The 15th ASIA PACIFIC SCREEN AWARDS, (APSA) and the story of how South East Queensland became a film production hub. November, 2022

                                    Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia

Photos: courtesy of APSA — 1. The APSA Awards hand-made glass vases by Brisbane artist, Joanna Bone.

2 Indonesian actress Happy Salma with the Best Film Award for the film “Before, Now & Then” directed by Kamila Andini.

3. New Zealanders smiling about their film “Muru” winning the prized Cultural Diversity Award. They are, L to R – Roimata Fox, Tame Iti, and the director Tearepa Kahi.

As I begin to write this over view of 35 years of cinema industry history in South East Queensland, and the place of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in the story, it is two weeks since the fifteenth Asia Pacific Screen Awards Ceremony (APSA) was held on 11thh November at City of Gold Coast.

Please scroll down to article

The story of how City of Gold Coast became an international film production hub

The “new era and post-covid APSA” is now located at “Home of the Arts”, (HOTA) which was formerly known as the Gold Coast Arts Centre.  Yes, APSA has come back home, to Gold Coast where it first began.  In 2007 the inaugural APSA sponsored by the Queensland State Government was held, in Surfers Paradise, and continued there until 2011. The head of the Jury in the first year was none other than Jafar Panahi, who is now imprisoned for his criticism throughout many years, of the Iranian Islamic regime. Almost every year since 2007 there have been Iranian film-makers visiting Queensland, for APSA, with very high quality films in competition. Panahi used almost all of the films he made, to make known his opinion of the current Iranian regime. Mid year 2022, the regime actually jailed him, although he’s been suffering severe restrictions for well over a decade. APSA had an empty chair at the guests’ table on the night of the ceremony, to symbolise solidarity with him.

In 2012, with a change of State Government in Queensland, to the Liberal/National Party, under Campbell Newman, APSA was dropped from their list of important things to fund. For the State Government the advantage of doing so is world-wide publicity, raising the profile of Brisbane as an international centre of arts and culture, and just making the wider world aware of where it is, and the high standard of living enjoyed in this part of the world.

 Also, South East Queensland is a large centre of film-making activity, thanks to the complex of state of the art film studios located between Brisbane and Gold Coast, on the M1 ( main highway on Australia’s east coast).

  However, after a very anxious period, the Brisbane City Council, under a film-appreciating Mayor, who could also see the above advantages, stepped into the breach.  So in 2012, APSA was held for the first time in Brisbane, a city which is also a very appropriate place for such an event. Capital city of the State of Queensland, a city that also hosts the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. This meant that now the city had two international artistic events which were like ‘twins’ and both were happening in November, which made for an excellent reason for a trip to Brisbane.  From 2012 to 2019 APSA was very comfortable and successful in the tropical city of Brisbane.  The foreign guests had wonderful experiences in the city and all was well.

But, then came a change of Mayor and at the end of 2019, the news from China was not looking good – a totally new and nasty virus was identified and spreading rapidly.

The new Mayor of Brisbane  wasn’t going to fund APSA anymore, and COVID wasn’t going to stay in China. 

The new virus spread rapidly in the first several months of 2020 and by the time November came around, APSA was only able to hold a small gathering of “close friends” keeping the faith, at Gold Coast City’s HOTA, to announce the annual grants of $US 25,000 to four fortunate film makers who had made the successful submissions for that valuable grant sponsored by APSA and the MPA, which is the Asian ‘arm’ of the MPAA ( Motion Picture Association of America). The generous grant enables the filmmakers to proceed with production of their award-winning screenplays.  There was no film competition in 2020.

When November, 2021 came, the COVID pandemic lifestyle was continuing, APSA had found a new home at HOTA, under the auspices of Gold Coast City Council.  There was an awards ceremony, but it was conducted on screen/via the internet, and with another gathering of APSA aficionados there to applaud the awards given to some wonderful films, (such as Japan’s “Drive My Car”) and to watch  the film-makers’ delight at having won APSA awards. No international guests were invited because the Queensland borders were closed.  However, we all know the show must go on!

 The fact is that Gold Coast City is still an ideal home for APSA, just as it was in 2007, because it has a complex of world-class film-studios, Village-Roadshow Studios and Warner Bros Movie World, the Theme Park, just a short drive from the city’s beaches. It includes a huge sound-stage with a massive water tank, which enabled filming a “Pirates of the Caribbean” film there..  Living in the Gold Coast area there is a large population of film professionals in every aspect of film production. Many top level Hollywood films have been produced there, one of the most recent being Baz Luhrmann’s “ELVIS” which was entirely made at Gold Coast, the pre production, the shooting, the post production – all during the COVID period.

