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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hard talk on Asian Cinema

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Network for the promotion of asian cinema threw its 20th birthday bash last week and the connoisseurs of cinema, who came to celebrate, were in for more than just a sampling of the best of asian cinema.

There is nothing new about film festivals. There are the Cannes, Locarno, Vienna where the A-listers sashay on the red carpet and pose for the paparazzi. Then there are the relatively smaller though still immensely influential film festivals like Rotterdam, Munich and Toronto where too films enjoy excellent exposure. An unrivalled platform for world cinema, filmmakers contend for the various awards and the attention of the distributors at all such festivals. Awards won in the festival circuit generate much excitement and credibility for the film, and this often translates into box office success too. In 1990, Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) was set-up with the aim of helping Asian countries discover each other's endeavours in alternate cinema. In an attempt to help Asian cinema get its time under the spotlight in festivals around the world, NETPAC instituted the NETPAC Award that would honour deserving Asian filmmakers. Today, the award is given at 30 international film festivals. In its effort to bring Asian cinema at par with European and American, NETPAC started two film festivals as well ' the Cinefan in New Delhi, and the Jogja-NETPAC festival in Jogjakarta. Having completed 20 years since its inception, the organisation wasn't about to organise just another film festival. The Imaging Asia Film Festival did take place in the capital between August 18-22, 2010 where NETPAC Award-winning films were screened at various venues, but along with it, exhibitions and performances of the pre-cursors of cinema ' hand-painted narrative scrolls and shadow puppets ' were featured as well, and a 5-day conference titled The Culture and Politics of Asian Cinema was held. Together, they constituted Imaging Asia: The Netpac Festival.

The Film Festival featured 30 outstanding films from the past 17 years, which included Garin Nugroho's 'And the Moon Dances', Adoor Gopalakrishnan's 'Vidheyan' (The Servile), Aparna Sen's 'Mr & Mrs Iyer', Dang Nhat Minh's 'Nostalgia for the Countryside', Asghar Farhadi's 'About Elly' and Wang Xiaoshuai's 'So Close to Paradise'. The exhibition showcased narrative scrolls from Bengal, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan and the shadow puppeteers hailed from not just various parts of India but also China, Malaysia, Indonesia and Iran. The most vital and significant facet of the Festival was the conference that brought together 25 internationally-renowned film personalities who specialise in Asian cinema for a dialogue, which brought to the table various issues plaguing the Asian alternative filmmakers, and possible solutions. Led by NETPAC President Aruna Vasudev, the panellists included Filipino filmmaker, scholar and Conference Director Nick Deocampo (Philippines), Pusan Festival Director Kim Dong-ho, renowned filmmakers Xie Fei (China) and Garin Nugroho (Indonesia) and Arab cinema specialist and programmer Intishal al-Timimi, apart from many critics and representatives of funding agencies. They discussed about the impact of globalisation on Asian cinema, contemplated about the role of film festivals and how they need to be re-fashioned for the times, and about various subjects pertinent to the independent filmmaker, such as how to get international funds and find distributors for their films. 'There are some people from Europe, more people are from Asia; they are all just trying' sometimes conflicting, sometimes exchanging, listening to each other, so as to try and build a network of a different level ' for producing, for distributing, for making things understandable for one another,' said Jocelyn Saab, Franco-Lebanese award-winning director, photographer and producer, who was among the luminaries at the conference. They discussed ways of accessing international funds and even exploring social networking sites for finding finances! While one cited instances of filmmakers raising enough money through such sites, another contended that this cannot however be a general solution as donors receive petty tokens in return, like T-shirts of the film.

'People who keep going to festivals are all saying that this has been so wonderful, because usually in festivals everyone keeps running around looking at films, but it was the first time we all sat down and had a chance to talk and exchange ideas. And that has been the purpose of this festival, not only to exchange ideas but talk very seriously about the current situation and the future, where should we go, what should we be doing, what should we be looking at'' said Aruna Vasudev. 'I think NETPAC has been playing, is playing, and will continue to play a very important role as each country tries to promote their films and each continent tries to support its own industry and filmmaking. Asia needs such efforts too,' remarked Intishal al-Timimi.

'I'm really emotional about this conference, because this meeting over cinema is more about tolerance. The base of tolerance is each one knowing the other and not rejecting the other, and we're doing it through cinema,' said the visibly moved Jocelyn Saab.

It's 20 years old, yet is among the handful of organisations proactively working to support the alternative filmmakers of our time. Already brimming with ideas to take NETPAC and Asian cinema to the next level, Aruna remarked, 'Asian cinema is already at par with European cinema. Asian cinema is already there; it's arrived. And now we need to push it into the audience's consciousness.' Ready for the next take already, NETPAC's come of age.

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