’ - are captured in a style that is elegiac and elegant.

The Syrian film, The Road (2022), a different kind of a ‘coming-of-age’ film. A child has been labelled as ‘stupid’ by the school administration. The grandfather who receives this letter decides to teach his grandson himself in a very novel way. He makes him sit on a chair in front of his house and asks him to carefully note down whatever he sees happening on the road. By correcting his grandchild’s spelling, grammar and descriptions, the grandfather enhances his abilities to observe, understand and note down the events that transpire on the road of life. Warring groups that vow to finish off each other and grow more menacing with passing years, carrying more sticks and other weapons, bruised and limping, with old and new members but show no signs of giving up or of reconciliation; a motherly figure who brings in milk for the child, but constantly repeats that the milk can must not be washed; a man who has undergone abdominal surgery and curses the doctor because he cannot help the loud farts, but who later gets cured; a young girl from the boy’s school who goes around distributing traditional bread; the child’s father who occasionally visits and a poet who recites poetry about the times they live in…. these are some of the people who pass by on the road, providing invaluable lessons of life to the boy, making him grow up into an intelligent and capable young man. The director Abdellatif Abdelhamid, who is a VGIK alumni, tells the story of this unconventional education with humour.

Our Home (India, 2022) by Mayanglabam Romi Meitei is about the life of a boy and his family in an isolated fishing community on Loktak Lake in northeast India. The boy goes to school by swimming across the lake every day, carefully putting his uniform and bag in a plastic bag, so as not to wet them. When the family is evicted by the government and the new forces of development take over this village, the precarious existence of the child and his family is further threatened.

The Grand Prize of the International Jury was won by No Prior Appointment (Iran, 2022, directed by Behrouz Shoaibi). It traces the journey back home of a woman who has settled in Germany with her mother. Both are divorced. She learns of her estranged father’s death and returns to Iran to find he has left her a grave in his will. Intrigued and enraged by this ‘property’ she has inherited, she and her young autistic son embark on a journey of self -discovery, healing, and maybe, even love. Fortune, the much-awarded Tajik film (2022, directed by Muhiddin Muzafar)) was also part of the competition section. Set in the period just before the fall of the Soviet Union, it tells the story of friendship between two men, whose long association sours because of a lottery that ‘betters’ the financial situation of one of them. The changing values of the transition period is also depicted in the son of the ‘car owner’ (who keeps calling him on the landline and whom the spectators never see) giving up his training as an opera singer to become a taxi driver in Moscow because this is the job that will get him more money. The other son is corrupt. One of the friends is jailed, but he does not implicate his friend; the other dies unable to bear the stress of living in new times with strange values. The car that had been the bone of contention gets sold and its parts taken out. As this ‘hollowed out’ skeleton of the car is wheeled out on a cart, the dead body of the friend is brought home.

Shorts and Documentaries

The short feature section, Zainab Yunus’ Devotion (Pakistan, 2023) has the director playing the lead role of a young woman who wishes to leave her hometown, Quetta, because she has been offered a job she covets in the media industry in another city. On the day before she leaves her old father takes her around showing her aspects of life she had not paid much attention to and the landscape. ‘When we stay in a city, we become a part of the city’s voice’, says the father, ‘The city will be loyal to you’. The old man’s son has gone missing and he hopes to hear the  missing boy’s voice in the hum of the city’s noises.  The daughter, whose documentary on schools in her hometown makes a mark, decides to stay back in her city. My Life is for You (Tunisia, 2022, directed by Nasreddine Ragam) is about a young plastic bottle ragpicker who, thanks to the encouragement of her teacher, becomes a well-known oncologist who can repay her debt to her teacher when he is ill. Aigul Ablasanova’s The Manning Up (Kyrgyzstan, 2022) deals with domestic abuse and the difficult life of a woman trying to make ends meet with an alcoholic husband.

