Trends in New Asian Currents
It is now twelve years since the creation of The Asia Program for this film festival in 1991, and ten years since the first Ogawa Shinsuke Prize was given to the most promising Asian filmmaker in 1993. Politics, economics, and societies as a whole in the region have undergone rapid change.
Across Asia, in conjunction with the spread of video cameras and computers, more and more people are discovering a strong desire to get involved in filmmaking. This is particularly evident in New Asian Currents 2003. There appears to be a rising wave of individuals who want to transmit a message to people through images, seeking originality and self-expression.
In the two years since the last call for entries in 2001, submissions from China shot up from 30 to 95, while those from India increased from 63 to 118. After traveling throughout Asia, I came to realise that many filmmakers are beginning to show a clear preference for documentary filmmaking in places such as Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong. With this in mind, 30 works form the lineup for this year’s New Asian Currents, where even the most crudely realized works are driven by a unique perspective and methodology.
An overall characteristic is the large number of filmmakers who have studied documentary in western countries. Young people from Bangladesh, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Mongolia and other countries across Asia are studying abroad at schools in America and Europe, and yet still redirect their attention to realities in their home countries. While gaining an opportunity to study film history and see a wide range of documentaries, they can engage in making their own works while receiving accurate advice and emotional support from their teachers. They possess a unique cinematic sense unlike that of the previous generation, the self-taught auteurs who have manned the cameras half on instinct, half out of necessity.
These new filmmakers from Asia are conscious not only of the emotions of audiences like never before, but are also often self-reflective with an outsider’s standpoint. As if reflecting on themselves as filmmakers, they possess the gaze of one who has looked upon their own culture with the eyes of an outsider.
Directors of the following titles made their films while studying abroad: Sand and Water, Three-Five People, The Circle’s Corner, Edit, Family Project: House of a Father, Gina Kim’s Video Diary, Perpetual Motion, The Rhythm in Wulu Village, and A Short Journey.
This year’s SARS panic once again illustrated Asia’s borderless nature. Many works reflected the lives of people in different countries that remain undeniable connected to the rest of this planet.
Hibakusha—At the End of the World is a documentary on an international scale that hints at the potential threat of radiation poisoning from nuclear weapons and facilities for ordinary people in Iraq, Japan and the United States. Dandelion approaches the situation of a Chinese family who come to Japan to work illegally. And Thereafter depicts the way of life in a new land of an elderly woman, who married a GI she met during the Korean War and moved to the United States. Her and Him Van Leo learns of the Arabization of Cairo, once judged to be a part of Europe, straight from the mouth of a gruff old photographer. The Rhythm of Wulu Village focuses on the village of an indigenous people of Taiwan as it comes into contact with the Han people and foreigners. The Ballad of Life explores the emotions of Afghan families who have fled war to work in cotton fields in Iran.
Another striking aspect was the young generation’s attempt to take up the task of re-examining the history of their own countries. In Dust Buries Sabuk, a forgotten uprising in South Korea under military rule is brought to our attention by a female director who was aged five at the time. The Big Durian from Malaysia opens up memories of an incident that stirred racial tensions 15 years ago, with a humorous approach that can only be employed now that so many years have gone by. India’s Nee Engey—Where Are You is a walking visit to the once-flourishing performers of shadow theater, which rediscovers their still vital songs and blows the dust off their still working puppets. The makers of these films may not have lived through the eras which they address, but their works reflect an awareness of history where past, present and future are inseparable.
Shorts and television
This year’s New Asian Currents includes many short works of no longer than twenty minutes. The short duration of these works from countries including India, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand and Palestine is not attributable to financial reasons, but rather to a necessary decision to render the finished product as effective as possible. Such works include the abundantly playful The Maze of Lanes and NEW (IMPROVED) DELHI—Director’s Cut; A Short Journey and Debris, which draw viewers into their worlds with verite camerawork; and Ordo, which concentrates on men absorbed in sport from a subtly distanced perspective.
Many of this year’s entries have already been broadcast on television, and works from regional television stations in China were particularly abundant. Some submissions exhibited such an experimental spirit that it is difficult to believe that they were made for television. Documentaries coming out of The Open Frame, a newly-created public access slot on Indian national television (broadcast every Sunday), introduced a wealth of intriguing topics from this fascinating country. It is truly unfortunate that we cannot introduce them at this film festival.
Nevertheless the selected documentaries from China and India, chosen from a vast field, display the considerable thought put into them and a creativity that cannot be neatly summarized in project proposals. They could perhaps be described as the stand-out works of this year’s New Asian Currents. Don’t miss it.
—Fujioka Asako, Coordinator of New Asian Currents