Festival Reports

Ha Noi or The Ascending Dragon

Aditya Monday November 1, 2010

In October 2010 Hanoi celebrated the thousandth anniversary of its birth. And in continuation of the city’s the week-long celebrations came the First Vietnam International Film Festival. Organised by the Vietnamese Cinema Department – with the Pusan Film Festival in Korea as its partner - it had a competition of principally Southeast Asian films with an international jury, a NETPAC award with an all-Asian jury and a competition for short and documentary films judged by a mixed jury. The six-day event was packed with screenings, gala red-carpet evenings, dinners and receptions accompanied by traditional music and dance performances, visits to historic sites in Hanoi ... and 68 films in three different venues.   Accompanying the screenings were panel discussions and a workshop on shooting 3D with Panasonic. In the open space outside the Opera, an exhibition of giant photographs celebrated both the millennium of the city, and of its cinema.    It was an experience that went beyond cinema into enticing glimpses of Vietnamese culture. Even if not impeccably organized, even if the films were not the best to be found, it still left an indelible impression, succeeding in the stated aim of the Festival to “experience historical moments in the Vietnamese culture and history.” As you drive through different parts of the city to the grand opening and closing ceremonies at the National Convention Centre, the city comes alive. And, therefore, .”

Two Vietnamese films were among the ten that competed for both the Netpac and the Festival awards. There was the historical film The Fate of a Songstress in Thang Long (i.e. “Ascending Dragon”, the earlier poetical name of Ha Noi) for which Nhat Kim Anh shared the Best Actress award with Hong Kong’s Fiona Sit (in Break-up Club) and Best Actor went to Ah Niu in the Malaysian film Puppy Love (Ice Kacang).   The other Vietnamese film in competition was The Lieutenant which harks back to the war years – but not nearly as successfully, dramatically or movingly as the classics When the Tenth Month Comes by Dang Nhat Minh, or The Wild Field by the late Hong Sen to whom a retrospective was devoted in the Festival. The NETPAC prize as well as the Best Film award went to the Singaporean filmSandcastle. This is the first feature by Boo Junfeng who has been winning accolades internationally for his short films. A multi-layered, intelligent and sensitive coming of age film that speaks to all generations, it well deserved both these awards along with a third for Best Director.     The First Vietnamese International Film Festival (27-31 October 2010) despite some inevitable glitches accompanying an event on such an ambitious scale, is a very welcome addition to the growing family of film festivals in Asia. It was most gratifying for NETPAC that at the very first film festival launched in Vietnam, the NETPAC award was instituted.


Aditya Monday October 25, 2010

In 2010 the Hawai’i International Film Festival (14-24 October) turned thirty. Two hundred and seventeen films were shown in this edition, with Zhang Yimou’s new film Under the Hawthorn Tree opening the event which was attended by the young actors Dongyu Zhou and Xiao Dou and producer Zhang Weiping.    The films that competed for the NETPAC award were Seesaw (Japan), Monga (Taiwan), Bi, Don't Be Afraid (Vietnam), Blue Mansion(Singapore), Taipei Exchanges (Taiwan), Cin(T)A (Indonesia), Fourth Portrait (Taiwan) and Hot Summer Days (Hong Kong). The jury selected the Monga, directed by Doze Chen-Zer Niu “for excellence in direction, for beautifully capturing the time period with stunning art direction, cinematography and sound, and for the film's strong character development through moving performances from the film's young ensemble cast."   A NETPAC luncheon is held each year to honour the NETPAC jury and filmmakers from Asia and the Pacific Islands films are screening at the Festival. It was held at the Dole Cannery Ballroom and was co-sponsored by NETPAC/USA, Asia Pacific Films.com and LUA Technologies, a New York-based company which demonstrated their new technology in creating a virtual workspace for the film and video production industry. More than four dozen directors, producers and critics from China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, New Zealand and the United States attended the luncheon, which honoured the festival’s NETPAC Jury members Patricia Gillespie (chair, U.S.), George Chun Han Wang (Taiwan) and Vicci Ho (Hong Kong).   At the luncheon, AsiaPacificFilms.com announced that 330 films were being streamed online, up from 120 from the time of the launch exactly one year ago.   The Festival’s  Awards show was held on Tuesday, 19 October. The winners were as follows:   The Vision in Film Award, presented by City & County of Honolulu, went to Roger & Chaz Ebert.   The Maverick Award, presented by Dr. Lawrence K.W. Tseu, went to Nancy Kwan.   The Award for Career Achievement went to co-directors Qiankuan Li & Guiyun Xiao.   The Outstanding Industry Leadership Award went to Ren Zhonglun.   The Local Short Film Award went to two films, Malaga & The Green Affair.   The Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Documentary went to I Wish I Knew (China), directed by Zhang-ke Jia.   The Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Narrative Feature went to Son of Babylon (Iraq), directed by Mohamed Al-Daradji.   There was a strong China presence at the festival with the Shanghai/UH student film exchange. The SMART (Student Media Art) Exchange brings Shanghai University and ACM (Academy for Creative Media) students together twice annually—in Honolulu and Shanghai—for joint filmmaking and film screenings. China’s Sixth Generation director Zhang-ke Jia also gave a seminar focusing on contemporary Chinese society and a documentary approach to story telling. Another ACM event was with Taiwanese-American filmmaker Arvin Chen, director of Au Revoir Taipei, who visited the ACM classes to discuss his film


