The 14th Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival (JAFF), November 19-23, 2019, was successfully held in the city of Jogjakarta in Indonesia.
I have long known about this festival, as it is the main festival for South-east Asian countries, an organization that promotes auteurial, unconventional, original films of young Asian directors who open up new trends in the cinema of their countries and influence the development of film language.
I worked on the NETPAC jury with Indonesian actor-director Paul Agusta and Filipino director John Torres. By the way, I first saw Torres in 2010 at the IFF in Rotterdam (Netherlands), when his film, Refrains Happen Like Revolutions in a Song, participated in the NETPAC competition and was one of the favourites.
There were eight competitive films for us at JAFF. I had three favourites: Nakorn-Sawan by Puangsoi Aksornsawang (Thailand), Mountain Song by Yusuf Radjamuda (Indonesia), Aurora by Bekzat Pirmatov (Kyrgyzstan).
Nakorn-Sawan is an amazing story with deep implications as it opens the world of ordinary people, with their experiences, memories and hopes for the future. The film is about a family taking a journey together to accompany the recently departed to “heaven”. Parallel to this, there is a documentary of the director’s father, who lives alone in a rubber plantation. After being away from home for five years, Aoey comes back to Nakorn-Sawan, her hometown, for just one week – the week of the funeral.
Mountain Song is a tragic story about a little boy who has his mother’s love that eases the difficult life of both. But she is seriously ill and her anticipation of death makes her want to teach her son how to live without her.
Named after the Aurora sanatorium that was built during Soviet era and emblematic of Kyrgyzstan, the film Aurora details the events in one day, reflecting currents national problems such as Chinese expansion, infringement of women’s rights, poverty, corruption and lost youth.
The film’s title has several conceptual components. First, the events of the film begin in the evening and end in the early morning at dawn, when in the imagination of the ancient Romans the goddess of dawn, Aurora, brings daylight to the gods and the people.
Second, the action of the film unfolds in the building of the Aurora sanatorium with its architecture reminiscent of a ship’s hulk that should have been called The White Steamship (after the famous novel by the greatest Kyrgyz author Chingiz Aitmotov).
Third, after the collapse of the USSR, the Aurora sanatorium was basically frequented by businessmen and affluent people, often at weekends for relaxation or for medical procedures. Perhaps for the first time in Kyrgyz cinema a film dares to show people with unexpectedly negative character traits.
I was pleasantly surprised that the film Aurora by Bekzat Pirmatov from my country Kyrgyzstan was in the top list of both of my colleagues in the jury. Moreover, I was surprised by my own perception of the picture, which I had not seen for more than a year. In early October 2018, I was lucky as a member of the support group to fly to the IFF in Busan, and there I watched Aurora three times on huge screens.
On viewing in Jogyakarta, I saw this picture as if for the first time. I was again fascinated by the non-standard view of Pirmatov on the acute problems of today's society. It was interesting to keep track of several Kyrgyz people (protagonists of the movie) with whom amazing events took place during the day, which they later would not want to tell anyone. Surprisingly, the Indonesian audience perceived the picture with me in the same breath.
As John Torres later admitted: “I didn’t know anything about Kyrgyzstan before watching the film. But despite the fact that I did not quite understand some context of the film’s meaning, the non-linear structure of the picture plunged me into the depths of history, which was so unconventionally revealed with each new turn it became more and more interesting to watch. ”
And most importantly, what John Torres said: "It seems to me that in the Philippines, the picture can be a spectator success."
Paul Agusta also loved Aurora very much. In his cinematic habit, he watched the key films of our competition twice, in order to clarify details for himself.
I note that the NETPAC jury regulation emphasizes that only one prize should be awarded. However, it allows for two films of equal merit to receive the NETPAC award in “Ex-Aequo”.
In addition to the jury, I took part in a workshop on screenwriting. In the first half, we talked about ourselves and the cinema of our region and in the second half of the seminar, five young directors and five young producers in Indonesia presented projects of their future films.
I was absolutely delighted that the vision of Indonesia’s new generation is so subtle. They focus on the problems that society prefers to keep silent about. But they want to make a breakthrough in Indonesian cinema so that the whole world can speak about it!
Here are the topics they raised in their projects:
1) A look at the problems of today from the future - from the year 2050.
2) The intricate relationship of two couples, representatives of the middle class,
3) The tragic situation of the ethnic minority in the province of Borneo and the dream of the ethnic minority Dayak for a better future,
4) The growing interest of high school students in watching pornography, and an attempt by the school to inspect the situation.
5) The debate between archaeologists and local residents in the territories where valuable objects of the past are hidden.
Finally, I also had one pleasant mission. I had to carry the prize from Russia to a famous director from Indonesia.
This story began last August when the 4th Silver Akbuzat IFF (24-27 August 2019) took place in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan - the Turkic-speaking republic in the Russian Federation. Akbuzat is a mythological, winged horse from the Bashkir epoch and from fairy tales. In this festival, there are two highlights: national/ethnic cinema and social/motivational cinema.
Hanung Bramantyo’s Sultan Agung won the Special Amir Abdrazakov Award from the festival. But as he was unable to attend, it became my mission in Jogyakarta personally award him this prize. But as I left the prize in Ufa, and I lived in the city of Bishkek, the winged horse Silver Akbuzat made a long flight along the following route: Ufa - Moscow - Bishkek - Almaty - Kuala/Lumpur - Jakarta - Jogjakarta. The award was handed to the director!
Thus the winged horse of the IV Silver Akbuzat IFF flew to Jogjakarta!
-- Gulbara Tolomushova, Kyrgyzstan, is a well-known film critic and filmmaker.