At the heart of things – APSA 2019

Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2019. Brisbane, QLD, Australia By Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia


Photos by Cynthia Webb: The group – Kazahkstan and Yakutia (Federation of Russian Republics)film-makers. The other picture is Jang Young-Hwan, the Producer of “Parasite”.
The Asia Pacific Screen Awards 2019
By Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The Asia Pacific Screen Awards for 2019 (APSA) were announced last week, chosen by an international Jury, from an array of remarkable talent from the region. It is the thirteenth year of this event, the “Oscars” of the Asia Pacific Region, which has been building up a reputation in the region for being a platform that gives an opportunity to first time film-makers. It is the region’s most prestigious competition. However, it’s not only for those starting out. Many internationally famous film directors from the region have submitted their films to APSA over the years since 2007. Some of their names: Asghar Farhadi, Andrey Zvyagintsev, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Elia Suleiman, Makoto Shinkai, Hany Abu-Assad, Lee Chang Dong, Kore-eda Hirokazu, Nadine Labaki, Zia Zhangke, Feng Xiaogang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Apichatpong Weerasethkul, Hayao Miyazaki.

The results of APSA 2019 are to be found in a previous posting on this website/blog, so please refer to that article for the complete list.

The Awards Ceremony was on 21st November in Brisbane, QLD, Australia, and saw a South Korean film that is a standout in the world of cinema this year, win the coveted Best Feature Film category. It was “Parasite”, directed by Bong Joon-Ho which won the prestigious Golden Palme at Cannes Film Festival back in May 2019, and has been a hit with both critics and audiences wherever it has been screened ever since. It’s currently screening in the USA and here in Australia. The secret of this fabulous film’s success is that the director has his finger on the pulse of the socio-economic situation in the developed world. For decades now, wealth has been moving into fewer hands, and the previously ‘middle class’ are finding themselves struggling along with the poor. It’s a case of “the rich get rich and the poor get poorer”, as the old song lyrics of last century said. However, technological change and economic behavior has rapidly brought about a crisis of unemployment and lack of political-economic confidence. At APSA the Producer of “Parasite” Jang Young-Hwan said that in every country he visits with his film people say to him, “You are telling our story.”

Besides its topical subject matter, it is brilliantly written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho and is best seen knowing nothing about the plot, because the screenplay takes you to places you cannot foresee. Acting is superb, as is every other aspect of the movie. It has a strong chance for a big win at the “Oscars” too. Bong Joon-Ho already has quite a big reputation in the whole world, for his films, “The Host”, “Snowpiercer” and “Okja”.

Another obvious development that must be commented upon is that APSA finds itself very well-positioned and well established at the centre of the massive surge of world-wide interest, in Asian cinema and TV. Some years ago, only Bollywood (Indian musicals) was recognized out in the English-speaking and European regions. However, with the advent of Netflix and many other streaming platforms now available all around the world, people have discovered and are going crazy for Asian series, such as drama series from Turkey, South Korean films, series, and K-Pop. It was a K-Pop video on You-Tube that showed the world that it is possible to have a billion ‘watches’ on that platform! Turkey is now second only to the USA for global distribution of TV series.

Writer Fatima Bhutto has recently published a book, “New Kings of the World”, on this subject and says that “Hollywood is late to this conversation.” She also remarked that ‘tokenising’ an Asian character into an occasional film, or making such a film as “Crazy, Rich Asians” doesn’t cut it.” She doubts that Hollywood can even catch up, as people are turning to other sources, and Hollywood is becoming irrelevant.

However, it must be noted in their favour, that the Motion Picture Association (MPA, of Hollywood) have been involved with APSA for ten years, and their Asian regional representatives are always present. In partnership with APSA , the MPA provides funds for four $US25,000 grants to film-makers of the Asia Pacific region. Writer/directors submit their screenplays for evaluation and a special panel selects the fortunate four.

This very fund was awarded to Asghar Farhadi, when he was at APSA with his film “About Elly”. He submitted the screenplay for “A Separation”, won a grant of funding of $US25,000 and went back to Iran to make the film. He reappeared in November 2011 with the finished film, and won the Best Feature Film Award. The film travelled to many of the world’s major Awards events and won an impressive number of them, completing its spectacular success by winning Best Foreign Language Film at the Hollywood Academy Awards in 2012. Asghar Farhadi went from being known only to some people in his own country, to being a household name around the world, often referred to as a Maestro of Cinema, within about a year!

Such is the value of APSA, and the assistance it provides to get a film out into the wider world, and a film-maker from unknown to famous status, – providing that film-maker has the talent required. The competition is fierce at APSA. The films submitted to APSA from places that many people can hardly find on a map, let alone know they have a film industry, are sometimes quite breathtaking.
The world is an ever-shrinking global community, as the digital age connects us all, in more and more ways. Streaming platforms are even more powerful than traditional cinema screenings for that.

China is a massive maker and market of its own films – a world unto itself, because it is so huge.
India is similar.
Japan has long had a world respected film industry, although not so many of their films have ‘hit the big-time’ out in the mainstream cinema market, except for the superb anime from Studio Ghibli, (director, Hayao Miyazaki), and some of the films of Akira Kurosawa, although Hirokazu Kore-Eda has recently been becoming widely well known.

South Korea has a spectacularly successful cinema of its own and that industry has a history of 100 years, on which APSA focused attention this year. South Korea produced 454 films in 2018, and audiences favour home-grown content, the domestic box office share being usually above 50%. Koreans still go to the cinema more often in a year than the citizens of most countries. South Korean content ‘travels’ and that country exported a total of $US600 million worth of screen content in 2018. 41% were films, and 69% was television viewing. Around the world viewers are finding it interesting, something unusual, and refreshing. South Korea has some world renowned auteurs, such as the afore-mentioned Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook, Lee Chang-Dong, and Kim Ki-Duk. Argentina and Chile, are two of the biggest markets for the South Korean screen fare.

The great thing about these new times of digital film-making is that now opportunity for wider distribution is available to films from such lands as Kazahkstan, Yakutia (in Federation of Russia), Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, Georgia… to mention but a few.
At APSA the international members of the various panels and Juries who have the task of going through well over 300 films, to narrow down the number to about 37-40 nominees, are frequently heard to remark on how they are stunned by the wonderful films, and the opportunity to learn about the way of life and culture in all these varied countries.

Indeed, APSA’s most treasured aim is to find well made films that show the culture and way of life of the land from which they come. These films can promote understanding and friendship around this rapidly changing world. There is an important APSA award for this, entitled The Cultural Diversity Award, which is sponsored by UNESCO, and this one is near and dear to the heart and soul of everyone involved in APSA.

This year, APSA had four days before the evening of the awards announcement ceremony, during which they ran the Asia Pacific Screen Forum. This consisted of events, workshops, panel sessions with leading film-makers of the region, which the many international film industry visitors and others could attend, to learn more about the regional activity and have a valuable opportunity for net-working. Out of acquaintances and friendships made at such events, co-productions, and co-operations of varying kinds may develop. One particularly interesting event was called “Meet the Programmers” where a panel of people who run or program international film festivals, talked about how they do their job… finding fresh new voices, selecting from the vast number of submissions that pile up, to be viewed and evaluated, and about how different film festivals have different aims and public images. This was all extremely interesting and valuable information for the film-makers listening.