Aditya Monday July 19, 2010

The 6th Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival was held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on 9-18July 2010.  The screenings and events on July 14 were cancelled due to power outage caused by the typhoon.   There are three competition categories:  the New Breed with 9 entries, the Directors’ Showcase with 5 entries from established directors; and the Short Films category with 10 entries.   For the New Breed, the Best Picture award went to Halaw by Sheron Dayoc, a filmmaker from Mindanao.  The Jury Prize went toSampaguita by Francis Xavier Pasion.   For the Directors’ Showcase, the Best Picture Award went to Donor by Mark Meily and the Jury Prize to Two Funerals by Gil Portes.  The other senior directors who joined the Showcase were Mario O’Hara, Joel Lamangan, and Joselito Altarejos.   The Best Picture Award for the Short Films Category went to Pam Miras for ‘Wag Kang Titingin (Don’t Look) and the Jury Prize went to Milo Tolentino for P.   There were originally 6 entries for the NETPAC Award; however, one entry – Muli (Once More) by Adolf Alix, Jr. – was disqualified since it was not finished before the final deliberation of the jury.  The NETPAC jury was unanimous in giving the award to Arnel Mardoquio, another filmmaker from Mindanao, for his film Sheika “for its strong dramatic flow, convincing performances, effective use of cinematic elements, and  its treatment of the social, political, and economic problems in the country.”

Vesoul Report

Aditya Wednesday March 24, 2010

I was honoured to head the NETPAC jury at the 15th Asian Film Festival of Vesoul in France from February 10-17, 2009. The highly enjoyable train ride from Paris to Vesoul took a little over three hours. After a relaxed lunch meeting with my two other jury colleagues Cuneyt Cebenoyan from Turkey and Marie-Claire Quiquemelle from France, we headed straight into the jury screenings. The opening of the festival had taken place a day earlier, on February 10, with the film Songs from the Southern Seas (Chants Des Mers Du Sud / Pesni Juzhnykh Morej) by Marat Sarulu from Kyrghystan/France.

