New Asian Currents: Trends and Notes
Visions of Asia emerge from the entries for this year’s New Asian Currents. They capture the circumstances of today’s society, politics and personal history that nimbly and necessarily traverse the map-drawn borders of ‘Asia.’ How do we face the past, and the indivisible present? The processes used by each filmmaker to connect personal and national history through images, alternately disassembling and assembling, were evident in many of this year’s submissions. On one hand, as in previous years there were those works that simply recorded their subjects, but at the same time the desire for diverse modes of expression was often apparent, and we were able to share their discoveries, despair and joy.
“Wonder/Wander Asia!” is a phrase that encapsulates the essence of these films. It is the act of doubting and wondering. Feeling puzzled, harboring suspicions, and musing over all sorts of things. Wanting to know, and experiencing surprise. Wandering, becoming lost. Cross over and roam along the borders of ‘Asia’ through these films.
Further Flight, Expanding Possibilities
The momentum of works from China knows no bounds in the sense that their quality and quantity stand out regardless of the large proportion of overall entries. Almost as if their makers sincerely believe that something will move into frame if they hold their cameras and stand their ground long enough, each of these carefully made and dedicated works selected for screening possess its own charm. Even the venues for presentation that support these films are flourishing. One of YIDFF 2005’s special programs, the “Yunnan Visual Forum in Yamagata,” introduces an innovative film festival YUNFEST, that presents domestically and internationally successful Chinese documentaries. Chinese visual culture, which has historically been centered around Beijing, is now displaying its potential as it spreads throughout the continent while adopting regional characteristics.
Three works from the 2nd YUNFEST held in April this year will be featured in New Asian Currents. Blossoming in the Wind journeys with Lamas from Yunnan; Chen Lu, which looks at a town famous for its ceramics, beguiles the viewer with its stylish imagery; and White Tower, which has enjoyed continued success at overseas film festivals, presents a human drama of love and marriage between deaf people. (Before the Flood will screen in the International Competition)
Personal documentaries, one of the fixtures of Japanese documentary filmmaking, were once again received in abundance. In “all about me?,” one of this year’s festival’s special programs that promises a grand debate on personal films from Japan and Switzerland; their mysteries may deepen or perhaps be solved. Either way these films are not to be missed. One prominent element seen in submissions sent from Japan is the unguarded confession made directly to camera. By the same token, works of video journalism that utilize first person story telling by taking up a camera to report on war-torn regions and other Asian countries were also prevalent.
Both Dear Pyongyang, where the director (a second generation “zainichi” Korean) rebuilds her bonds with her family through the dialogue of filmmaking, and The Cheese & The Worms, in which the camera lucidly depicts a family through focusing on the mother’s struggle against illness, are attempts to earnestly express the realm of the personal and show us their unique worlds.
Try to Remember, a graduation work for Yunnan Arts Institute in which the filmmaker travels with his mother to her hometown and gathers her spoken memories of the Cultural Revolution, is a rare personal documentary amongst Chinese works. In The Spirit of 8 from Taiwan, another graduation piece, the director delves into his own inner self and is healed through introspection. Innocent breaks new ground for personal documentary as the directors blend the city air of Singapore with the story behind an aunt’s suicide and the views of her relatives. The difference in perspectives of what filmmaker each tries to record or reenact is intriguing.
Nostalgia and Dandyism
One trend that can be observed in recent years is the overall abundance of submissions of documentaries made for television, and especially directors from India and China attached to production companies that are affiliated with television stations are making documentaries that possess a freedom and grace that would be unthinkable in an equivalent Japanese work. Last House Standing, a portrait of a soon-to-be-demolished house in Shanghai and its Shanghai-dandy owner, is one such example.
Seasons of a disappearing age in Taiwan, symbolized by a truck carrying a mobile puppet theater and the taciturn men who run it, are the focus of Fluiding Stage. In President Mir Qanbar, where Iranian society teeters on the brink of democratization, an old man living in the remote countryside affects a somehow comical melancholy and engages in simple election campaign. The Island at the End of the World sees its young urban director visit Ityabat, an island literally in the farthest reaches of the Philippines, and create unique imagery. The rhythms of the filmmakers and their straightforward perspectives; and the rhythms of the ‘dandys,’ which ride a fine line between nostalgia and blitheness.
