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Cinefan 2001

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  • Noel Vera
    A New Delhi film festival Noel Vera Cinemaya Magazine’s Cinefan Film Festival is a young festival (this is their third year), but it has grown from twenty
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 7, 2001
      A New Delhi film festival

      Noel Vera

      Cinemaya Magazine�s Cinefan Film Festival is a young festival (this is their
      third year), but it has grown from twenty films shown in a single venue to
      over fifty films in three different venues around New Delhi.

      The films chosen are from all over Asia--from Turkey to Iran to Singapore to
      the Philippines--and in a dizzying variety of emotional and visual styles,
      from the lyrically spare to the obliquely opulent. One of the festival�s
      jurists, Singapore Film Festival programmer Philip Cheah notes that one of
      the most common questions asked of him is �What makes an Asian film? What
      common characteristics and themes bind them together?� Cheah�s original
      reply was �family and family values,� but upon reflection, he realized that
      it wasn�t so simple--many of the newer films like Wan Chao�s �The Orphan of
      Anyang� are, if anything, about the disintegration of the family.

      I told him that it�s even worse--or better, depending on how you look at it:
      Asia has the most number of youths, and very possibly the most number of
      young and hungry actual or potential filmmakers. As a result, it is the
      cinema most likely to look at everything and anything, the one most ready to
      apply its boundless energy, the one most open to wild flights of
      imagination. It has the most stories to tell, and thanks to Hollywood
      encroachment and the troubled Asian economy, the least chances of telling
      them. The pressure, the need to tell these stories grows greater with every
      passing year; either the stories get told somehow, or something�s going to
      give way.

      You wonder though if all of the stories are actually worth telling. Wan
      Chao�s �The Orphan of Anyang� is about a baby raised by a whore and a man
      (not the baby�s father) smitten with the whore. We�ve seen this story any
      number of times before, in Hollywood dramas; to its credit, the film doesn�t
      tell the story the way Hollywood would--it�s full of quiet moments where the
      camera just drinks in the street life, or the characters� understated
      despair--but ultimately there�s nothing new.

      Likewise with Xie Fei�s �Song of Tibet�--yet another story about a
      granddaughter following her grandmother�s story in a series of flashbacks.
      One scene where the grandmother as a young woman is abducted involves said
      young woman in a vast field with an equally young man--shades of Zhang
      Yimou�s infinitely richer, infinitely more evocative �Red Sorghum.� Xie Fei
      lays on the melodramatic music a bit thick, to the point that I for one
      couldn�t finish the film--the saccharine dosage was too high. Chinese films
      are not well represented in the festival this year, it seems.

      Other films include Kurosawa Kyoshi�s �License to Live�--somewhat of a
      misnomer, because the film barely registers a pulse. It and Wan Chao�s
      �Orphan� and even Yoichiro Takahashi�s �Sunday�s Dream� are examples of what
      I (in my unkinder moments) like to call �Cinema of the Comatose�--films
      filled with long stretches of either dead silence or deep meaning, depending
      on how you like such films (I don�t, unless there are compensating
      virtues--Andrei Tarkovsky�s gorgeous imagery, for one, or Tsai Ming Liang�s
      lively humor and wild ideas).

      But if �comatose� films don�t quite do it for me, at least they have a
      quirkiness, a flavor of personal obsession that feels far more authentic
      than the attempt of Western filmmakers to ape the Far East. Bernardo
      Bertolucchi�s �The Last Emperor� is two hours and forty minutes� worth of
      gorgeous candy-floss, not much else; Peter Brook�s �Mahabharata� is even
      longer at one hundred and seventy minutes and goes the opposite
      direction--squeezing all the juicy drama out of a great epic and leaving
      behind an intellectually desiccated corpse of a film.

      The festival included a generous sample of Iranian films--Kianush Ayari�s
      �To Be or Not To Be� (a look at Iranian prejudice against organ
      transplants); Dariush Merjui�s �Sara� (a not-quite-successful adaptation of
      Ibsen�s �A Doll�s House�); his much better �Leila� (about a barren wife
      forced to allow her husband to marry again); Abbas Kiarostami�s lovely �And
      Life Goes On� (about how life persists, even after the devastation of a
      great earthquake); and Varuz Karim-Masihi�s �The Last Act� (a gothic
      thriller unlike any other Iranian film I�ve seen--an unholy union between
      Chekov and Agatha Christie).

      The festival ended, of course, with an awards night, the Cinefan prize. The
      jury aside from Philip Cheah included Sri Lankan filmmaker Sumitra Peries
      (wife of Lester James Peries); Iranian filmmaker Pouran Derakhshandeh;
      Georgian filmmaker Nana Djordjaze; and Indian actress Sharmila Tagore, who
      appeared in Satiyajit Ray�s �The World of Apu� and �Devi.� They chose the
      winners from a total of twelve competing films.

      Best actress went to Elli Suriaty Omar, the lovely Malaysian protagonist of
      Teck Tan�s �Spinning Gasing;� best actor to Ibrahim Kadir, who gives a
      powerful performance in Indonesian filmmaker Garin Nugroho�s �The Poet;�
      best picture to Sri Lankan filmmaker Asoka Handagama�s satiric, surreal
      �This is My Moon.�

      And lest I forget, the Philippines didn�t go away empty-handed either--Mario
      O�Hara�s �Demons� won the NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema)
      Award, for �personifying the evils of war and violence through magic

      The reaction to �Demons,� by the way (indulge me, I don�t get to do this
      very often), was strong yet varied. Some of the jurists found the film�s
      story �compelling, particularly the second half;� others found the acting
      �irritating.� They were impressed to learn that, despite the US$50,000.00
      budget and short shooting schedule, O�Hara�s film technique remained
      consistently in control. One of them went so far as to say �it was the only
      film in competition that I really cared for.�

      The audience reaction was equally varied--many Indians stopped me to say
      that they found the film especially powerful. Almost every one of them asked
      if incidents in the picture--the helicopter execution, the horrific raids on
      villagers--had actually taken place; I told them yes, and recently (the film
      is set in the Negros provinces, and takes place some time before 1983 up to
      some time after 1986). The younger Filipino expatriates didn�t appreciate
      it, however; again, the response every time the film is shown--divided yet
      intense--is consistently fascinating.

      One particularly impressive Indian--complete with wild flowing mane of hair
      and beard, aluminum crutch, and a disconcertingly intense pair of
      eyes--limped up to me, thanked me, and told me how much the film spoke to
      him about the military in his own country. I looked at him and asked if he
      had had any personal experiences with the military in his country. He just
      gave me a small smile, thanked me again for bringing the film, and limped

      �Demons� has been invited to the Vancouver International Film Festival and
      the 45th London Film Festival. With any luck, it should win the kind of
      audience and appreciation that it deserves, and largely failed to find here
      in Manila.

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)

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