Vesoul is beautiful town with white-capped peaks, and it snowed quite regularly during our week-long stay. The NETPAC jury was assigned to see nine Asian features. All the screenings took place in a new multiplex with five screens. The first film we saw was Gulabi Talkies from India. Directed by Girish Kasaravalli, the film deals with an over-the -hill but skillful and ironically childless, midwife, on a fishing island off the coat of Karnatka. Her real passion is watching movies and all her dreams seem to come true when she gets a colour TV. Le Mirage (Tianmu), directed by Zhou Hongbo from China was a very ordinary film about human relations and seclusion. Director Noh Young-seok's Daytime Drinking (Not Sool) was a comical travelogue about a young man on the road. Indonesian entry 3 Wishes, 3 Loves (Pesantren), directed by Nurman Hakim, dealt with a challenging subject. The plot concerned three friends facing a moral dilemma in an Islamic seminary. The film 100 from Philippines, directed by Chris Martinez was a slickly made film following a terminally ill heroine who must complete her hundred chores in a month, and during this period, for the first time, she becomes close to her mother. A Gift For Stalin (Podarak Stalinu), directed by Roustem Abdrachev from Kazhakstan was a charming yet tragic story of children and elders. The film suggests hope even when the going gets rough and messy.

Prasanna Vithange's Flowers in the Sky (Akasa Kusum) from Sri Lanka is a beautiful film about a retired film actress whose forgotten past comes back with the dark secret of a grown up daughter who is now pregnant and dying of AIDS. Despite the daughter's eventual death, the film ends with the promise of a new life, as the actress holds her baby granddaughter in her trembling arms. The film is impressively directed, with fine performances.

The NETPAC Award Winner, Dawn of the World (L'aube du monde), an Iraq-France co-production, directed with much conviction by Abbas Fahdel, was a very moving experience. The entire film which runs for 95 minutes, has been shot on location, and deals with conflict and its damage on people. The location is the Mesopotamian marshes on the delta of two rivers in South of Iraq. Two cousins grow up in the village and get married at a young age. However before the marriage is consumated, the bridegroom leaves for the battlefield where he is killed. Before dying, he takes a promise from his friend that the friend will return to his village and see his wife. The friend takes over from there and returns to the village where he meets the bride, now a widow ... The jury was unanimous that the film portrayed the human sentiments under war with absolute courage and determination. Director Abbas Fahdel works with competence on a subject which is both difficult and distant from box office-driven formulae.

Vesoul also paid tribute to Iranian film maker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and his two daughters, Samira and Hana .The entire family was there with a body of remarkable film work including Salaam Cinema, Silence (Sekout), Kandahar, Two Legged Horse (Abse Du- Pa) and Joy of Madness.

The NETPAC Certificate was awarded to Abbas Fahdel in an impressive Closing Ceremony. The festival concluded with Tokyo Sonata, a beautiful film from Japan dealing with the uncertainties of an urban family in the financial crunch. The son finally triumphs with a piano performance. The film is directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa with passion and love.

It was now time to say goodbye. As I boarded the train for Paris , I was not parting with Vesoul. It would remain with me because of the love, courtesy and unprecedented hospitality of Jean-Marc Therouanne, his wife Martine, and the entire staff of the film festival.

Berlinale Report

Aditya Monday March 22, 2010

It was a unique admixture of features, documentaries and docu-dramas selected by Christoph Terhechte and his team that made up the package of films (including Asian films) in Berlinale's Forum. More than the other films at the festival, the Forum films generally focus on new trends in global cinema as well as on fresh narrative forms. They include, as we are told, "unconventional essayistic films, long-term observational documentaries, political documentaries" and works by unknown or little-known filmmakers. The Forum is where everything outside the mainstream is brought together. The 18 Asian films selected for the NETPAC award were from this section, which had a total of 48 international films. From narratives daringly handled in their structures to political thrillers, from personal stories to political ones, the choice was wide, leading us - in the words of Terhechte - "to parallels, connectivities and inspiring contradictions, into a wild garden full of suprises." Five films from Korea, no less, were wildly different in theme and intent. So Yong-kim's second feature, Treeless Mountain (which has already won two awards in Dubai and Pusan and garnered a third - Prize of the Ecumenical Jury from the Forum) is about two little sisters who are suddenly displaced when their single mother decides to leave them with an aunt and go in search of her estranged husband. Beautifully shot (the camera has many tight close-ups of the little ones), this heartwarming and sometimes heartbreaking film elicits disarmingly natural performances yet never grows maudlin.