Things That We Shouldn’t Do from Korea is not straightforward video activism, but rather a fun archival documentary that describes the anti-Iraq War/peace movement using the archives of the South Korean military. Don’t Forget Me from Thailand is an experimental archival documentary that interlaces archival footage and sound tracks from different eras of communist students driven into the jungle and ethnic minorities, reviving them in the present. We’re amazed with the wit with which deft use of archives can send messages to modern day society.
Chronicle of the Sea, Nan-Fang-Ao is the only New Asian Currents finalist to be completed on film. It vividly depicts the current state of a once prosperous Taiwanese port, its unlimited expanses of sea and sky, and the people who live there. The Armenian-British director and Indian crew of Hammer and Flame, set in a ship breaking yard in Gujarat, have created a work of overwhelming visual beauty that describes the existence of the people who congregate there. Fort of the Fabrications represents an attempt to conceptualize media society through video art. In these works, each ‘place’ inhabits the frame.
In Garden, the first documentary from Israel to be featured in New Asian Currents, the Israeli directors develop a rapport with two young male Arab immigrants as they roam Tel Aviv together, intimately reflecting their reality that is symbolized by a place called Garden. For Yesterday Today Tomorrow, the Japanese director collected footage during three years in Thailand as she closely observed a family with HIV. And in Back to the Soil, the director seemingly becomes like family in the story of a young couple and their children who move from the city to the countryside and begin an agricultural lifestyle, coming up against hardship and yet still showing their lively, smiling faces. These directors interact with and adhere closely to their subjects as they film them in their respective ‘places.’
A series of films that attentively examine the scars of the 1999 Taiwan earthquake by filmmaking collective “FullShot,” of which YIDFF regular Wu Yii-feng is a member, will be screened as a special program entitled “Facing the Future and Walking Tall-the Endeavors of Taiwan’s ‘FullShot’”—Six films completed over six long years. Another ‘place’ not to be missed.
Collective Memory and the Individual
The Pot, the first ever work from Syria to be screened in New Asian Currents, is a bitingly satirical short documentary where the female director captures women in Islamic society from their perspective. The Palestinian-American director of until when . . . painstakingly films the lives of individuals and the stories of families who live in refugee camps but long to return to Palestine. One becomes keenly aware of the necessity of this process in which the camera’s gaze is turned upon individuals, giving names to and remembering personal and collective history.
The Sound of Footsteps on the Pavement explores new interfaces for video and activism while seeking the identity of young people in the town of Beirut. While studying filmmaking in Australia, the director of Diminishing Memories humorously reveals the unknown history of her own hometown and the many villages that have disappeared due to Singapore's modernization and industrialization. The erasure, transmission, and manipulation of collective memory are experimented with and portrayed using unique techniques in these ambitious works.
Mad Minutes, which confronts South Korea’s history as an aggressor in the Vietnam War, is clearly a documentary that engages in the process of addressing and communicating past and present Korean society. In Keep the Change, students from Ankara University in Turkey and former political prisoners with memory disorder as a result of an incident in prison five years earlier tackle the past head-on. Without stopping at mere accusations, these brave and introspective works examine current South Korean and Turkish society and by extension the filmmakers themselves.
Japan accounted for the greatest number of entries from a single country. Hopes are high for those who find the will to take up the challenge of filmmaking amidst pretenses of a ‘nation’ called Japan in the future.
Let’s Go to Muse 1 & 2 + Cinema Asahi 2!
Thanks to all of you who’ve stuck with us to the end of this article. We hope you’ll take the opportunity to experience the fiery winds of Asia at YIDFF 2005. (Regular New Asian Currents cinemas Muse 1 & 2 will be joined this year by Cinema Asahi 2)
Beginning with this year’s festival, submissions were msde to either the International Competition or to New Asian Currents, as opposed to the previous system of submission to both programs. As a result by statistics the overall number of entries has decreased, but it must be said that actually works from Asian countries or made by directors of Asian descent that were originally submitted to the International Competition were also part to our sellection process and some have been included in the New Asian Currents lineup.
—New Asian Currents Coordinators, Haru & Maki (Hama Haruka, Wakai Makiko)
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