Baz Luhrmann said at the Gold Coast Premiere that he would like to make all his films at Gold Coast from now on. He’d be ‘at home’ in Australia, and mainly because Gold Coast has a standard of professionalism in all aspects of film-making, as good as anywhere else you want to name.  Everything necessary is available, pretty reliable weather, wide variety of locations, plus all the professionals needed for the crew and post production.

 The Gold Coast film studios where “ELVIS” was made were being built in 1987 against all odds at the time, by the company of Dino de Laurentiis, a legendary film producer in the mould of the classic studio era. He was a larger than life character who had made films in Italy, and then in Hollywood.

Australian film people from the Southern cities thought he was crazy or at least reckless with his money. Director, Bruce Beresford, was reportedly one of the people  who, back in 1987,  informed Dino De Laurentiis that his idea of building a film studio just north of Gold Coast was being scorned in the cities of southern Australia. But Dino was a big dreamer and didn’t care what anyone said. It is possible that without him we would not have had the Studios at Gold Coast at all. 

It’s a complicated story, relating to his company’s financial difficulties back in the USA, but by mid 1988 the studios were open for business, however the original players including Dino himself were all out of the picture! (Pardon the pun!)  In 1990 the Melbourne based Village-Roadshow, bought and began developing the studios further, after having second thoughts apparently. Soon after, in May 1991, it was time for the star-studded official opening of the adjoining theme park, Warner Bros Movie World. I had already been working there for about six weeks on that day, and the Warner Bros stars who were there in person were Clint Eastwood, Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, and many famous Australians too. It was an unforgettable day of celebration of cinema.

So back to the present – it’s November 2022 and APSA has just had its annual awards ceremony, and also a FORUM event, which invites the nominated film-makers to be present and take part in the interesting discussions about various film industry issues. There were also screenings of seven of the nominated films. At a formal ceremony on the 11th November the award-winners were announced and APSA’s beautiful and iconic hand-made ceramic vases presented in person to the film-makers or their representatives. It was a new beginning, with international guests again, and a new home at Gold Coast’s HOTA. (Home of the Arts)

 I have previously published the full results,    APSA has too, on their own website.

 In this article I want to look at the past, present and future of APSA – which was originally the idea of Mr Des Power, who was Chairman of the Queensland Events Corporation and who was then and still is a cinema lover and writer/producer of films.  He is a man of vision, had the belief that cinema is one of the world’s most efficient and meaningful ways of communicating between the different cultures of the human race. Cinema shows eloquently who we are, what we believe, how we live, and once all that is out of the way, the most important fact that actually in our shared humanity, we are all the same people – members of the human race. It’s just that we have different ‘cultures’ and ‘religions’, but these need not divide us because we have many more similarities as humans than differences. After some research and a feasibility study, it was clear that the Asia Pacific countries had their own national film events, but there was ‘no-where to go’ after that. A very small number of Asia Pacific region films occasionally made a break through and got accepted into Cannes Film Festival, but that was a rare event. UNESCO were supportive too, as the timing was right when they were enacting their Universal Declaration on the Promotion and Preservation of Cultural Diversity. To this day, UNESCO sponsors APSA’s treasured Cultural Diversity Award. You may say, ‘but all the films from such a region will be culturally diverse’, however the award is for the one that most powerfully and intimately brings us into it’s culture and provides insight and understanding of that culture, for others.

This is the pillar on which APSA built its existence, and upon which the selection of films and the judging of the winners of the awards is based. Of course, the other pillar is excellence in every aspect of film-making.  Together these pillars frame a doorway for some of the world’s greatest films to enter APSA, to be seen, appreciated, judged,   and then continue into the wider world, perhaps with a big boost to its reputation from a win at APSA. Actually, even being in the nominations at APSA is an achievement to be proud of because in times before COVID, films submitted totalled around 340 from eligible countries. 

Over the previous 15 years, some of the most successful Asia-Pacific films have begun their journey to the top at APSA here in South East Queensland, Australia. The most obvious film-maker to mention as an example is Iran’s Asghar Farhadi, who came to APSA with his film, “About Elly” in 2009.  At that stage of his career as a film director he was only known at home in Iran, and not even very well known there.  He had  another major win at APSA, in 2011 with “A Separation” and that film continued on up the ladder, rapidly winning major prizes at most of the world’s highly  respected film events. Asghar Farhadi capped it off in style by being the first ever Iranian to win at the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards of 2012 . In 2016, he did it again, winning a second Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, for “The Salesman”.  In about five years, this man went from being unknown to being called a “maestro of the cinema” and was world famous.  He submitted three films to APSA, (“The Past” 2013 was another), and always gaining a big win.  Farhadi also came to Brisbane to be head of the APSA Jury in 2014. Note, that “A Separation”‘s screenplay was one of the winners of the APSA/MPA grant of $US25,000 and when Farhadi returned to Queensland with the finished film, and won the Best Film award, APSA/MPA was gratified to have been part of such a successful film.