Lee Yoon-ki's My Dear Enemy (Meotjin haru) encapsulates many moods. A young woman seeks out her former boyfriend to try and recover a goodly sum of money she had lent him. Taken by surprise at her sudden appearance, the penniless young man who is mostly a loveable rouge, drops in to meet his assorted girlfriends who might help him out with some cash. The film takes us through this one-day journey, eliciting anger, frustration, humour, sympathy, charm and resignation as the bewildered girl runs around with this somewhat guileless fellow who appears to skim the surface of life even as he enjoys himself more than she does. Lee calls his work a "realistic fairy tale about grown-ups," a film about the "small hopes you can have." Lee Suk-gyung's The Day After (Eoddeon gaien nal) won the NETPAC Award, together with Dr Ma's Country Clinic, for depicting "a complex human condition through a small fragment of a woman's life and for its belief in the strength and beauty of the cinematic mise-en-scene." The Day After is the story of a tense and frustrated working woman trying to bring up her daughter, but unable to cope with her life, her child and her daily grind. But a chance encounter with another woman in a training institute sows the seeds of transformation. In a difficult and intelligent piece of filmmaking, Lee shoots this encounter in a single room for nearly forty minutes and turns it into the film's fulcrum, its heartbeat  The unlikely, isolated characters, each with a dream, people Land of Scarecrows (Heosuabideuleui ddang): a lesbian transvestite; an amateur sculptor who earns her living by washing corpses; Rain, a young Filipina who dreams of going to Korea; and Loi Tan, an adopted young Filipino. Director Roh Gyeong-tae continues in the surrealist vein of his earlier film, The Last Dining Table (winner of the NETPAC Award in Pusan 2006), exploring, yet again, environmental problems such as pollution - in fact, the transvestite blames the polluted wasteland where she grew up for her condition. The characters' ambiguous lifestyles and the weird spaces of the film - dilapidated interiors and unrecognisable outer ones portend a strange future for the human race.

In Baek Seung-bin's first feature, Members of the Funeral (Jangryesigeui member), a young girl, also obsessed with death, also washes corpses. She and her parents have gathered for the funeral of seventeen year-old Hee-joon. They are also the leading characters of an eponymous novel that the young boy was writing before he died. The story shifts continuously between the novel and the film in a complex structure and ends as a subtle family drama. "Frankly," writes Baek, "of all my secrets, the most complicated one is my family." A delicately shot film, much of it in sepia, Members of the Funeral is yet another Korean film that spells loneliness, disintegration of the family unit and the dark secrets of the soul.