The vision of APSA, was first conceived by Mr Des Power, of Brisbane, back in the mid 2000s when it was so very far ahead of its time. For this writer, he is a hero and a visionary.

APSA’s reputation grows and spreads and that will speed up by the world-wide viewing preference for streaming films, rather than going to the cinema. Yes, some people still love the experience of the big screen, and the collective viewing, but a majority find it a lot easier to stay at home and select from a streaming platform such as Netflix and many others, where the choice is so much wider and more international.

A sign of the times is the fact that Martin Scorsese’s newest epic film, “The Irishman” was funded by NETFLIX, when Hollywood studios all declined to put up the admittedly huge budget needed for his very long film, needing a lot of expensive Special Effects work. So, the film had only a brief outing of a couple of weeks in a small number of cinemas, before the Netflix worldwide community can have access to it. This follows on from Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”, also produced by Netflix. Both of these very famous and acclaimed Hollywood directors had previously been the darlings of the Studios.

As Bob Dylan once said “The times, they are a’changing.”
POSTER Parasite

Copyright – Cynthia Webb November 2019
Photos – Cynthia Webb

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2019 have been announced tonight – 21st November

Korean Filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho wins Best Feature Film at 13th Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
POSTER Parasite

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Photo: Jang Young Hwan – producer of “Parasite”

Bong Joon-ho’s international hit Parasite has claimed Best Feature Film at the 13th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA).

The region’s highest accolade in film, APSA celebrates the cinematic excellence of the 70 countries at a glittering red-carpet ceremony in Brisbane in November.

13 countries and areas collected awards, with many of the winners also being their country’s Official Submission for the Academy Awards.

37 films from 22 countries and areas of Asia Pacific were nominated.

The win for Parasite was accepted on the night by producer Jang Young-hwan and marks the first win for Korea in the Best Feature Film category since Secret Sunshine took out the inaugural prize in 2007.

The powerful story Beanpole (Dylda, Russian Federation) is the only film to take home two awards. Ksenia Sereda is the first woman to win Achievement in Cinematography, and Kantemir Balagov and Alexander Terekhov won Best Screenplay.

Achievement in Directing has gone to Adilkhan Yerzhanov for his Kazakh noir feature A Dark, Dark Man. Yerzhanov, who earlier in the week was the focus of the Director’s Chair at the inaugural AP Screen Forum, accepted the award on the night. It is his second award following the APSA NETPAC Development Prize win in 2013 (now the Young Cinema Award) for Constructors.

Winning for the second time, widely celebrated Indian actor Manoj Baypayee takes home the APSA for Best Performance by an Actor for his role in Bhonsle. Bajpayee’s win marks a staggering four years in a row that an Indian performer has won in this category.

From the Philippines, Max Eigenmann has won Best Performance by an Actress for her role as a woman fighting to free her life of domestic violence in Verdict.

The International Jury awarded a special Jury Grand Prize to Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in APSA-nominated film It Must Be Heaven.

The six feature film categories and Jury Grand Prize were determined by the APSA International Jury composed of Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo, Australian film and television producer Greer Simpkin (APSA Best Feature Film winner Sweet Country, 2017), Cannes and Venice Film Festival selector Paolo Bertolin, Korean screenwriter, theatre actor and Russian literature specialist Oh Jung-mi (APSA Jury Grand Prize winner Burning) and Deputy Chair of the European Film Academy, UK film producer, journalist and activist Mike Downey (APSA Cultural Diversity Award winner Dede).

Determining winners in 3 categories, the APSA Youth, Animation and Documentary International Jury was made up of Indonesian auteur Garin Nugroho (chair), award-winning Syrian film director and producer Diana El Jeiroudi and CEO of Animal Logic Zareh Nalbandian.

Australia’s Rodd Rathjen has won the Best Youth Feature Film for Buoyancy, produced by Samantha Jennings, Kristina Ceyton and Rita Walsh. Set in Thailand and Cambodia, Buoyancy is the debut feature film from Rathjen who accepted the award on the night.

Weathering With You (Tenki no Ko, Japan) has been named Best Animated Feature Film. The film is directed by Makoto Shinkai, who also took home the inaugural APSA in this category for in 2007 for 5 Centimetres Per Second.

Best Documentary Feature Film has been won by the Israeli production Advocate, from directors Rachel Leah Jones and Philippe Bellaïche. The compelling work is the story of Jewish Israeli human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel who has defended Palestinians in the Israeli courts for 50 years.

The prestigious Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO was awarded to director Jamshid Mahmoudi for the film Rona, Azim’s Mother (Islamic Republic of Iran, Afghanistan).

This award, determined by the dedicated APSA Cultural Diversity International Jury, represents APSA’s founding partnership with UNESCO, and the shared goals of the two organisations in the protection and preservation of cultural identity.

Jury Chair is Palestinian filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad (APSA Cultural Diversity Award winner The Idol); Lebanese documentary-maker and actress Zeina Daccache; and Dương Bích Hạnh, head of the Culture Unit at the UNESCO Bangkok Office.

The winner of the International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF) Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film goes to Katriel Schory, one of the most respected figures of Israeli cinema.

An industry figure since the 1970s, Schory produced more than 150 titles through is production company BELFILMS LTD. However, it was for his more than 20 year role as Executive Director of Israel’s main film funding body, where he produced and promoted 300 films, that he is credited with rescuing the Israeli film industry. He helped to revitalise Israel’s reputation through an emphasis on diversity and international co-production treaties that opened the country’s cinema up to the world.

The APSA Young Cinema Award has been won by emerging Indian filmmaker Ridham Janve whose feature The Gold-Laden Sheep and The Sacred Mountain was also nominated for Best Feature Film and Achievement in Cinematography. Directed by and produced by Janve and produced by Akshay Singh, the film tells the story of a remote mountainous culture under threat from modernity.

APSA-winning films Parasite (Republic of Korea), Buoyancy (Australia), Verdict (Philippines), Beanpole (Russian Federation), Weathering with You (Japan) and It Must be Heaven (Palestine) are all their respective countries’ Official Submission for the 92nd Academy Awards® in the Best International Feature Film category, with Rona, Azim’s Mother Afghanistan’s 2018 submission.

Also announced during the APSA Ceremony were the four recipients of the 10th MPA APSA Academy Film Fund, which for the first time, went to four women filmmakers.