 This article would become far too long, if I continue naming film-makers who have become world famous, but who presented their early films at APSA, and whose exceptional talents were immediately recognized by the knowledgeable jury members APSA appoints, from people at the top of the region’s filmmaking industries.

This demonstrates another of the main aims of APSA, which is to provide a top class  platform for film-makers of the Asia-Pacific Region, who previously did not have anywhere to submit their films, in the hope of achieving an award, or at least lead into becoming more widely known in the rest of the world. Looking back over the history, I see that there are a quite a few films that have won the world’s most coveted film prize, the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival, and which also have been submitted to and won major prizes at APSA. This demonstrates the high standard of APSA’s reputation.

Please stop and think a moment:  The region of Asia-Pacific is one third of the world’s surface, and contains 78 countries, and contains 4.8 billion people – over half of the world’s population.  It contains all three of the world’s largest film and television making sources – India, Turkey, and South Korea. This enormous part of Planet Earth is responsible for half of the world’s film output and it is rather shocking to think that until 2007, when the first APSA was held, there was no awards platform especially for the Asia Pacific region where film-makers could submit their work for international level consideration.

At the latest APSA this writer was speaking with the aforementioned world famous Australian director, Bruce Beresford.  I was enthusing to him about a superb film, “JOYLAND”, from Pakistan which I had seen the previous evening, and which the following day won a new APSA award for emerging directors.  It is the first film by its writer-director, Saim Sadiq in competition at APSA.  Mr Beresford said to me, “But how can we see these films?”

Well – that is the whole point of APSA – to provide an important early rung on the ladder which films by new film-makers from such a region as Asia-Pacific, must climb.  APSA is a place of international competition, to maybe win an award, and provide an opportunity for film distributors to hear about and see the films and also to assist  them on their way to the next rung of the ladder. Not all of them can take an elevator straight to the top floor, like Asghar Farhadi did.

 Film Festivals also serve a similar purpose however APSA is not a Festival, but an Awards Event. The structure is similar to the Academy Awards of Hollywood.  APSA has now built its own APSA Academy, with approximately 1,400 members, members who have either been nominated or won awards in previous APSA events. They are available for networking, and mentoring opportunities for the up and coming new directors, in association with the Asia Pacific Screen-Lab, in partnership with the Griffith University Film School, Brisbane.

The opportunities provided by APSA are demonstrated by looking at the countries from which films have been submitted in the past, Kyrgystan,  Jordan, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Egypt, Sri Lanka, The Philippines, Palestine, Israel, Saudi-Arabia, Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia, Iran, Turkey,  there are probably more, and that is not even counting the more predictable places such as Australia, NZ, Japan, South Korea, China, India and South Korea, the latter nation being one whose international filmmaking profile has increased immensely during its years of submitting and winning at APSA.

In 2019 another ‘comet’ of a film from South Korea won its first major award at APSA. It was entitled “PARASITE”. We all know that this film encircled the world of film winning most of the major awards that exist, and had stacks of articles written about its brilliance. Bong Joon-Ho’s “PARASITE” made history by being the first foreign language film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year, beating all the Academy’s own nominated films in English, and three other Oscars for Directing, Screenplay, and Best International Feature Film. Nothing like this had ever happened before, in the history of the Academy Awards.

When one runs one’s mind through the 78 countries of Asia and the Pacific, the ambition and the value of APSA becomes evident, and enormous. For APSA I express my admiration and appreciation for its dedication to the  high quality  cinema of the region of the Asia Pacific, which makes so much of it. Because of all the superb films that have been in competition in APSA since 2007, I can see that APSA is necessary, crucial and precious.

APSA has begun a new era after COVID and returning home to the Gold Coast.