In his long, compassionate documentary, Dr Ma's Country Clinic (Ma dai fu de zhen suo), Chinese director Cong Feng evokes the atmosphere of neglect in Huangyangchuan, a small town in the northwest of his country. This patiently crafted film shared the NETPAC award for its "deeply humanistic and sympathetic portrayal of a stoic community that has largely remained at the periphery of change." The clinic is where patients gather to openly discuss their ailments, their daily lives, the weather, the harvest (or the lack of it), family matters, unemployment, runaway brides, traditions and practices, poverty, life and death and old age; and Dr Ma takes their pulse and asks a couple of questions. Just that. But he is near-godlike. What emerges - through the use of a subtle yet unobtrusive camera - is a microcosm of large swathes of China, a picture of neglect but not of dire pessimism. Another long documentary, this one from Japan, also has a doctor at its heart, but is totally different in tone and texture. Soda Kazuhiro's Mental (Seishin) is set in Dr Yamamoto Masatomo's clinic where people of all ages come to discuss their psychiatric problems that are still regarded as taboo in Japan: eating and personality disorders, schizophrenia, suicidal tendencies and so on. The seemingly superficial way in which the doctor questions his patients (each patient, unlike in the above film, carrying his own suffering secretly and meeting the doctor alone) makes you suspect his qualifications and his ability. Yet, at the end, you submit before his methods that connect him subconsciously to his patients. Indeed, they compare him to the Buddha. This clinic, too, is a microcosm where fundamental questions of our times are asked. Clearly, long documentaries were in vogue at the Forum. Sono Sion's nearly four-hour long Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi) drags the viewer into a torrent of sights and sounds. The film won the 24th annual Caligari Award (in cooperation with the film journal filmdienst) for a thematically innovative and stylistically creative film. The story of a young boy who is perversely forced to confess by his father, a Catholic priest, for sins he did not commit, the plot turns topsy-turvy when a woman who falls in love with the father leaves him. The boy is literally - and vindictively - pushed into ‘sinning'. The jury commended the film for its use of the formal languages of cinema, notably from the opera and film history. Love Exposure, even when it pushes a variety of symbols together pell-mell, is refreshingly and ingeniously original. How do you reconcile amnesia and healing, asks Simon El Habre in his gentle documentary The One Man Village (Semaan Bil Day'ia)? The Lebanese director's uncle, Semaan El Habre was the only inhabitant to have returned to his village in the mountains near Beirut after a bloody civil war (1983) and years after an official reconciliation was declared in 1994. In this snow-bound, abandoned village, Seeman lives alone in apparent contentment, caring for his animals and with only memories for companionship. Gradually, through carefully composed shots, we learn of his past, of his family and of the scars of history. Slow-paced, like the protagonist's life, the film is a testament to the resilience of one man who has dared - against all odds - to return and confront and reconcile with a painful past. In 2006, a young Buddhist schoolteacher - Juling Pongkunmul - from northern Thailand who had travelled to the southern Muslim region of the country to teach was kidnapped and beaten mercilessly into a coma from which she never recovered. Her death galvanised directors Kraisak Choonhavan, Manit Sriwanchipoom and Ing K to travel to make Citizen Juling (Polamuang Juling), a "non-fiction, cinema verite documentary without embellishments," as the directors call it. This long, free-wheeling film probes the many issues that have divided Thai society and led to protests, demonstrations and extra-judicial killings. Yoav Shamir's documentary Defamation (Hashmatsa, Israel-Austria) looks at what anti-Semitism means today. Where, how and when does it erupt? How prevalent is it? What is its history? Shamir follows a bunch of Israeli high school students on a visit to Auschwitz; he follows American Jewish leaders of the Anti-Defamation League (ADM) who travel the world warning governments of the rising threat of anti-Semitism; he talks to Jewish intellectuals who posit themselves against the League. As a Jew with no direct experience of anti-Semitism (as he himself claims), the director does recognise, though, that the anti-Semitism (a word with many connotations which manifests itself at various levels) discourse clings to the Jews of Israel like a shadow. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadjari's A History of Israeli Cinema (Israel-France) uses interviews with producers, directors, researchers, film critics as well as excerpts from films to tell a three and a half hour story of Israeli cinema - its beginnings and growth. The country's political convulsions have always impacted its cinema and Nadjari's film which, he says, is an unfinished story, draws you into a fascinating debate on both personal and political narratives and on the fundamental questions this cinema asks. An invaluable tool for understanding the nature of films that were made in the country and the course its cinema has taken over 60 years of complex, ethnic, religious, cultural and political tensions.

