2001-06-30 | New Asian Currents: This year’s trends

A final decision on the lineup for New Asian Currents is one week away, and a rough picture of the trends running through this year’s films is starting to emerge.

The power of digital video

One development seen across the board in recent Asian documentaries is the surge of films making use of digital video. This is visible throughout the Asian region, but most notably in films from India, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan. Quality camera equipment has become cheaper, and there has been a sudden shift to filming with DV, superceding the mini Hi-8 cameras which had been prevalent until now. Personal computers in the home has made do-it-yourself more accessible, so even if you don't own one yourself it’s easy enough to borrow a friend’s setup, putting non-linear editing capability in the hands of more and more filmmakers.

New interpersonal networks are pulsing

In Bangkok, director Apichatpong Weerasethakul whose work will feature in this year’s International Competition, lends his personal home studio to his friends and assists in the completion of their work. Other filmmakers who have experienced overseas festivals, such as Beijing’s Wu Wenguang, hold workshops and screenings for up-and-coming talent and help create the next generation of filmmakers.

In Seoul, capitalizing on the South Korean film industry’s current momentum, genuine groundwork has commenced for the construction of a public media center, with the Independent Film and Video Association at its core. All over South Korea, the government is supporting the video media activities of the citizens. This is an approach worlds apart from those of past regimes, that regarded documentary as a form of dissent against the established order.

In Taiwan, an international documentary film festival based on the YIDFF model began in 1998, and was successfully held for a second time in 2000. Screening many indigenous works, it’s a film festival that endeavors to support and promote Taiwanese documentary filmmaking.

This year’s trends

Taking these developments into account, this year’s New Asian Currents category has seen particular growth in the number of films submitted from China, Taiwan and Japan. Entries from Japan have increased from 86 in 1999 to 149 this year.

Furthermore, this time there are a number of new works from filmmakers who have previously been invited to New Asian Currents. The latest efforts from The Red Leaf Legend’s Hsiao Chu-chen (Taiwan) and thirdworld’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) feature in this year’s International Competition. 17 other “graduates” of New Asian Currents ’99 have also submitted their newest works. In Asia, outstanding filmmakers had tended to move on to feature film and television, but now we are at last starting to see a definite swelling in the ranks of filmmakers who continue to make documentaries.

The New Asian Currents selection will be finalized in early July,with 18–19 screening programs mixing short and feature-length works. Of the films to be screened, some will be selected for their expression of the diversity of the Asian region, while others with a strong creative quality will be in the running for the Ogawa Shinsuke Prize and other awards.

(FUJIOKA Asako, program coordinator of New Asian Currents)