The Fund, celebrating its 10th anniversary, was created to support the development of new feature film projects by APSA Academy members and their colleagues from the culturally diverse Asia Pacific region. The fund awards four development grants of US$25,000 annually, and is wholly supported by the MPA. In 2019, the four recipients are:
– Delphine Garde-Mroueh & Nadia Eliewat (UAE/France) for THE STATION
– Rachel Leah Jones (Israel/United States of America) for REALITY BITES
– Catherine Fitzgerald (New Zealand) for SWEET LIPS
– Dechen Roder (Bhutan) for I, THE SONG

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“Birds of Passage” (Columbia, 2018) directed by Cristina Gallego/Ciro Guerra Reviewed by Cynthia Webb

POSTER Birds of Passage
“Birds of Passage” (“Pajaros de Verano”) reviewed by Cynthia Webb

In 1968 the modern world caught up with an Indian tribal group called the Wayuu living in a remote part of northern Columbia. The powerful film “Birds of Passage” by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra tells us the tale of the rise and fall of Rapayet ( Rafa) and the family he married into. They are members of the Wayuu tribal group living in the desert and still observing strong traditional customs that have served them well for all of their history.

The handsome young man Rapayet wishes to marry the pretty young daughter of the wise and dignified Matriarch of the tribe, Ursula. The film opens with a ceremony being held where he is asking permission to marry her, and performing certain customary duties. They look down on him as a poorer man from a lesser family, and ask for very large dowry to be paid for her, before she will be allowed to marry him. No doubt they think he cannot produce it and they will then find someone better, but his desire for this maiden is powerful.

He and his lifelong friend Moises are dealing in bags of coffee and some liquor, and have a sum of money, from a sale just completed. They are drinking together at a small roadside stall when the owner tells them something that changes their destinies forever. He points out some passing “Gringos” who want to buy a bulk amount of marijuana and asks them if they know how to get it. Not long after, a young American couple who are down in Columbia with the Peace Corps, sit down at the café. Rafa approaches them and makes an arrangement. He has a cousin who grows marijuana, who lives up in the green mountain region. There is quite a large group of Gringos, young hippies, smoking ganja and giving out pamphlets that read “Say No to Communism.” This appears to be their only work.
After the two men have made an arrangement with the Americans, Rafa tells his friend “Say yes to Capitalism.”

Rafa and Moises journey to the mountains to approach his cousin Anibal. Anibal is also very traditional, like Ursula, and is reluctant to deal with them at first, because of tribal and social differences, but when he sees the bundle of money, he agrees and provides the appropriate amount of sacks of marijuana. Rafa and friend deliver them to the Americans, and sit later watching them from a distance – commenting “Look at them. Weed is the world’s happiness”. Rafa corrects his friend , “No , it’s THEIR happiness.”

Now Rafa has the money to provide the excessive dowry demanded by Ursula, and marry the lovely Zaida, and we next see them, with their first baby in her arms.
So begins Rafa and Moises’ rise to undreamt of wealth and also the beginning of the notorious Columbian drug trade.

The film is divided into five Chapters, and we watch as Rafa’s children grow up, and we observe as the inevitable escalation of wealth and greed causes certain people to become reckless in what they are willing to do to keep their monopoly of the drug trade.

I should not tell you more – suffice to say that the fall of the two families, is inevitable too, and by 1980 we are introduced to the future – that the drug bosses will be hard headed businessmen in the city of Medellin from now on, rapidly leading to Pablo Escobar and the worldwide drug trade that we are familiar with today.

Meticulous anthropological attention is paid to showing us the traditions of the desert people, and their way of life. This plague of greed introduced by foreign influences has taken hold in the family, and it leads to the loss of their spiritual identity and trust in their connection to the land and old ways. It’s like when the Spanish conquerors came and introduced unknown evil diseases to South America.

The wide screen (2.35:1) expanses of flat golden land and wide skies are beautiful to behold, and then we see the bizarre white modern mansion, built with blood money standing there in the middle of the otherwise empty expanse. It has come to this – the family is imprisoned by their own fear in a luxury prison of their own making, haunted by menacing dreams and thoughts.
The performances are all faultless, by Carmina Martinez as Ursula, Jose Acosta as Rapayet, Natalia Reyes as Zaida, and Jhon Narvaez as Moises. Carmina Martinez is outstanding and she is the figure around whom everything revolves. She stoically insists upon the old ways and customs, and sums up the danger and what must be done, with clarity and dignity. She wears a necklace which shows her Matriarchal position in the tribe, and also carries a pouch containing a powerful talisman belonging to the entire population of Wayuu people.
My second viewing confirmed this film to be a rare work of cinema. The sound-scape created for the desert world and the music of the indigenous people, complements the rich and riveting experience. If you have the chance please see it on the big screen, for a powerful experience.

It is such a treat to see a film unlike any that we’ve ever seen before, which plays out like a Greek Tragedy that has emerged from the earth in another time and place.
Copyright – Cynthia Webb, Nov 2019
POSTER image – courtesy of the Producers
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Photo: Ciro Guerra, co-director of “Birds of Passage” along with Cristina Gallego

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“Pain and Glory” (Dolor y Gloria) 2019 by Pedro Almodovar

POSTER Pain and Glory

“Pain and Glory” (“Ddolor y Gloria”) 2019. Written and directed by Pedro Almodovar
– Comments by Cynthia Webb
There has always been a magical ingredient in the films of Pedro Almodovar and as time went on from his first film, “Pepi, Lucy, Bom and the Others” (1980), to his twenty-first film, “Pain and Glory” it was always there, although sometimes the rather wild subject matter took one’s attention away from it. My theory is that it is his sincere affection and empathy for all humanity.

His technique became more and more refined, until in “Pain and Glory”, it is sheer perfection. Such a light touch is shown here, compared with the opposite signature, back in the 1980s.

Almodovar collected many major awards along the way, especially when “All About My Mother” signaled a new stage in his skills.

“Pain and Glory” is different, because we experience it as ‘auto-biographical’. It’s difficult not to! The protagonist is a film director, Salvador Mallo with health problems and professional problems stemming from all that is going on in his mind, emotions and painful body. His life story in the film is more than a little similar to Almodovar himself, and his look. Almodovar’s career has been well documented and we know a lot about him throughout his life as Spain’s foremost film director, and the resemblance is impossible to get out of one’s mind while watching this gorgeous film.

Antonio Banderas’ performance as Salvador Mallo is one which is sure to bring nominations as Best Actor, in both Europe, and Britain, and probably the USA as well. It seemed to me that the two men merged into one in my mind, while I watched the film.

Penelope Cruz, who like Banderas, has often worked with Almodovar throughout all his film-making years, was excellent too – playing the mother of the boy we see growing up in rural Spain. We have read so much about Almodovar’s childhood, his love of his mother and the other women around him when he was growing up in a poor La Mancha village and it’s impossible not to think this is auto-biographical. There are presumably some fictitious episodes in “Pain and Glory”, and also things that really happened to Almodovar himself.
However, it doesn’t matter which is which, because this is a very accomplished piece of film-making and a sheer joy to experience. It is quiet, it is sweet, it is touching, it is filled with love and nostalgia, humour, forgiveness, endurance and hope too.

The construction of the film – its way of taking us through the story of a film director in the later stages of his career feels so natural and flows in a most beautiful way, until it arrives at the place Almodovar was always going to take us – into a new film by a maestro of the art of film-making.

It is suffused with the aforementioned magic ingredient, and it’s the soul of Pedro Almodovar himself, expressed as only he can do. No-one compares to him in being able to manifest such empathy. I feel fortunate to have lived in the same era as this artist of the cinema, watched all the films in chronological order and grown older with him.