In My Only Sunshine (Hayat Var) by Turkish director Reha Erdem, fourteen year-old Hayat lives on an island off the coast of Istanbul with her fisherman father (who is also involved in unsavoury deals, procuring women and alcohol for big ships anchored near his home) and her ailing asthmatic grandfather. This coming-of-age story of an emotionally turbulent girl who is awakening to her own sexuality and clearly longs for understanding and motherly affection is told through haunting images of the sea which has a personality as strong as Hayat's. From Japan came Deep in the Valley (Yanaka Boshoku), the third feature by Funahashi Atsushi, and his first shot in Japan. It places the non-existent five storey pagoda at the centre of the drama. Weaving a tale of a young romance in Yanaka, an old part of Tokyo, with another tale narrated in a work of fiction (Five Storey Pagoda) by renowned late 19th century writer Rohan Koda, Deep in the Valley marshals seamlessly memory, cultural symbols, their physical manifestations, generational differences, to create a black-and-white chef d'oeuvre that is as gentle as it is persuasive. Another film from Japan was Naked of Defences (Mubobi) is, in many ways, a film of contrasts: between a pastoral countryside and a plastics factory set within it where human beings work mechanically, rhythmically; between the introverted Ritsuko whose marriage has crumbled after her miscarriage and her co-worker, the extroverted Chinatsu, pregnant with her first child; between the hatred and destructive feelings she harbours and the life-affirming ones that pervade her in the end. Two very different films from Hong Kong held a mirror to the city's restlessness, energy and life on the edge: Kit Hung's Soundless Wind Chimes (Wu Sheng feng ling), a somewhat thin story of a gay couple - Pascal and Ricky, and the ups and downs of their lives; and Dante Lam's The Beast Stalker (Ching yan), in the genre of a thriller, the kind that we have come to expect from Hong Kong. This is a virtuoso piece of work where the narrative grows increasingly complex while the emotion remains irrelevant.

Garin Nugroho's commitment to raising social and political issues in Indonesia through the medium of popular culture continues in his latest film The Blue Generation (Generasi biru), co-directed with John de Rantau and Dosy Omar. The Blue Generation is about a rock band known as Slank which has, over 25 years, moulded an entire generation thanks to its socio-political lyrics. The film is a daring mix of mime, musical, animation and stylised, choreographed pieces. Does it work? It seems that this unusual style could disorient the viewer unless he is familiar with the country's political and cultural ethos and its social aspirations.

Kerala Report

Aditya Monday February 15, 2010

Now established as one of the main cinematographic events in the mushrooming festival landscape of India, the 13th International Film Festival of Kerala, in Trivandrum (locally known as Thiruvananthapuram) was held from December 12 to 19, 2008, under the active supervision of the Kerala State Chalachithra Academy. Although it was marred by much too frequent technical "incidents" (such as delays, power cuts in the middle of a film, and the rather disturbing waves of cellphones left on during the screenings (even though it is forbidden), the festival, under the firm direction of Bina Paul Venugopal, was able to show to the curious local audiences a great variety of films, both local and international, as usual. The Netpac Jury, comprising Freddie Wong from Hong Kong, Sudhir Misra from Mumbai, and myself from France as Chairman had two well-furnished sections to view: the ten Asian films in the competition, and the Malayalam Cinema Today section of nine films, to which two more were added at the last minute as two directors strongly protested against their non-selection, and even went to submit their cases to the High Court, which seemed a very strange reaction, at least to foreign observers (imagine if all the directors of the non-selected films in Cannes or Venice would go to High Court!). The main jury, chaired by Brazilian director Lucia Murat gave its award to the Mexican film Parque Via by Enrique Rivero. The FIPRESCI jury (comprised of Barbara Lorey, Chris Fujiwara, and Manoj Borpujari, from Assam (1), chose the Venezuelian film Postcards from Leningrad by Maria Rondon, and Little Red Seeds (Manjadikkuru), by the newcomer director Anjali Menon, for the Malayalam section. We, in the NETPAC Jury chose two films: My Marlon and Brando (Gitmek), by Turkish director Huseyn Karabey from the Competition section, "for the innovative narrative in portraying a girl's desperate pursuit of love amidst a difficult political context", and The Imprints (Adayalamgal), an opera prima by M.G.Sasi, in the Malayalam section, "for the sensitive and humanistic approach in depicting a young man's strong will to overcome the harshness of life without losing hope". A very promising film indeed, as is Little Red Seeds in its own fresh way. Of course, other films were discussed for our award, with qualities of their own which made them eligible too. Gulabi Talkies by established Bangalore director Girish Kasaravalli, is a simple but pregnant tale of a Muslim woman (Gulabi) who turns her fisherman's house into a kind of TV salon for the neighbouring community, but eventually fails to prevent religious confrontations. Hafez (Iran/ Japan, 2007), by well-known Iranian dircetor Aboufazl Jalili is a stunningly pictured story of an Islamic scholar who is trapped by his forbidden love for his Japanese-born pupil, whom he shouldn't even look at. As for the Malayalam selection (including the two extra "High Court" films), it was generally disappointing, with a strong tendency to the same kind of filming, with sometimes similar stories (Jayaraj's Gulmohar, and Madhupal's Thalappavu, or M.Mohanan's As the Story Unfolds/ Kadhaparayumpol), with over-talkative dialogue-driven scenes. Even if most of the films are technically clever, and aiming at a local audience, they show nothing new in the Malayalam cinema landscape, contrary to The Imprints or Little Red Seeds, or the quite odd and unusual My Mother's Laptop, by newcomer Rupesh Paul, a poet who turned to independent filmmaking. There seems to be a crisis in the renewal of Malayalam cinema, which was once amazingly creative. Another interest of the well-run, very hospitable IFFK is the great opportunity given to the overflowing local audience to catch up with foreign films by reknowned directors, previously shown at Cannes, Venice, Berlin and other major festivals. These included Japanese helmers Kiyoshi Kurosawa's stunningly sharp Tokyo Sonata and Takeshi Kitano's Achilles and the Tortoise, a rather funny spoof of contemporary art. Also included was Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's superb Three Monkeys, among many others. That alone can lead us to forgive the inevitable technical flaws and incidents, and reassess that Trivandrum is one of the major film events in India nowadays. (1) Manoj Barjupari is the editor (with Dr Garima Kalita) of a very comprehensive book on Perspectives on Cinema of Assam (2007), which gives us very valuable information and insight on that rather neglected cinema in India.

