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Monday, 8 April 2013

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Through Asian EYES

Glamorous is a good word to describe Aruna Vasudev. Glamorous and charming she looked like a Hollywood actress from an 80's Hollywood detective movie. But the fact that she has an elegant style is undeniable.

Dr. Aruna Vasudev (India), is the Founder and the President of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema widely known as NETPAC. She is internationally recognized as an expert on Asian cinema.

Q: How strong is the Asian cinema industry compared to that in the West?


Focus on Asian cinema

A: It is not on the same level as the West, but it is reaching that standard very quickly now. One such example is Cinemaya which was started in 1988. Nobody knew anything about Asian cinema then and we in our own countries did not know about each other's cinema industry.

India had never heard about Philippine cinema. Korean cinema had never heard of Thai cinema. Thailand and Indonesia did not know about each other's productions. When we started Cinemaya the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and India's Satyajit Ray were the only known Asian directors.

Today Asian films are well known and winning awards. Their names are familiar at film festivals. The commercial distribution in cinemas is not that large. However there is a growing interest within Europe though it is not on level with European cinema or Hollywood.

Indian youth were very excited to see a Korean film. Festivals are doing homage to Philippine directors, which was unheard of 20 years ago. Asian cinema is reaching new heights. Now it is no longer something exotic where a festival in Europe will show a few films. Now they are getting to be on par with European cinema. However there is a void in the commercial distribution network. That is where it really matters. We need to concentrate on getting Asian films as theatrical releases not just into festivals.

Q: How has Asian cinema evolved over the past decade?

A: Korean cinema was in a state of collapse two decades ago. Koreans did not watch Korean films. The Busan Film Festival revived Koran cinema. That's why I think a film festival is important.


NETPAC Founder and President Aruna Vasudev. Picture by Sarath Peiris

As Koreans started to watch Korean films, young students started to follow Korean cinema and the work of Korean directors. There were just a handful of them making really good films and now there are so many. Busan became a film production city and a lot of activities take place there. Korean cinema was promoted and now it has reached top rank.

A lot of film-makers have come in. It is doing well because films are being distributed nationally in a large scale. Exposure to world cinema helped them revive the industry.

The same thing is happening at different levels all over Asia. Indonesia has a small film festival so there is no wide exposure for Indonesian films. Foreigners who promote cinema , whether they are sales agents or festival directors, don't go to Indonesia to watch Indonesian films. Therefore Indonesian

cinema is not popular and doesn't grow despite showing signs of talent.

Funding for films, locating places to show them and places for other people to come and see them and promoting films internationally are all interconnected. When these things happen the standard of film-making improves.

Q: Which two countries are most similar when it comes to cinema?

A: Korea and Japan are somewhat similar. Chinese cinema is a totally different arena. China, Taiwan and Hong Kong differ in subject matter, treatment and the techniques they use to films. Directors like Brillante Mendoza has taken Philippine cinema to world class level. Catalino Ortiz Brocka and Ishmael Bernal helped to build this process. Apichatpong Weerasethakul took Thai cinema to the world.

East Asia was known because of Kurosawa and auteurs like Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Donald Richie wrote about Ozu and Mizoguchi in English. Their names became well known because of that. Cinemaya wrote the first article on Vietnamese cinema written by a Vietnamese. I think Vietnam is about to become better known and its cinema is going to grow since they have started the Hanoi International Film Festival. They've had two editions. People have already shown enthusiasm about Vietnamese films.

In India, apart from Ray people don't really know much about Indian film-makers. Young film-makers are slowly making their presence known now. Sri Lankan films are reaching the international audience because of Prasanna Vithanage, Prasanna Jayakody, Asoka Handagama and Dharmasena Pathiraja. They need to be promoted internationally and I think a festival can do that although they are pretty much well known today.

Pakistan film-makers tend to copy Bollywood productions but no outstanding directors have emerged in their setup. Asia also includes West Asia. There were some good film-makers in Syria but now Syria is in a disastrous state.

In West Asia the film industry is booming because of the Abu Dhabi and Dubai film festivals.

Qatar has started a film festival. They are promoting Arab cinema. In Central Asian there is a large scale film festival in Kazakhstan. Central Asian films are being shown there and those who watch the films there are given opportunities to screen them elsewhere.

Since they are getting known in their own countries, they are able to raise funds and make films.

Iran is doing extremely well. Despite all the problems they have, Iran is a country of great artistic talent. When artistes were not allowed to do theater during the revolution they turned to films. Their productions are quite outstanding.

The Indian film industry is now in an ascending process. A constant issue that a film-maker faces is whether he or she should make films that win international acclaim, possess a more sophisticated approach to film-making which international audiences relate to or should he or she make films that are more geared to local audiences who may not understand the language of cinema well but want films that would entertain. To find a level which is locally popular and understood, appreciated and internationally appreciated is not easy.

You have to reach the audience while preserving the film-maker's point of view. In India the situation has improved radically because now every big city in India hosts an international film festival.