I love this quote from Almodovar:
“Cinema has become my life. I don’t mean a parallel world, I mean my life itself. I sometimes have the impression that daily reality is simply there to provide material for my next film.”
This quote has become a reality in his latest film and as it ended, I was filled with a sense of sheer wonder. How does he do it? How does he balance all the things that go into making a film, and yet have this delicacy, beauty and personal sincerity in every frame.

Don’t miss it, if you are an Almodovar aficionado, nor if you are a lover of fine film-making.

Copyright, Cynthia Webb
October 2019

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“War and Peace” (Russia) 1965 Sergei Bondarchuk

POSTER War and Peace widescreen
“WAR AND PEACE” (Russia) 1965 by Sergei Bondarchuk)
by Cynthia Webb

Monday 8th Oct. 2019: I went to the “marathon” screening at the Cinematheque at the Gallery of Modern Art, (GoMA), screening as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival. It was the gloriously restored version of “War and Peace” ( from the book by Leo Tolstoy)- the Russian film by Sergei Bondarchuk. It started at 10.30 a.m. and ended at 6.20 p.m. There were three ten-minute breaks. The cinema was almost full – a lot of people ready for the treat and the challenge of such a long film. I loved every minute of this totally stupendous film and it didn’t feel “long” for me. It won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and rightly so! It features glittering ballroom scenes in palaces, the most amazing battle sequences ever filmed. It is such an enormous artistic-creative project, and rather than try to talk about it all, I will just say that everything is excellent, and the cinematography is awesome, literally.
What a story – Tolstoy’s finest, and the story is of the greatest importance to Russian people.

“War and Peace” was made with the participation of The Red Army, and with unlimited budget from the Soviet State. Russian dignity depended on it. After the weak and most ‘un-Russian’ version from Hollywood with Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer a few years earlier, the Soviets were moved to show us the REAL Russian soul.

Many readers already know the story. Bondarchuk stars as Pierre Besukov, who adores Natasha Rostov, but she loves Andrei Bolkonsky, a difficult man. The story opens in 1805, involves years of wartime, and continues until the momentous year, 1812, when Napoleon’s army marched into Moscow following the Battle of Borodino. Oh, what a dark day that was! This sequence made me cry. It’s as bad as watching the war-time footage of Hitler’s troops marching into Paris. Chilling. The Muscovites had left the city, taken or destroyed most of the food, and set alight to their mostly wooden homes. Almost the whole city burned. Only the Aristocrats had stone mansions. These were ransacked and robbed by the invading army. However the crafty Russian General Kutuzov had purposely drawn them into the city, so that they would be trapped there, without provisions and with winter looming in the very near future. “I will make them eat horse-meat” he said. This failure to understand Russia, its people and its climate, was the beginning of the end of Napoleon’s reputation and career.

Lesson: Don’t mess with the Russians! Even so a second megalomaniac, Adolf Hitler made the same mistake.

An interesting true piece of information is that it was difficult to find any Russians who would set alight to their beloved city, Moscow, so criminals were released from the prisons on condition that they would do the terrible deed.

Thank you to Brisbane International Film Festival and the guest programmer,Australian film director Baz Luhrmann, for bringing us this legendary piece of world cinema.

I’d seen it before, but it was back in 1966! I have the DVDs at home, but they are not the widescreen restored version! This was an unforgettable cinematic immersion which any cinephile MUST take advantage of if the opportunity arises.

copyright Cynthia Webb
October 2019
Photo Courtesy of the Producers

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“Time Regained”/”Le Temps Retrouve” 1999 directed by Raul Ruiz (review by Cynthia Webb)

Poster TIME REGAINED

“Time Regained”/”Le Temps Retrouve” 1999, directed by Raul Ruiz
Review by Cynthia Webb
I am still drifting and dreaming inside the corridors of the mind, the chambers of memory of Marcel Proust, after seeing the exquisite film of his “Le Temps Retrouve”/”Time Regained”. This piece of pure cinematic bliss was made in 1999 and directed by one of the great ones, Raul Ruiz.
Today I took the train from Gold Coast to Brisbane (1 hour 20 minutes) to see it at the Cinematheque at the Gallery of Modern Art. I did so because the opportunity to see this film has never come up for me before and because I knew from viewing other work of Raul Ruiz, that the journey would be worth the trouble. There is one more screening on Saturday 24th August (2019).
Ruiz demonstrates that he is a true maestro of cinema’s possibilities, through the genius and beauty with which he has brought Proust’s great work to the screen. So many films are just like “visual books” and do not use the full potential and possibilities of film making. Here is truly cinematic expression of a novel. It is not like the usual films we see, not even like the great films we have on our jealously guarded list of special favorites. This film will certainly be added to mine, and near the top of the list too! It’s almost unique, and the only other filmmakers whose work comes to mind after experiencing it, are Andrei Tarkovsky and Theo Angelopoulos.
How is it different?
Marcel Proust is confined to bed, knowing he’s in his last days, and he is lost in his past, as he looks through his papers and photos, and memories come bursting into his mind of those certain moments from his lifetime, that we all carry like vignettes…. scenes from the movie of our life, that have never faded, but which we still can feel, smell, hear, and locate in the place where they happened. Sometimes they come to us when we are dreaming, sometimes when we are awake. Those indelible memories stored in the part of our memory where they are destined never to fade.
One is called upon to identify with this dying man, and the call is more difficult to ignore, the older one is.
So as Marcel recalls his life, his family, friends, loves, acquaintances, the people in his social circle, the tragic time of the First World War, we, the blessed audience are taken back there with him….. into the streets of Paris, into the Salons of the upper classes, the rich, the famous, the aristocratic, even into a dark and murky S & M ‘house’ for the very best people only. Our “time travel” is not chronological, and we see Marcel, and various other people as they were in their youth and middle age, and even their last days, but not necessarily in that order. We experience the memories as certain stimuli cause them to suddenly come alive in Marcel’s mind, sometimes from a sound, sometimes because they are linked to another memory – just in the random way that we are all familiar with. It is all brilliantly constructed and not difficult to follow if one is paying the attention that this work of art deserves.
One scene in the home of one of Marcel’s relatives where a musical concert is being presented (a violinist and a pianist), is beyond complete description, such is the atmosphere created. Ruiz and his brilliant cameraman, Ricardo Aronovich, have devised a way to move the camera and also move certain groups of the people sitting, listening entranced, in a crowded room, so that we are floating with them in a sort of divine sorcery.
From Proust’s writing we know that he was an acute observer of his times and we see him as such, in this scene of the film too. He is well connected, and respected in the highest circles of Parisian society. He weaves his way around the gathering, during the interval in the musical programme, when everyone gathers around an enormous table adorned with delicious sweet patisseries to complement the sweetness of the music. Marcel has total mastery over smiling, observing and listening – being the one to whom people will tell what’s on their mind. He is a master of discretion, and doesn’t say much at all, just looks empathetic and keeps on moving about once the person has shared their gossip, leaving each one feeling understood.
There’s a lovely scene of Marcel and his wife, Albertine, played by Chiara Mastroianni. To see Chiara is to see her real life father, Marcello Mastroianni, alive again, in her lovely face.
The nice thing is that Chiara’s real life mother Catherine Deneuve also has the plum role of Odette, a legendary beauty of the Belle Epoque era, in this film. (We have recently also seen Chiara in the 2018 film “Claire Darling”.)
Starring as the adult Marcel, Marcello Mazzorlla perfectly allows us inside his head, to spy on his memories.
Also starring here are John Malkovich, as Baron Charlus, Marie-France Pisier, Emmanuelle Beart as the daughter of Odette, Vincent Perez, plays Morel the musician.
The Belle Epoque (which ended with World War One) is recreated in a sublime manner through the set decoration and costumes, and a screenplay adapted from Marcel Proust’s novel, as well as the performances of the many actors (all just perfect).
“Time Regained” runs for 163 minutes and comes to us in three parts, those being before the war, during the war, and after the war. It’s an era, a lifetime, that expressed a long established condition in French history, class structure and way of life, that was violently swept away by the war. We are witnessing the momentous end of an era that had been refined to a high degree of sophistication, manners, class consciousness and sheer beauty. It’s difficult to understand just how different everything was afterwards.
Raul Ruiz was born in Chile, and began his career there, but left the country to live in Paris in 1973 after the government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a USA supported coup, and replaced by General Pinochet.
In Paris, Ruiz was prolific and completed a total of 100 films during his forty years of filmmaking. He died in 2011, and sadly isn’t so well known in his native country, Chile. However, his talents were much appreciated by the Europeans.
“Le Temps Retrouve”/”Time Regained” is for me an unforgettable experience and a sublime work from a maestro of cinema.
Copyright, Cynthia Webb, August 1999
Poster image, courtesy of the producers.