Two films in the short documentary section stood out for their evocative use of the landscape. Dmitry Semibratov’s Chechnya and the World (Russia, 2022) dealt with the unusual theme of how the war had affected animals who had left their environs but who were now returning to their old habitat thanks to the efforts of forest officers who were animal experts. Among them is a woman too who fearlessly scours the forests and tracks the movement of the animals. The war had caused the chirping of birds to cease,  the migration of animals to Dagestan and other places due to the bombs, and animals who were unable move because they had no legs. As one forester puts it, ‘In comparison to what nature gives us, we give very little in return’. Another moving short documentary on violence was The Land of Buried Women (Kurdistan-Iraq, 2023). An old grave-keeper, who is a gardener as well tends the unnamed graves of women who have died violent deaths due to honour killings, etc. As he remarks, the women are impatient in their loneliness for even their identity is only known to the municipality. He grows plants and trees in this lonely graveyard.

Among the long documentaries Isitas (Iran, 2021, directed by Alireza Dehghan) depicts the oldest adobe city by narrating the history of civilization through the elements (wind, water, earth and fire). A poetic documentary, it underlines the multicultural embeddings of human culture and the need to preserve this heritage. Sachin Ghimire’s Into the Mist (Nepal, 2023) traces the life and work of a well-known Nepali anthropologist, Professor Dor Bahadur Bista, whose research on tribes in Nepal was highly regarded internationally. He disappeared in 1996 and was never found. The film also looks into what might have been the causes for his disappearance. It uses tribal folk songs very evocatively.

Image from the movie Ada, the film that won the NETPAC Award
Image from the movie Ada, the film that won the NETPAC Award

Films from the Islamic and Turkic World

The section, ‘Russia- Islamic World’ had films from Indonesia, Bangladesh and many other countries. Of interest was Knots, a debut feature by Oleg Khamokov (Russia, 2023) in the Kabardian language from the Caucasus. It depicts the growing estrangement between a trucker and the woman he has married and the home they have built that has turned into a symbol of power rather than love.

In the non-competition section entitled ‘Turkic World’, two films from Kazakhstan captured landscape on a magnificent scale:  Storm by Sabit Kurmanbekov (2021) and Steppe by Maksim Akbarov (2022). Steppe tells the story of officers whose job is to protect wildlife. And older officer is training a younger one. Life on the steppe is arduous and there are those who live off poaching and other illegal activities as well as those who help others.

Well-known Kyrgyz director’s swan song Thousand Dreams (2021) also featured in this section. Sarulu, who passed away in March this year has left behind a body of poetic and ruminative works. This last film is about a young couple, a painter and his girlfriend, their estrangement and her return to bourgeois life because he ‘is a loser’. The story is simple: love, loss and disappearance into another world. The real narrative is in the very images Sarulu has called forth for himself and us. “Your new home is the night and stars; Your new soul is the wind and the stream; A little more and you will be out of the reach of the eyes of this world”, says Maria, a spectral being, who, it seems, has come ‘from the inner sea’.  The protagonist tells the story of Wu Tao Tsu, the Chinese painter, who drew a beautiful landscape on the order of the emperor and disappeared into it, away from the emperor. Marat Sarulu in this film has created images of dappled light over layers of more dappled light and shade. The rich contrast of black and white that turns into muted colour every once in a while is ideal for the play of light and shade. The film is about disappearance into a world that is away from the gaze of this one. The disappearance could be into the virtual one of lines on the computer accompanied by the distinctive crackling of electricity sounds, or the play of layered shadows, or the matted light through lit candles in movement. Modernity is present in the light traces of fast-moving trains and vehicles, or the fuzzy images seen through the windows of multi-storeyed buildings. There are the ruins of modernity, too, however, shown to us first by Tarkovsky in Stalker and seen here in abandoned industrial landscapes, empty train compartments, a run-down jeep, huge ducts of deserted factories, an old computer…. Geological images of nature are captured, too: ponds, mountains, rivers, birds, fragile bridges. Sarulu seems to be figuring his own exit ‘beyond the gaze of this world’, bidding adieu through ephemeral images that are real and virtual, of this world and of the cosmos.

An image from Marat Satulu's film1000 Dreams
An image from Marat Satulu's film1000 Dreams

The festival had an impressive fare of films. There were talks on industries and films (including one by Sergei Kapterev, the well-known film historian and NETPAC jury member), meetings with directors and a general spirit of bonhomie throughout the festival. The festival deserves to grow and expand, since it is showcasing films from lesser known regions of Russia as well films from abroad focusing on works from Muslim countries.