Black Nights Report

Aditya Wednesday February 10, 2010

The snow storm finally subsided. As guests, delegates and jury members arrived at the airport, the rain slowly filtered down from a dark sky, a black night looming towards us. It could have been an ominous start, but instead was the perfect setting for almost ten days of film screenings, lectures and special events which characterised this impressive festival, framed against the backdrop of a medieval town on the Nordic coastline.

The celestial drama of the overture night set the mood for the following days, and the opening film, Happy-Go-Lucky, by British director Mike Leigh, kick-started the festival. Comfortably seated in the magnificent halls of the old Tallinn's Russian theatre, we were projected into the hustle and bustle of Camden, London. In the film, the cheerfulness and optimism of the main character draws the audience into a circle of lives that meet and depart, like a dance which people join and leave, to then disappear into the shadows. On the same evening my job as a Netpac Jury member began. Accompanied by Rahel, our guide in Tallinn, I headed towards another theatre hall, less grand but equally charming and cosy. This film, the first of 14 films selected for in the Netpac Award Competition, chosen out of the festival's 40 Asian films, was God Man Dog by Taiwanese director Singing Chen. 

As hinted in the title, God Man Dog is a film which portrays different realms of life. Set against the beautiful Taiwanese landscape, it follows an intricate maze of souls all looking for some sense in their lives. Infused with Buddhist spirituality, the film speculates on the concepts of interdependence of all beings, human and non-human, leaving the audience with a sense of hope rather than despair, even when confronted with the crudeness of life's challenges. By the time we left the hall it was almost midnight, and Tallinn was now lit up with decorations and lights, a reminder of impending Christmas festivities. The film had left me with a sense of displacement, yet with a feeling that there may be a greater reason for being there, a reason beyond the scope of the festival. I started to chat with Rahel, wishing to know more about her, Estonia, about our passion for cinema that had brought us together. Hungrily munching our McDonald's burgers, we talked about Asian cinema, Estonians' pride in their language and culture, and Mediterranean cuisine. The usual mundane symptoms of globalisation, or a conscience, pricked by this film, that anyone of us is entwined in an invisible interdependent web of connections which we struggle to give meaning to? Left to ponder, I turn in for the night, and awake to the second day of the festival. During the following days, I was able to see many films directed by young Asian filmmakers such as They Say I'm a Monkey (Indonesia, 2007) by Djenar Maesa Ayu, Beautiful (South Korea, 2008) by Jung Jaihong, Mozart Town (South Korea, 2008) by Jean Kyu-Hwan and Two Legged Horse (Iran, 2008) by Samira Makhmalbaf.