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“The White Crow” (2019, director, Ralph Fiennes……….. review by Cynthia Webb

 

 


“The White Crow” (2019, director Ralph Fiennes)
By Cynthia Webb

The White Crow (belaya vorona) is a Russian expression for a misfit, a non-conformist, one who stands out from the crowd.

This was certainly Rudolph Nureyev. His character was like that, his background was one of struggle, born on the Trans Siberian Express near Irkutsk, growing up hungry in wartime, with loving mother, and absent father. His Muslim parents were of Tatar heritage – (inheritors of the blood of Mongol conquerors of the 12th and 13th century). His childhood was spent in Ufa, with three older sisters, an outcast amongst the other children, wearing ragged clothes and often on the sidelines.

At age seventeen, Rudolph (Rudik, his mama calls him) came to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) to try to catch up on years of dance education, and was in the care of ballet master, Alexander Pushkin, played by Ralph Fiennes, who is also the director of this film. He had had some dance instruction since a young age, and there are some precious scenes near the end of this film, of the little Rudolph performing traditional dance, based on a Russian story. He learned to have great belief in story, advised by Alexander Pushkin that it should be expressed in one’s performance and Rudolph believed also in one’s own destiny.
Rudolph is profoundly determined, self confident, and ambitious, and works hard. In Leningrad, his innate talent is noticed immediately, but time must be spent on refining his wildness. Rudolph worked extremely hard to catch up on all that he had missed. It could be said, that in dancing, the refining process more or less worked, but not in his personal life. He later danced with considerable technique, but fortunately for Ballet-o-manes of the world, they didn’t crush his wildness, which seemed to be the thing that audiences felt, appreciated and adored.

He was offered a place in the Kirov Ballet, narrowly avoiding being sent by the Soviet government, back to the small town of Ufa from which he came, presumably to teach dance, and ‘give back’ to the people of the Soviet Union who paid for his education up until that time. Intervention from high places saved him, (the director of the Kirov) and the prima ballerina Natalia Dudinskaya who wished to have him as her partner, for their mutual benefit.

In 1961 the Kirov Ballet toured to Paris and London. It was the first time Kirov Company had ever performed in the West. The ballet company was in Paris for five weeks, escorted and watched by KGB men. It was risky, sending a large group to the West in 1961, the height of the Cold War. Presumably the Soviet government gave approval, in a conflicted way, knowing it was dangerous, but wanting to show their enemies The West, just how cultured they were. This was definitely true. Ballet was invented in France, but it was Russia that perfected the great art, and no-one argues with that, then or now.
Rudolp Nureyev was a strong individualist, and longed for freedom in a most powerful way. He knew he was the best, and he wanted to show the world. His rebellious personality was so much ‘the individual’ that he was made for Capitalism/Freedom, and living in the Soviet Union’s culture did NOT suit him at all. There, he was certainly the misfit, the White Crow.

In Paris, the 23 year old dancer won the love of the audiences, and made friends. He went out with his new French friends every night and every day to see the great culture of France, in Museums, and in cabarets and including gay clubs. The French awarded him with their coveted Nijinsky Medal of Honour. They saw him as the new Nijinsky, a dancer who had set Paris alight back in the Twenties, when the Ballet Russe performed there. He met a young woman, Clara Saint, who was close to the family of high level politician and novelist, Andre Malraux, and seemed to know everyone who was anyone. They became close friends. Nureyev was gay, and he was arrogant, proud, and sometimes rude. He’d learned English back in Russia, but sometimes he didn’t use it well. However, she forgave him everything and played a leading role in the success of his tense and terrifying defection at Le Bourget Airport, as the company was leaving for London.

The film shows the tense drama at the Airport as being set off by his KGB minder telling him that he wouldn’t be going to London with the Kirov Company, but must return to Moscow to perform. When he refused another excuse for why he should do as they told him, was explained to him, in an attempt to defuse his resistance. But suspicious Rudolph resisted, and panicked. One of his French friends, at the airport to see him off, intervened, made a phone call to Clara Saint, she came as soon as she could, and talked to the airport police, who soon intervened. Rudi was saved at the eleventh hour, by the laws of France relating to people who request political asylum.

This story is well known by almost everyone across the world, as it was in every newspaper, on every television screen, and talked about ever since. It was a disaster for the Soviet Union, and a triumph for the West in the propaganda war.

The film implies that he wouldn’t have defected in Paris, if the KGB hadn’t tried at the last minute to get him separated from the company and returned to Moscow. Their reason was that they knew he’d been out and about so much in Paris and was loving every minute of it far too much. They suspected he might be planning to defect. However in the film the defection in Paris is shown as something, unplanned, but forced upon him by crisis at the airport as the other dancers left to go to London. After the event he was declared a traitor to his country, and he thought he would never be able to return. In fact he was allowed to return 26 years later for a visit.

One of the beautiful parts of this film is in the flash-backs to his life in the Soviet Union, and to his childhood. These scenes are extremely real and genuine looking, and show just how much he has to give up, to renounce, leave forever, by defecting….the good as well as the bad. He is a man caught between his love of his family, friends, and Mother Russia, and on the other alternative, his powerful individualist’s nature and dream of showing the world what he can do on their ballet stages. Russia’s great and fine heritage and history is a force to be reckoned with, and Rudi must make a choice In with nothing but a glass of cognac to help him, during 45 minutes alone in the police room at the French airport.
We all know the result.