APSA, may the force be with you.

copyright – Cynthia Webb, 27 November 2022

Photo below: Darin J. Sallam, writer director of “FARHA” the winner of Best Youth Film

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Director Kamila Andini of Indonesia makes history at Asia Pacific Screen Awards for 2022 winning Best Film.”Before, Now & Then” (Nana)

Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) are held at Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia (Ceremony was on 11th November 2022

Kamila is the first woman to win the Best Film award at APSA, and also the first director who has directed three films which have won major categories at APSA. Her first one was “The Mirror Never Lies”/”Laut Bercermin” (2012) and then in 2017 “The Seen and Unseen”/ “Sekala Niskala”, both of which won the category Best Youth Film, which means films about young people, (but not necessarily for viewing by young people.) Now Kamila has followed those two youth films with two films for adults, both of which are about women’s lives. There was “Yuni”, and now “Before, Now & Then” or (Nana), her winning film in this week’s APSA. Still in her early thirties, Kamila is a mother of two young daughters, and her husband Ifa Isfansyah, has also been a film director of some note in Indonesia, but now concentrates on producing films for his wife. The reason – he told this writer back in 2017, “She’s a better director than me.”

Kamila is actually a writer/director, and she has a deeply sensitive and empathetic nature, and her stories so far filmed have all been about what she knows best – the lives of women and children. I can say that because I have known her for a very long time, since she was still a student.

Photo of Kamila Andini (below) by Cynthia Webb..This was in 2017 when she was at APSA that year. After the photo of Kamila scroll on down and you will find my review comments and background to the film, about the culture of 1960s Java, the events that are the background to Nana’s story as told by Kamila Andini. This will help explain it more, to people who do not know the history and culture of Java, even though they may have seen the film.

Kamila was unable to attend the APSA awards at Gold Coast in November 2022, because at the time she was in Poland where her film was screening. So the beautiful ceramic vase which is the APSA prize, was accepted by the Indonesian actress who played the title role, Happy Salma, in the Best Film of APSA this year.

The film tells the story of Nana, a 40-ish Javanese woman, in her second marriage to an older, and but prosperous and kindly husband, with whom she has three children, but whom she has not been able to feel more than sincere affection for. It is because she is haunted by dark and tragic events in her past, during 1965’s terrifying era of political unrest and regime change in Indonesia, when an unknown number, but at least one million died in massacres across the archipelago. Her father and brother died, and her first husband (with whom she had a baby son ) has disappeared and is presumed dead, but she is still in love with him. Hence her second marriage where she has a nice comfortable life and a husband who is kind but unfaithful. He understands her completely. However the dark history has filled her present (now) existence with terrible nightmares, and her waking hours with the ever present shadow of unresolved grief. Happy Salma, with her very expressive face, perfectly embodies Nana, whose serene exterior belies the turmoil within. There is always visible, a sort of nervousness and vulnerability, because she often sleeps so badly, disturbed by her memories. It is a fine performance.

The film unfolds in a typically Javanese gentle pace with that culture’s gracious manners, social activities, and household life. We are invited to evening dancing in traditional style, accompanied by the sweet hypnotic Gamelan music of Java. Afternoon tea on the terrace, with other women from the village during ‘sore’ (soray) the cooling off time in late afternoon. I read a review by someone from Europe, who thought the film beautiful, but too slow in pace, however as someone who has lived in Java for several years in the last two decades, I know that that’s how life is lived. It is the tropics, it is very hot and often extremely humid in the wet season, and afternoon naps are customary and necessary. It is a culture of exquisite manners, and politeness, quiet-speaking, gentle movements and the way Kamila has shown us Nana’s life, is of course correct. After all, she is Javanese herself, although a thoroughly modern woman as well.

As the film is set in the late 1960s, the country is changing, because it has recently opened up to the Western influences, under the new regime of President Suharto. People still talk in fearful whispers about those dreadful events in 1965/66 and everyone knows families who have lost a male member or several, or is such a family. They also wonder about the whereabouts and safety of their beloved Sukarno, the ex President and founding father of the nation of Indonesia, in August 1945. Today, the Dutch still say the independence date is 1949 because after the end of World War Two, the Japanese departed, but the Dutch Colonialists still actually had the unrealistic idea that they could return and carry on where they left off, at the time when they fled the Japanese invasion of 1942. During the period 1945-1949 the Indonesians had to fight them in a War of Independence, even though Sukarno had already declared Independence, 17 August, 1945.

However in the later 1960s you see in the film, that the times are definitely different, as General Suharto, now President, was Pro-USA. The CIA had aided in the regime change action that brought him to power, and in the following murderous months 6-8 that followed, which were to destroy the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) forever, and to instill terror into the people so that they would accept the new situation. (Incidentally, this is now known as The Jakarta Method, and those words were written on the walls in Santiago, Chile in 1973, when another CIA supported coup occurred and the same terror-tactic of killing left-wing citizens was used.)