The first two films revolve around female characters, and we are confronted, in quite dramatic ways, with the conflicts of two Asian women who face the challenges of entering adulthood. Set against urban sceneries, the beautiful, young women must come to terms with their past and obsessions. Director Djenar Maesa Ayu, herself a young Asian woman, depicts a female character reflecting on the split aspects of her life, trapped in a world of guilt that she escapes through her writing. In Beautiful, the director leaves little hope for his character who embarks on destroying her own image, resulting in the loss of her life.

Mozart Town, also from South Korea, is perhaps less accomplished cinematically, but the film's plot is well narrated and holds the audience's attention,. The film conveys the over-riding sadness of a Korean town, whose inhabitants appear to live in their own microcosms. Less lyrical, if not utterly crude, is the film Two Legged Horse by Samira Makhmalbaf, certainly the most famous among the young Asian directors, but whom in my opinion, fails in this recent endeavour. Shot against the arid Afghan landscape, the geographical harshness is reflected in the human creatures who inhabit the place, almost completely de-humanised and dryly exposed in front of the camera. I had the feeling that the film was capitalising on a common, exploited notion of the cruelty of this region. The children's characters, far from being signs of hope, become the perpetrators of physical and psychological abuse. The film was awarded a Special Mention at the Festival, but I would have spared the praise for other films, in this abundant and competitive festival. 

Of the films I found to be beautifully executed and truly worth mentioning are Gulabi Talkies (India, 2008) by Girish Kasaravalli and The Photograph (Indonesia 2007) by Nan Triveni Achnas. Also the documentary directed by Jia Zhang-ke, 24 City (Hong Kong, China, Japan 2008) and the intimate, slow-paced but deeply poetic film Still Walking (Japan 2008) by Hirokazu Kore-Eda In the end, the Netpac Jury gave its award to The Shaft (China 2008), the directorial debut of Zhang Chi, a young Chinese filmmaker. The skilfully mastered photography leads the spectator on a journey in to one of modern China's less exposed realities - a miners' town, where people are trapped in a geographically and socially closed world. The claustrophobia of the environment encapsulates the simple lives of a few family members whose ambition and dreams are crushed by poverty in a country which strives to convey an image of unparalleled success on the world stage whilst hiding the almost surreal reality of ordinary lives in China's backwaters.

These are only a few of the films that I saw in Tallinn. The programme of the festival was rich and full of surprises, not least for me, the discovery of a thriving cinematic scenario in Estonia itself. Every film gave me a chance to tap into another world, reminding me that like a family history, untold secrets can be finally revealed and wonders disclosed, to then be put back safely into a memento box for future generations.

The last film screened at the end of an enjoyable and professionally orchestrated closing ceremony, was appropriately titled Pandora's Box. A delicate and visually splendid Turkish film by director Yesim Ustaoglu, closed the 12th edition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, bringing forward the message and poetry of human relationships, and the importance of respecting other ways of life.

Asiatica Report

Aditya Sunday February 1, 2009

The Asiatica Film Mediale is a small but warm and friendly film festival which takes place every year in the Eternal City. But its 9th edition (15-23 November 2008) was almost cancelled. The usual financial help from the city has been cut, mainly for political motivations according to the organizers, who decided to maintain the festival only one month before it started. However, despite a very low budget, Italo Spinelli and his hospitable and friendly team did a great job that can notably be seen through the rich programme of the event and the quality of the selection.

Antalya Report

Aditya Tuesday December 30, 2008
 Known as Turkey's premier fun-in-the-sun tourist spot and often referred to as the Turkish Riviera - the mystical and ancient Mediterranean coastal city of Antalya transformed into a cinema city from 10 to 19 October 2008. The 45th Antalya Golden Orange Film Festival, held annually since 1963 in Antalya, is the most important national film festival in Turkey.


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.


Featured Report

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