As cinema, this is a fine piece of work by Ralph Fiennes, who is more recognized as an actor, but has directed several fine films. His education and love of art and culture is evident in all of them. In his own scenes in the film he speaks Russian.

There are no extravagant scenes of ballet performances, and this aspect of the story is handled in a more subtle and lonely kind of way. We see Rudolph Nureyev on the stage still standing isolated ( as in childhood) … or watching from back stage. He is portrayed as deeply thoughtful, with great artistic sensitivity, immense intelligence and self confidence that cannot be ignored, by himself or anyone else. He is shown observing everything that happens around him – what does it mean, is it useful to his ambitions? However, sometimes his pride over-rules everything and he says and does things that could bring him undone. He is saved by his immense talent, clearly evident to all who see him dance.

The role is played by an accomplished Ukrainian ballet dancer, Oleg Ivenko and he has done a fine job, with both the dancing and the acting. The personality of Rudolph Nureyev as shown to us by Oleg Ivenko and the director Fiennes, dominate the entire film, as indeed it should.

The writing by the maestro David Hare is sublime.
Locations and art direction and cinematography are very fine. The film has been made in Serbia, France, Croatia and Russia, and it is nice to see that the Executive Producer was Liam Neeson.

Clara Saint a solemn young woman in mourning for her boyfriend, son of Malraux the writer and politician, is played by Adele Exarchopoulos, (remember her from “Blue is the Warmest Colour”).

Russian actress Nadezhda Markina plays a small role, as the Government official who tells Nureyev, in no uncertain terms, that he is just a small cog in the big Soviet wheel, and must leave Leningrad and return to his remote hometown and pay back his debts in contribution to Soviet culture. She has been seen in the films of renowned director , Andrey Zvygintsev and has visited Gold Coast, Australia for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, when nominated as Best Actress in “Elena”.

“The White Crow” is the perfect title for the film, which tells an enthralling story of the 20th century, and shows us the type of man Nureyev was, to make him brave enough and able to do such a drastic and terrifying thing, at that Paris airport in 1961.

Copyright – July 2019 Cynthia Webb
Photos  from the film provided by the Producer

Portrait by Sanden Senior, (Assoc Press) of the real Rudolph Nureyev in 1961 the year of his defection.

RUDOLF NUREYEV; NUREJEW
POSTER 2 The White Crow

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“Everybody Knows” (2018) Asghar Farhadi

EVERYBODY KNOWS (Spain, 2018) directed by Asghar Farhadi
review by Cynthia Webb
POSTER Everybody Knows

In November, 2014 I was speaking with Asghar Farhadi while he was in Brisbane, acting as Jury President for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. He told me that he had just spent most of the year in Malaga, Spain, resting and writing screenplays, after some very busy years following the success of his film “A Separation”. That break-out work of cinema won many awards around the world and topped its achievements off with the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. He had also made “The Past” in France, before his Spanish getaway. Mr Farhadi told me how much he loved Spain, and added, “Oh, the music! The dancing!”
Since then one of those screenplays, “The Salesman”, a story set in Iran, won him a second Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Then at last it was time for him to return to his beloved Spain, in August 2017 to shoot the second of the screenplays he wrote there – “Everybody Knows”.
I wholeheartedly agreed with his love of Spanish culture, and was reminded of his remarks again today while watching his latest film, “Everybody Knows”, set in Torrelaguna, a small Spanish village to the north of Madrid and starring Penelope Cruz, her real life husband, Javier Bardem, and the much respected Argentinian actor, Ricardo Darin.
Penelope Cruz plays Laura, a woman who grew up in the village, who returns with her two children, from Argentina for a family wedding. Her husband Alejandro, played by Ricardo Darin is not with her, and doesn’t appear until about half way through the film, after a crisis occurs and she asks him to come. Returning home to her parents, and siblings and the extended family, she also meets up with her first love, the local man Paco, played by Javier Bardem. They haven’t seen one another for sixteen years, and he is happily married, as is Laura. However, if you come from a small village, you are never really free of the past and the village knows all, hence the film’s title.

There is a joyous family reunion, preparations for the wedding, the wedding itself, and the party, and then suddenly the mood changes, and film becomes a ‘domestic mystery’. While the first part of the film is showing us the delights of Spanish family life, music, dance and celebration, we are actually being ‘fed’ pieces of information that may seem unimportant at the time, but later will tie up many linkages and explain everything – so pay attention. So as not to write any ‘spoilers’, I will not talk about the story. It is best if you go along, completely ‘in the dark’.
Suffice to say that Asghar Farhadi has written another of his unique screenplays, which explore the minutiae of family and close-friend relationships, especially when the situation involves a small town where everybody knows. His screen-writing is unmistakable, and his ‘fingerprints’ and ‘thought-prints’ are all over it.
There were certain small similarities relating to personal relationships, that have also been in most of his former films, going back to “About Elly” (2009).
Because of the Spanish setting, and an obviously bigger budget than usual, and because the film is not made for the Iranian market, it is far less claustrophobic than his films set in Iran, where the women are wearing head scarves, (even in their homes) and somber covered-up Islamic clothing required by Iranian censors. For the wedding party scenes Farhadi has been able to ‘let his hair down’ and the women are wearing colourful and by Iranian standards, revealing clothing. The wedding singer has a backless dress, many of the guests have bare shoulders and plunging cleavage. This is not normally something I would even mention, but it is unusual in a film by Asghar Farhadi and the reason why the film feels more expansive and ‘international’. The wedding party features wonderful music and dancing – flamenco touches abound and that is where I was reminded of him telling me how much he loved that, back in 2014.
The first part of the film moves along at a brisk pace. There is a lot to tell us, and he has to do it without making us feel as if we are being primed. The editor has done a fine job and the actors too. After the wedding celebration, the whole pace changes, and so does the mood.
We are in the same situation as the protagonists, trying to solve a mystery, and although we don’t feel as anxious as they do, which I think may be the only short-coming with this film, we are busy trying to concentrate on what we’ve been told, what we are learning now, and figure it out.
I think that this film for the world market, but set in Spain, has proved what some people have been wondering, including myself. Could Farhadi leave behind his culture, his country, and the intimate knowledge of the way things work there, and make a totally non-Iranian film? ( Six out of his total of eight feature films have been made and set in Iran.) Well, he can! He did so with “The Past”, set in Paris, featuring only a minor link with Iran, through one character. He has definitely demonstrated his skills here, particularly the screen-writing, and to tell his story he has used the aspects of his characters’ lives that are not ‘Iranian’, but ‘human’. Anywhere, and everywhere, some things are always the same. Small towns, multi-generational families and their dynamics, past love affairs, young love, the way events of long ago are not forgotten, and memories do not stay buried. When a stressful situation arises, old resentments bubble up to the surface and muddy the waters. To sort things out, even the most deeply buried secrets must be revealed.
We have here a world class director, working with three world class actors, who are backed up by an excellent Spanish supporting cast.
I particularly liked the closing scene, where more secrets are being buried, to perhaps bubble up to the surface at some time in the future. This is a masterful screenplay, and one worthy of Asghar Farhadi’s reputation as a Maestro of the cinema.