When people go to watch a film they have expectations. Bollywood movies have a strong hold on the audience's imagination with its songs, dance and romantically happy endings. It has a huge fan base so film-makers don't feel the need to go beyond that level.


The Joes are back!

In this sequel, the G I Joes are not only fighting their mortal enemy Cobra; they are forced to contend with threats from within the government that jeopardise their very existence.

The film directed by Jon M Chu stars D J Cotrona, Byung-Hun Lee, Adrianne Palicki, Ray Park, Jonathan Pryce, Ray Stevenson, Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson.

It is screening at Majestic Cineplex's Platinum theater.

Take a big portion of gunfire, a good few explosions and a generous helping of the ridiculous and you'll have G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Lately, blockbusters have had a tendency to shy away from the ridiculous aspects of their premises, which does negate the fun of these things somewhat. Not this film, no sir. G.I. Joe: Retaliation knows exactly what kind of film it is and it runs with it.

The story this time finds the Joes (cut down to three initially, following an attack that comes with the requisite explosions and gleeful smashing of all and sundry) on the run and out for revenge. Turns out that Cobra, the bad guys, have replaced the real president with Zartan (played by Arnold Vosloo in the first film, and here by Jonathan Pryce). As president, Zartan outlaws the Joes and replaces them with his own Cobra Commandoes. It's up to the Joes to figure out Zartan's dastardly plan and stop it.


Towards a better film industry

The Film Directors' Guild and the Deshiya Cinemawa Surakimae Sanvidhanaya (The Organization to Protect Local Cinema) held a joint press conference to announce their current stand regarding the distribution of Sinhala films in Sri Lanka.

The National Film Corporation's (NFC) decision to limit copies of the films to 35 was one of the topics of central focus at the press conference held at the Foundation Institute. NFC has taken this initiative to providing equal opportunities for producers to screen their productions at theatres.

They stressed that five film circuits exist but only 113 film halls function in the country today. Thus the distribution of films has shrunk and measures have to be taken cautiously to provide producers and distributors the much needed break to see that their production makes it to the wide screen before the film becomes old news to the public or the film's trailers becomes stale at cinema halls.

One particular film circuit dominating the scene by screening their films in a majority of film halls (50 to 55) at a given time is unfair. This has resulted in many producers being deprived of an 'equal chance' to screen their films as per schedule. As a result of this factor the rest of the four film circuits have become virtually inactive.

This has stemmed to an awkward situation where a particular distributor collects the biggest share of the money. The filmmakers who strive to make quality productions and have laboured with the task of shooting and making the film are at the receiving end because they are unable to run their film at the estimated time due to external interferences. Although the Film Directors' Guild was initially against the NFC's decision, they and the Deshiya Cinemawa Surakimae Sanvidhanaya have now agreed to support the NFC with its decision as a temporary measure until they take steps to solve this grave situation. They will back the NFC until the distribution network is enhanced so that many more moviegoers will be able visit the theater close to their hometown and enjoy a movie.

The post-terrorism era has opened a huge market for local films. Many people are eager to visit cinema halls and watch local movies. Therefore the distribution has to be enhanced to cater to the whole country. In the 1970s local films were shown all over the island including Jaffna. Actors like Gamini Fonseka and Vijaya Kumarathunga gained immense popularity among Tamil citizens living in the North and the East at the time.

The team also stressed on the need to have a national policy for local cinema and an investor-friendly distribution system as well as the need to venture into digital cinema. The whole world has embraced digital cinema while some Sri Lankan filmmakers still dabble with outdated techniques in making and projecting films.

Providing loan facilities and other motivational concessions for the people who come forward to put up State-of-the-art mini-theatres in the districts was another topic that they took up for discussion.

Prasanna Vithanage (President), Bennett Rathnayake (Secretary), Dr Dharmasena Pathirajah, Asoka Handagama, Udayakantha Warnasuriya and Sunil Soma Peiris expressed their views on behalf of the Film Directors' Guild while Padmasiri Kodikara (President) and Eranga Senarathne (Secretary) shared their opinions on behalf of Desheeya Cinemawa Surakeemae Sanvidhanaya.

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Sakman Maluwa at the sixth Asian Film Festival


Kanchana Mendis in a scene from Sakman Maluwa

Films are always a unique way of crossing cultural boundaries, as movies are among the most efficient tools to depict societies and culture.

This year 11 films were selected by the Asian Consulates General Club (ACGC) to present the culture and tradition of Asian countries. Showcasing the diversity of the international community in Jeddah, the 6th Asian Film Festival began March 21, at the Malaysian consulate, inaugurated by the feature film "29 February."

The 11-day festival featured different films and documentaries from Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore and Sri Lanka screened at four venues.Sri-Lankan film Sumitra Peries' Sakman Maluwa (The garden) was screened at the event. Starring Sanath Gunatileke, Kanchana Mendis, Iranganie Serasignhe, Vasanthi Chathurani, Rangana Premaratne, Daya Tennekoon and Dinidu Jagoda it is a family drama relating a love triangle involving an aging husband, his young wife and the husband's younger brother.

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