Joint report by: Rashmi Doraiswamy, Julia Gulyan and Olga Khlasheva
The 18th Pacific Meridian International Film Festival was held in Vladivostok, Russia from 10 – 16 October, despite all the obstacles of the year 2020. The festival showed over 200 movies that comprised the Official Competition, Panorama, Animation, Documentary, Short Competition and other programmes. Some films came from International Film Festivals like Berlin and Venice, whereas others had their international or national premieres in Vladivostok.
One of the leading festivals of the region, the Pacific Meridian is the only Russian Film Festival that selects eight feature films and eight short films from Asia - Pacific countries for its Competition section. Since 2011 the festival has been hosting the NETPAC Jury as well. This year it consisted of Rashmi Doraiswamy (India), Olga Khlasheva (Kazakhstan), and Julia Gulyan (Russia). Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, the Festival was unable to accept international guests, filmmakers and jury. Julia Gulyan was the only member of the NETPAC jury who attended the festival and watched the films together with the audience. Most of the screenings were full (all the coronavirus restrictions and protocols were followed). The Festival has, over the years, gathered a devoted audience that includes film lovers of several generations as well as regional and national filmmakers.
The NETPAC competition at this edition consisted of seven films: one from Vietnam, one from Lebanon, three from China/Hong-Kong, and two from Russia. The NETPAC Jury members who participated online received secured screeners of the competition films for the NETPAC Award: Rom directed by Trần Thanh Huy (Vietnam); Summer is the Coldest Season, directed by Zhou Sun (China); As Above, So Below, directed by Sarah Francis (Lebanon); The Savage, directed by Anna Sayannaya (Russia); The Cloud in her Room, directed by Zheng Lu Xinyuan (China, Hong Kong); In Deep Sleep, directed by Maria Ignatenko (Russia) and Long Day, directed by Luo Yumo (China).
Rom showed the underbelly of Ho Chi Minh city. Young boys are involved in the betting game of lotteries. There is a fierce competition, which is almost a fight for survival, between the boys who run the errand of betting. The film has a dark, gritty feel - the director captures the narrow, mean streets where the betting goes on, the dangerous ride across the river to where the results are announced, where the boys throw the competitors off the flimsy boat, and the very modest lives of the people who bet, living on the brink of poverty, trying to keep the roofs over their heads.
In Summer is the Coldest Season, Jiahe, whose mother had been murdered two years ago, has not found peace of mind, since then. Nor has her father, who has become an alcoholic. When the boy who had killed her mother is let out of prison, she begins to follow him and he takes a liking to her. It is a bitter sweet tale of growing up, of misfits, of learning to forgive and moving on, told without any frills, but touching, nonetheless.
As Above, So Below, is a minimalist film, in all senses of the term. It ‘documents’ the many discourses about the moon, ranging from poetry, war, migrations, displacements, language and naming to the space age and cosmic junk. This political documentary, for most part uses the image of a desert and the moon. A swing is installed, on which people take turns at sitting; sometimes they stand in queue and leave without swinging. At other times a man who has been uprooted from his surroundings and his land, wanders around. And so on. The images are abstract and symbolic, but the narration in a female voice is evocative and rich in weaving a web of references to the moon that cover history, geography, geopolitics, literature, astronomy.
All the films in the NETPAC Competition were debut or second features, and most of them were bold and daring. One of the distinctive features of Asian films has always been their tendency to innovate, to engage in experiments of form and genre and at the same time have universal messages that make these films sought after worldwide. We, therefore, chose the film that we found embodied all these traits.
In Deep Sleep is a feature debut of the Russian filmmaker and screenwriter Maria Ignatenko. The film had its premiere at the Berlinale Forum programme in 2020. Victor, who was at sea, spends two days getting to the hospital where he discovers that his wife has died. After listening to the doctor, he goes out onto the street. The street is asleep. The whole city is asleep. But everything in it is breathing, snoring, muttering in sleep. This sleeping city is like a nightmare.
In this nightmare, the unconscious sleepers are intertwined with memories of his love. The image of the personal sorrow that puts the whole town into deep sleep is a rare audio-visual experiment. It is also a detective story where relationships between sleep and wakefulness, crime and punishment, past and present are twisted. Human alienation and extreme loneliness are represented through cinematic images that come close to dream or pure poetry. In Deep Sleep is the work of a fearless, budding talent and this made it a perfect candidate for the NETPAC Award.
The citation stated that the NETPAC award went to In Deep Sleep "for the poetic embodiment of a dream-like reality".
-- Edited by Latika Padgaonkar