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Copyright: Cynthia Webb, March, 2019
Poster: thanks to the Producers
Photo: thanks to Sunita Jariwala for taking the photo of Asghar Farhadi and me during our conversation in November 2014 in Brisbane, Australia.

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2018 – In the right place at the right time

APSA 2018 posterAPSA award vessels by Joanna Bone

Overview of industry change, and APSA’s potential as the cinematic focus shifts to Asia
By Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, Australia

This awards event is similar in form to the Academy Awards, of Hollywood. The first “APSA” year was 2007, and this year was the twelfth year of celebrating the cinema of the Asia-Pacific region. Asia’s population is 4.5 billion, Asia comprises one third of planet earth and encompasses 70 countries.
Asia Pacific Screen Awards, was the brainchild of Mr Des Power, then working for Events Management of the Queensland State Government. He is an ardent cinema lover and his idea came to him in the right place at the right time. That place is Brisbane, in the State of Queensland, Australia. He told me last week, about the vast amount of planning, travelling, persuasion and talking it took to bring this ‘baby’ into the world. In some countries film-makers welcomed the idea, others couldn’t quite ‘get it’, and wondered, “but why in Australia?”

To this writer, APSA’s situation in Brisbane, Australia is ideal. This is because although Australia is geographically placed close to South East Asia, it has a somewhat ambiguous position, also being part of the Pacific region, so it could be seen as a somewhat neutral territory, a little on the edge of Asia. Australia has a Pacific Ocean coastline but is not quite actually in the Pacific either. Our continent is so big that it is a transition territory between the Pacific and Asia. Therefore it can be seen as not inclined to any kind of unfairness, parochial attitude or bias towards a particular country, culture or religion. It also helps that as English has become the second language for the world, Australia is an English speaking nation. Most of APSA’s international visitors can communicate in English, however for those who cannot, translators are provided.

Brisbane is also home to the Asia Pacific Tri-Ennial of Contemporary Art at the Gallery of Modern Art. This huge exhibition has recently opened and is on show at the same time as the twelfth APSA event. In late November, Brisbane was the artistic ‘hub’ of the Asia-Pacific, with so many artists, and film-makers in the city.

APSA has two special concepts at its heart – first, to recognize and reward excellent film-making, and second, to recognize the films that most reveal cultural diversity and therefore promote international understanding and friendship. Six films that began ‘life’ at APSA, by being awarded the APSA-MPA film fund, towards their creation, have premiered in Cannes, Venice, and Locarno film festivals, and several of them were nominated in APSA list this year.

For APSA 2018, 46 films were in the list of nominations and they came from 22 Asia-Pacific countries and areas. A surprising fact is that over half of this year’s nominations were from first time film-makers, such is the talent in the region. There was a new category this year, Best Musical Score, an important addition.

In the twelve years since the beginning of APSA the statistics of film production and distribution have changed considerably. Half of the films made in the world are now made in Asia.
Lord David Puttnam, the legendary British film producer was a special guest at APSA, and its partner Griffith University Film School, again this year and he remarked that APSA has a “phenomenal opportunity because it is sitting at the heart” of a world cinema revolution, as focus moves to Asia, from Hollywood, Britain and Europe.

The day before the APSA Awards were presented he gave a most interesting Master-class, and I will sometimes share his comments in this article, because he expressed so well, the potential for APSA in the region.
He told us: “In China alone we can compare the fact that only three years ago the top six box office films included five American films and one Chinese film. Now it is the other way around – six Chinese films and one American film. There was a 46.7% increase in Chinese domestically made films just in 2018.”

APSA has already been at the heart of quite a few success stories. It was at APSA that some of the big names of contemporary Asian cinema have found an international platform for their earlier films – I’m thinking of Asghar Farhadi (Iran), Lee-Chang Dong (South Korea), Hirokazu Kore-Eda(Japan), Nadine Labaki (Lebanon), Anurag Kashyap (India) Nuri Bilge-Ceylan,(Turkey) Andrei Zvyagintsev,(Russia) Jia Zhangke,(China) and others who have been submitting their films to APSA over the twelve years of its history.

I read in the British Film Institute’s “Sight and Sound” magazine, July 2018 issue, a remark from the editor, Nick James: “Take the Hollywood element away from any festival and you find that the art of cinema is alive and artistically thriving, mostly in Asia.” He was commenting on the fact that American films were scarce in Cannes this year. “Instead, what we got was a carnival of cinema art, the best of it from Japan, South Korea and China – a programme of the highest quality with good choices.”

This draws attention to the fact that the Hollywood product has become increasingly predictable, consisting mostly of franchise films, super heroes and remakes. In my opinion, they have entirely lost their imagination, and financial courage, and think mainly about ‘sure-thing’ formula films, blockbusters and box office returns, when considering green-lighting projects.
Many of the same Asian films Nick James praised at Cannes Film Festival, were submitted to and then nominated in this year’s Asia Pacific Screen Awards too, such is the high regard that has developed amongst the top Asian film-makers, for APSA. For example at APSA 2018, the Japanese film “Shoplifters” won Best Feature Film. (It also won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.) The star of Jia Zhangke’s “Ash is the Purest White” Zhao Tao, won the Best Actress award. A Jury Grand Prize, went to Lee Chang-Dong’s “Burning”. Nadine Labaki, of Lebanon won Best Director for her new film “Capernaum”. All of these were highly regarded or awarded in Cannes last May.
“Cinema is the art form of the twenty-first century”, Lord David Puttnam declared in his Master-class, the day before the APSA Ceremony.

Once the only screen in our lives was the cinema screen, and we would buy tickets and go there for a shared evening of entertainment on the big screen. It was the big night out for people until the advent of television. I will always treasure the memory of when cinema was truly spectacular, shot in the 70mm film format, and there were huge screens and 70mm projectors in the cinemas to screen these epic films, such as my personal favorite, “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962). The Sixties were the technology pinnacle of the film era. Then along came the video tape movies for rental and VCR player in the home. People didn’t have to go out to see movies of their choice anymore. Technological change speeded up when the digital era dawned, with DVDs, then Blu Ray discs. Home viewing was never easier or cheaper.

However, Lord Puttnam explained that for some time now, people increasingly prefer the Movie Streaming Services, which are catching on rapidly around the world, and are especially popular in Australia and China. Netflix is the choice of 31% of Australians, but in other Asian countries Netflix subscriptions are still in single digits. A corresponding change he mentioned is that sales of the physical versions of films in his home country the United Kingdom, are falling rapidly and this is an international trend.
“NETFLIX have gone into film production, as have AMAZON. Netflix has already won 43 Emmys and Amazon, has won 10 Emmys. The patterns of release and distribution of the films have changed, and the old Hollywood business model is being left behind and will collapse. The middle-man is being eased out of the picture. “This is the real world, and it’s not going to go away,” said Lord Puttnam.