In the film Javanese women are sometimes seen wearing Western style clothing, and smoking too, however their personal lives are still essentially traditional. It is only on the ‘outside’ – this modernization, and their souls are still bound to Javanese ways.

There is very good and enjoyable use of popular music of the time, to be enjoyed, and the cinematography and locations are very beautiful. Kamila’s screenplay is cleverly interwoven with flash-backs which come in her dreams, and tell us about what ails her, what she has seen, experienced, and is still struggling with. When she gains a new friend, played by Laura Basuki, who won Best Supporting Performer at the Berlin International Film Festival for her inspiring performance, as someone who represents the free and unfettered modern younger woman of the new times. In spite of the fact that they have reasons why they could have been enemies, the two of them form a close bond and the younger woman encourages Nana to take actions that she couldn’t have done shortly before. Although terrified, following her friend, Nana takes a symbolic leap from a high rock into a turbulent water pool below, just as at the end of the film she takes a real life leap into her own future.

I saw the film about three weeks ago, in the Brisbane International Film Festival, and I am re-living it now, as I write. I wish Kamila and her film a successful future, (such as we hope for Nana at the end of the film). “Before, Then & Now” deserves to be widely seen and Kamila, still so young, has a very bright future ahead of her.

by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Queensland, Austrtalia

See below – photo by Cynthia Webb of Happy Salma, who plays Nana in “Before, Now & Then”, arriving at Asia Pacific Screen Awards, where she later had the thrill of accepting the stylish ceramic vase which is APSA’s trophy, on behalf of the Producers and the director of the film.

ALSO – the Poster for the film, from the sold out screening at the Berlin International film Festival, where Laura Basuki (playing Nana’s younger friend, who is the symbol of women of the new times of Indonesia in the late 1960s and when slowing women’s lives began to open and be more free and full of opportunities. Kamila Andini herself is today a representative of the progress for women in the almost 60 years between “then and now”.


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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, November 2022 WINNERS and facts about APSA


The Asia Pacific Screen Academy proudly presents the region’s highest accolade in film, the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. Established in 2007, APSA ignites and honours the cinematic excellence and cultural diversity of the world’s fastest growing film region: comprising 78 countries and areas, 4.5 billion people, and responsible for half of the world’s film output.

APSA and its Academy is committed to its ongoing global partnerships with UNESCO, FIAPF, the European Film Academy (EFA), the Motion Picture Association (MPA), Premios Platino del Cine Iberoamericano, NETPAC (the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema), the Asia Pacific Screen Lab (APSL) and Griffith Film School.

All APSA nominees, Nominations Councils and Jury members are inducted into the prestigious APSA Academy presided over by Australian screen legend Jack Thompson AM PhD. The Academy boasts over 1,400 of the region’s leading filmmakers and provides exclusive networking, development and funding opportunities available to Academy members through the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund, and Academy mentoring opportunities for the next generation of Asia Pacific filmmakers through the Asia Pacific Screen Lab.



Before, Now & Then (Nana)


Directed by Kamila Andini

Produced by Ifa Isfansyah, Gita Fara


This Is What I Remember (Esimde)

Kyrgyzstan, Japan, Netherlands, France

Directed by Aktan Arym Kubat

Produced by Altynai Koichumanova, Denis Vaslin, Yuji Sadai, Carine Chichkowsky, Fleur Knopperts



Jordan, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sweden

Directed by Darin J Sallam

Produced by Deema Azar, Ayah Jardaneh


Aurora‘s Sunrise

Armenia, Germany, Lithuania

Directed by Inna Sahakyan

Produced by Vardan Hovhannisyan, Christian Beetz, Justé Michailinaité, Kestutis Drazdauskas, Eric Esrailian, Inna Sahakyan


All That Breathes

India, United Kingdom, United States of America

Directed by Shaunak Sen

Produced by Aman Mann, Shaunak Sen, Teddy Leifer

Special Mention


Philippines, Australia, Hong Kong, United States of America, United Kingdom

Directed by Karl Malakunas

Produced by Marty Syjuco, Michael Collins, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Karl Malakunas


Davy Chou for Return to Seoul (Retour à Séoul)

France, Belgium, Germany, Cambodia, Qatar


Makbul Mubarak for Autobiography
Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Qatar, France, Poland, Germany


Niklas Lindschau for The Stranger (Al Garib)
Palestine, Syrian Arab Republic, Qatar, Germany


Lee Jeong-eun for Hommage (Omaju)

Republic of Korea


Park Ji-min for Return to Seoul (Retour à Séoul)

France, Belgium, Germany, Cambodia, Qatar

For first or second time lead performance in a feature length role.