 

Written by: Dr Rashmi Doraiswamy. She is a Professor at the Academy of International Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. She was honorary editor (Assistant, Deputy and the Executive) of the world’s first publication on Asian films Cinemaya – The Asian Film Quarterly for many years since its inception in 1988.

 

24th Jeonju International Film Festival – Korea

Mrudula Wednesday August 2, 2023

Jeonju International Film Festival, which is held in Jeonju city of the Republic of Korea since 2000, is considered one of the important festivals of Asia. This year, the 24th festival is hosted by Jeonju City Hall and mayor Woo Beom-Ki, who is also the president of the festival. 

The festival was celebrated as a holiday with enthusiasm by all city residents. It was quite possible to see people, mostly young ones, carrying the accessories of the festival on the streets. In cinemas where the festival films were screening, the exact cinema halls were always full in all screenings. After the screenings, there were discussions and the audience were asking questions to the authors.

NETPAC Jury at the opening ceremony
NETPAC Jury at the opening ceremony

This year the festival was held under the motto of "Beyond the frame". As festival directors Min Sungwook and Jung Junho said in the opening ceremony, the main goal of the Jeonju Film Festival is to give a platform to films that break the usual frames, offer new visual solutions, new narratives and new film characters that offer original approaches.

Jeonju International Film Festival consists of 15 different competitive and non-competitive sections, such as “International Competition”, “Korean competition”, “Korean Competition for shorts”, “Frontline”, “Expanded films”, “World cinema”  (mainly, classical films are screened), “Masters” and etc. In addition, there are awards established by the festival's sponsors, as well as a special NETPAC award. (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) 

The NETPAC jury, consisting of three film critics including me reviewed 11 full-length feature and documentary films produced in Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea, Iran, Mongolia, etc.) during four days and among them, we awarded the Japanese film "Stonewalling" (directed by Ji Huang, Ryuji Otsuka), which stood out for its interesting and extraordinary narrative, visual solution, dramatic structure and topicality, with layers and courage, attracted our attention more than others.

The film “Stonewalling”, is the story of a young Lynn (Honggui Yao) who suddenly finds out about her pregnancy. She is at the beginning of her life, studying and giving birth to a child mean for her the rejection opportunity to have a normal future. Since only one child per family is allowed in China, the girl wants to leave the only chance of being a mother at a more favorable time.

The authors start the story from a very simple and ordinary point, but then the storyline branches out and many different layers are revealed, like social, psychological, spiritual, and others. As a result, the audience gets acquainted with the environment in which the young woman lives, her anxieties, relationships with loved ones and understands her attitude towards her unborn child. The authors in no way blame their protagonist, no one at all. They just show the reality in which she lives. The open ending leaves interpretation up to the audience and forces him to reflect on what he saw on screen for 148 minutes.The film “Stonewalling” shows the development of Chinese capitalism and it takes courage for a Chinese director to make a film about it.

Image from the movie Stonewalling
Image from the movie Stonewalling

“Stonewalling” is the third film by the husband-and-wife directors. Previously, the film was the winner in three categories (“Young cinema Chinese competition”, Best Actress-Chinese and FIPRESCI Prize) in Hong Kong International Film Festival, in one category in Venice Film festival (nominee GDA director’s award), a nominee Grand Prize in Tokyo FilmeX.    

By Aygun Aslanli (Azerbaijan)

 

NETPAC JURY:

Ms. Aygun Aslanli (Azerbaijan) – Chairperson, NETPAC Jury

Mr. Kim Hyung Seok (Korea)

Mr. Choi Yoon (Korea)

Interview

Supriya Suri's Interview with Muhiddin Muzaffar

Director Muhiddin Muzaffar (1) 2 Min

1. I entered the cinema through the theatre. I was an actor in our local theatre called Kanibadam, named after Tuhfa Fozilova. After working for five years, I decided to do a theatre director course. I graduated with honors and became a director. We successfully staged performances at international festivals.

Read More...

Featured Report

Show PHP error messages