Today’s young people are OK with streaming movies and watching them on their tiny Smart Phone screens – from one extreme to the other, in sixty years.
Whatever their size, screens are all around us, the most predominate way of communicating in the modern era, used not only for film and television, but for many other aspects of our lives.
Lord Puttnam said, “More and more money than ever before is chasing film-making talent. It’s a growth business – Culture and Technology is the ultimate power couple.”

All of this immense change, much of it during the lifetime of APSA, certainly does place APSA in the heart of things. It is open for first time film-makers, or for famous directors who already have two Best Foreign Film “Oscars” from the Hollywood Academy, such as Asghar Farhadi of Iran, whose international success story closely involves APSA and their partner, MPA (Motion Picture Association of America). Farhadi first came to APSA in 2009 with “About Elly”, and also with an idea for his next film. That project won the APSA-MPA funding and he went away to make “A Separation”, his international “break-out” film, which won the Oscar. He followed that with “The Salesman”, another Oscar winner. In 2014 he visited APSA again to act as President of the International Jury.

This story demonstrates that APSA can achieve its aim to help the region’s film-makers become known outside their own countries, and even achieve world fame.
Another project is the APSA-Griffith University Screen Lab, where emerging film-makers can submit a project hoping to be chosen for the program. This year there are three mentoring scholarships and three lucky film-makers will be mentored for a year while they are developing their screenplay in readiness for shooting. Their mentor is an appropriate member of the APSA Academy which now has a membership of 1200 international film-makers – winners and nominees in the past twelve Asia Pacific Screen Awards.
Asia is the creative centre of world cinema now, and APSA is the region’s very own international competition. The future is shining with potential.

To see the full list of winners for this and every year of APSA, please visit http://www.asiapacificscreenawards.com

Copyright – Cynthia Webb, December 2018

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“Israfil” directed by Ida Panahandeh (Iran, 2017)

Esrafil poster
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REVIEW by Cynthia Webb, 19th May 2018
“Israfil “ (2017, Iran) directed by Ida Panahandeh (pictured above)
Review by Cynthia Webb
While in Iran recently, I watched this very moving second feature film of the young female director, Ida Panahandeh. Her first film was entitled, “Nahid”, and also concerned the often difficult lives of women in the Islamic Republic of Iran. “Nahid” won a prize in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes Film Festival.
Ida has studied film making in Tehran, and also in Berlin’s “Talent Campus” in 2009, after being recognised as having great potential. This film, “Israfil” showed very mature film-making and is quite a remarkable achievement for a second feature film. I will be watching the future work of this gifted young film director, very closely.

This new film, “Israfil” is like a master-class in classical film-making. Her DOP, Morteza Gheidi, deserves special mention, because the colour design of the film is very subdued, and each frame is carefully thought out to the artistic conventions of composition. The cinematography is always calm and unobtrusive, to complement the behavior of Mahi, and the resigned nature of her attitude to life. The Editor, Hayedeh Safiyari, has supported the quiet tone of the film’s story, by cutting in a measured manner, and although I imagine every woman in the audience was feeling the sadness, perhaps the males were unable to grasp its full message.
The setting is in North Eastern Iran, a small town, where a female teacher, Mahi Ebrahimi (a role written for and played by Hediyah Tehrani, who won Best Actress Award at the Fajr International Film Festival for this performance) is mourning her teenage son Babak, recently killed in a car accident. Her ex boyfriend Behrouz, (Peyman Bazeghi) from almost 20 years ago, has returned from Canada, to sell some family land, and turns up at the funeral. The relatives of Mahi are furious, and there’s an angry uproar in the kitchen of her family home, while her Uncle Abbas says he wants to kill the interloper, with shouts such as “How dare he come back here?” The others manage to calm him down, but he’s a man who will not ever change his mind and forgive.
Then begins the ‘back-story’ and secrets are very quietly revealed. This man, Behrouz, has been the Mahi’s lover in their youth, and in such a subtle way, we learn of his true connection to her and the boy. He and our heroine, walk together and talk and remember past times when they were young, innocent, happy and in love. But it’s all impossible now. He has a new girlfriend.
As the film is divided into three sections, we next meet Sara, (Hoda Zeindabedin) who is Behrouz’s much younger girlfriend, whom he met online, and she has a story of her own, concerning her mother and her brother, which we explore and come to understand why she wishes to go with Behrooz to Canada. Her story too, reveals family problems and responsibilities that can also cause great difficulties to the younger generation.
Finally the third section brings us back to the protagonist, Mahi’s current day problems, which are caused by several things. She’s in grief for the loss of her son, she has committed indiscretions in her youth, which haunt her to this very day, and now she’s alone, with no husband (they split up) and no son either. At her teaching job, there is also trouble.
Life for a woman in modern-day Iran, is filled with pitfalls, and in a small town, it’s even more difficult, as no-one forgets anything, and everyone gossips.
The director has kept control of every tiny detail of this film, and it is loaded with empathy for the difficult lives of women, especially in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Two or three times I found my eyes filling with tears. It was powerful empathy for the brave women of this world who have a more difficult life situation than me.
Always, the quiet and deliberate pace is sustained, to communicate to us the kind of life that one would live in such a small and distant town, where everyone knows everyone else’s business. It’s like walking on egg-shells.
The story ends with little hope for the proud and brave Mahi.
Ida Panahandeh, the director explained that she had a lot of trouble getting the screenplay past the Islamic Republic of Iran’s censors, to get permission to make the film. There was one element that may have been the cause, but wasn’t because it was transmitted in such a subtle manner, that perhaps they didn’t notice it. The problem they cited, was that the young woman Sara, states that she wanted to leave Iran, to be able to study art and have more opportunity, by going to Canada with Behrooz.
The title, “Israfil” is the name of one of four angels in the Iranian Islamic tradition, who has a trumpet. In Western world, he is the equivalent of Raphael. There is a line in the script that tells us that our protagonist’s grandmother had some plates with a painted image of Israfil on them. She and Behrooz find one in an antique shop while browsing and talking.
The fact that Mahi is socializing with Beyrouz again, albeit in public places only, scandalizes the town, because everyone knows that they were once in love, and that she attempted suicide when he fled from the town, in fear of her angry uncle. So to mention a “spoiler” which is kept so VERY subtle in the film, Behrooz is the father of her dead son, and she has been hurriedly married off to someone else to avoid scandal. This “ruined her life”, she says, and she has divorced from the husband, who has since died.
The film tells us that these strict religious and social traditions have been cruel to the young people in love, and that both their lives were ruined, but it tells us this almost wordlessly. The spirit of the dead child seems to be one of the main characters in this film, although he’s never seen, except in a picture. He is the link between Behrouz and Mahi, and he is the beginning of their sadness and is hovering over it now. The words that come to mind to describe the feeling of this lovely film, are poignant, dignified, and even tragic. It has so much humanity.
The film was recently shown to considerable acclaim at the BFI’s London Film Festival, 2017.
Copyright 19 May 2018, Cynthia Webb
Poster courtesy of the Producers and IMDb
Photo of the director by Cynthia Webb, copyright, 19 May 2018

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