New Zealand

Directed by Tearepa Kahi

Produced by Reikura Kahi, Selina Joe, Tāme Iti


Saim Sadiq for Joyland


The Young Cinema Award in partnership with NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema) and Griffith Film School (GFS) recognises the abundant emerging talent of the Asia Pacific.


Nadine Labaki

Determined by FIAPF–International Federation of Film Producers Associations for outstanding achievement in film in the Asia Pacific region.


Recipients of USD $25,000 grant, wholly funded by MOA Asia Pacific, determined by MPA APSA Academy Jury Panel: Andrew Pike, Mai Meksawan, Maryam Ebrahimi.

Khadija Al Salami (Yemen/France) for I Wish I Were a Girl

Kirby Atkins (New Zealand) for Levity Jones

Anne Köhncke (Norway) for A Disturbed Earth

Weijie Lai (Singapore) for The Sea Is Calm Tonight


The Asia Pacific Screen Lab is a year-long immersive development program in conjunction with APSA Academy, Griffith University, Griffith Film School and NETPAC, this year expanding to five places, with the framework of Film Schools Without Borders. Support from John Kirby AM and family of the Sun Foundation gratefully acknowledged. Applications were considered by a panel featuring Herman Van Eyken, Park Ki-yong, Anne Démy-Geroe, Taema Mahinui and Vimukthi Jayasundara.

2023 selected filmmakers:

Velrajah Sobanasivan (Sri Lanka)

Eldar Shibanov (Kazakhstan)

Yoshimasa Jimbo (Japan)

Deyali Mukherjee (India)

Amir Amenov (Kazakhstan)

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“Parallel Mothers” (2021 Spain) by Pedro Almodovar

by Cynthia Webb, 18th February 2022

Photo: Pedro Almodovar with Penelope Cruz

PARALLEL MOTHERS  (Spain, 2021) directed by Pedro Almodovar  

By Cynthia Webb

I must say right now that since his first film in 1981, Almodovar made me sit up and take notice, and I made a mental-note which I have obeyed from 1981 until 2022 (so far). The note said “Don’t miss any film this man directs.”  I obeyed my own resolution, and this has paid off, and then some! The first film was more or less an indie film made and financed by Pedro and friends and they did it over the weekends while they all had other jobs. It was very rough and full of continuity and every other kind of error, but yet you could see the energy and raw talent.

Pedro Almodovar was a village boy, a gay young man, living in the Madrid of a certain era, when after the long lasting trauma of the Spanish Civil War, Madrid entered an approximately five year period called 'movida'.  It would seem that it took almost fifty years for the nation to recover from that appalling event, plus get through the following years under the dictator Franco, who was   leader of this most terrible of all things… a  civil war where the right-wing rich and powerful were willing to kill their own countrymen rather than admit to their right to be respected and to have enough payment for their labour, to have a decent life. This war is famous for being a sort of “practice-run", observed and assisted by German Fascists. 

Back to Madrid, 1980, where Pedro was a creative and wild young man. He has told us that himself via all his films. But it is clear from seeing all his films and reading about him, and listening to all that he has said about his life and work, that Pedro lived life sincerely, and to the depth of his being. He has expressed it all in by now 23 films. He has tremendous empathy for everyone, but especially for women. In every film you get the feeling that he loves his characters.  He writes all his own screenplays.

As you can already see,  I am totally biased and I just LOVE him and every film he has ever made. Today I went to the cinema to see his latest film. “Parallel Mothers” and yes, it was another remarkable work by a man who is now regarded as a maestro of world cinema – and especially by me.

Pedro Almodovar has said in an interview I read recently, that early on he made a conscious decision to refrain from ever mentioning/acknowledging the existence of  Franco, and the Spanish Civil war, in his films. But now with “Parallel Mothers”  he has decided to face up to something that for him was too horrible to contemplate before. With age has come the realisation that the time has come to include it.  

This beautiful film is actually about family and friends, but it is also Pedro’s ‘coming out' from his vow to ignore Franco and the horror of the Spanish Civil War. He has at last said it out loud, using the opening of a mass grave nearby to a Spanish village, in which the men of that village were murdered by the Fascists during the nineteen-thirties. The film's unforgettable final shot is sheer genius.

As for the the story, it opens with a flashback to when Janis (named after Janis Joplin) a professional photographer, meets Arturo, who is a professional in the tragic contemporary work of opening up mass graves from the time of the Spanish Civil War. Janis's family and friends back in her own village know exactly where the mass grave is and who is in it,and they wish to open that grave and give their male forebears a proper burial. She has been engaged to photograph him, and afterwards she asks for Arturo's help. Their meeting leads to a love affair. He promises to present their case to the right authorities.
This part of the story will resonate for people in Indonesia, who also recall mass killings during the Communist purges of 1965-66 and know where there are mass graves in their land too. As recently as ten years ago this was still a forbidden subject. 

Cut now, to two women whose ages are about 20 years apart, Janis, and Ana, who meet at the Hospital labour ward where both about to give birth. They form a friendship which is facilitated by their shared experience, as so often happens ( not just in labour wards of maternity hospitals).   These women both give birth to daughters and they are both ‘single mothers’.  Both babies need to have a bit of extra care for a day immediately after birth. The women exchange contact phone numbers and resolve to meet soon.  I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, except to tell you that you will observe a most wonderful performance by almost everyone, but in particular from Penelope Cruz.

As I said before at the conclusion of the film, while leaving the cinema my heart told me that it is definitely about the importance of family and friends, and please tell me – is there anything more important? No, I don’t think so.  

If I were forced to, I would only admit that this film didn’t affect me quite so profoundly as “Pain and Glory” (2019) where I had tears running down my cheeks, but not because of anything sad, just because it was such perfection of filmmaking.  To any follower of Almodovar's life and filmography it was clearly autobiographical and he said so. Antonio Banderas played his alter-ego. Almodovar himself discovered and cast Banderas in Labyrinth of Passion back in 1982. Almost 30 years on, they collaborated on that superb film. It had the kind of delicacy and emotion rarely seen in a film.

  However I was 100% involved in "Parallel Mothers" and loving it. My mind stayed glued to it. I notice that when watching films of a lesser quality, the mind has a way of wandering, and if you ever look at your watch, well this is the worst possible sign. You might as well just give it up right there. However, not with "Parallel Mothers". If I were a Spanish citizen… I do NOT think I would say that. For them, perhaps "Parallel Mothers" goes to the depths of their soul, because this history would be intensely emotional and more important than anything else. Even as I write, I am thinking that I should see this film again.  (All brilliant films require at least a second viewing, and some we just keep on going back to all our lives.)

From 30 years of watching Pedro Almodovar’s films as he made them, and also sometimes going back and picking one to watch again, what I have seen is that of course as he went along, he got better and better,  more mature and delving deeper. He went from 'rough and ready'with the hobby film "Pepi, Luci, Bom and the Others"(1981) to total finesse exhibiting control of every aspect of his artform. 

You might be thinking that I am totally biased, and you are right. Pedro makes it impossible not to be!  His work is so personal, that it is like being in a real friendship with the man, because he tells us everything, he draws us into his own heart. 

by Cynthia Webb
copyright February 2022

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2021

GOLD COAST, QLD, Australia


Drive My Car, Rehana, Drover’s Wife winners at 14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards


The APSA International Jury said “In his potent drama of secrets and trauma, Ryusuke Hamaguchi x-rays his damaged characters, each haunted by their past, as he incisively explores ideas of love, desire, infidelity, guilt and atonement. The result is an indelible film of immense power.

Ryusuke Hamaguchi thanked his cast and crew and said “I’m deeply honoured that our film was selected not only for the Best Screenplay but also for the Best Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. I’d like to thank Mr. Haruki Murakami for his original work. Our film is based on his novel ‘Drive My Car’. We made many changes to the original, and Mr. Murakami let us write freely. We deeply appreciate Mr. Murakami’s decision to share his story with us. Also, I’d like to thank Mr. Takamasa Oe, our co-writer, for his advice and support. Without his presence and contribution, the screenplay would never be completed.”

This is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s second Screenplay APSA after winning the award for Happy Hour in 2016 with co-writers Tadashi Nohara and Tomoyuki Takahashi.

The 14th APSA Ceremony, presented from HOTA (Home of the Arts) on Australia’s beautiful Gold Coast saw ten films from eleven countries and areas of Asia Pacific receive awards, with the event also marking the official opening of the 3rd Asia Pacific Screen Forum (Nov 11-16). 

Two JURY GRAND PRIZES  were awarded in 2021 with one going to Abdullah Mohammad Saad, director of Rehana (Rehana Maryam Noor), for “the precision of its filmmaking language which made it possible, by the only specific means of cinema, to detail the psychological and factual stages of a woman’s fight for justice and to reveal, in an absolutely remarkable ending, how she prepares her little girl to be courageous and to fight all forms of injustice.” 

Abdullah Mohammad Saad said “We are thrilled, we are excited. I must say, the film is the result of an incredible team effort. I am grateful to my brilliant cast and crew. I am sure I wouldn’t be receiving this award without their sacrifice and commitment, so all the credit goes to them.

Rehana star Azmeri Haque Badhon was awarded BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS for this outstanding film. In her acceptance speech, Azmeri Haque Badhon dedicated the film to “those in my country and around the world who are deprived from their freedom, rights, and feel lost every moment.”

This is the second film from Bangladesh to be awarded the APSA Jury Grand Prize, after Mostofa Sarwar Farooki’s Television in 2013.

The APSA Jury Grand Prize was also awarded to Goa-Gunggari-Wakka Wakka Murri Woman Leah Purcell for her debut feature The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson. The International Jury said “Not just for her singular vision in writing, directing, producing and starring in the film but for the journey to bring this remarkable story, viewed through the lens of a First Nations woman to the screen in its entirety, in what is not only an artist’s total dedication to her craft but also a spirited act of courage and tenacity. The Drover’s Wife is a film that quickly makes its way into the heart, taking a well known genre, and exploding it into a much needed story of survival, loss, and resilience.” This is the first APSA Jury Grand Prize awarded to an Australian. 

In accepting the Prize, Leah Purcell said “Thankyou to the 14th Asia Pacific Screen Awards and their prestigious Jury for your recognition of my effort in making this film, the many hats that I wore and the voice that I had given it as a First Nations woman. Truly, thankyou for this validation. Ma altjeringa yirra Baiame. Thanks to the ancestors for this very moment.

Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi was awarded ACHIEVEMENT IN DIRECTING for A Hero (Ghahreman) which the International Jury called “an intimate epic. Asghar Farhadi continues to perfect the fine art of making cinema that is hyper local yet also globally understood and universally loved.

ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATOGRAPHY went to Nguyễn Vinh Phúc for Taste (Vị), with the film’s director Lê Bảo awarded the Young Cinema Award in partnership with NETPAC and GFS. In accepting the awards, Nguyễn thanked director Lê Bảo and his team on the film saying “I think this award is the sweet fruits dedicated to the entire film crew, and I am just the lucky one to represent everyone to receive this.”

The International Jury said “Taste has remarkable cinematography, it’s beautiful humility serves the film’s compassion for the poor, where nudity expresses destitution, fragility and consolation.”

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR was awarded to Georgian actor Merab Ninidze for Alexy German Jr’s House Arrest (Delo) with the International Jury calling his performance “simply extraordinary in this biting satire on political repression; somehow managing to simultaneously convey bravery, rage and a wicked sense of humour. Though physically constrained within an apartment for the largest part of the film, there are no bounds to this masterful, explosive performance.” 

The five-member International Jury was comprised of President, French/Vietnamese filmmaker Trần Anh Hùng, leading Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir, Director of Sydney Film Festival Nashen Moodley (Australia), Indian photographer, screenwriter and filmmaker Sooni Taraporevala and President of Heaven Pictures and Director of China Film Foundation – Wu Tianming Film Fund for Young Talents, Janet Wu (People’s Republic of China). 

Meanwhile, the three-member Youth, Animation, Documentary International Jury determined the winners for Best Youth Feature Film, Best Animated Feature Film and Best Documentary Feature Film. Jury Chair Anocha Suwichakornpong (Thailand) was joined by Screen International Deputy Asia Editor and Korea Correspondent Jean Noh (Republic of Korea) and internationally sought-after New Zealand animator, Antony Elworthy. 

BEST YOUTH FEATURE FILM was awarded to director Yoon Dan-bi for Moving On (Nam-mae-wui Yeo-reum-bam, Republic of Korea) who acknowledged the common language of cinema in her thanks for the Award saying “the fact that the cinema is still moving forward gives me the motivation to work on the next project.”

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM went to Andrey Khrzhanovsky’s The Nose or The Conspiracy of Mavericks (Nos ili zagovor netakikh, Russian Federation) with the Jury noting how the film stood out amongst the strong field of animated films with its originality, and clear and powerful message, and, skillfully realised with traditional animation techniques, yet with a post-modern twist. 

In accepting the Award, filmmaker Andrey Khrzhanovsky spoke of the significance of this prize. “It is a really great honour for me. It is very important to receive this Prize here in Asia, because Asian culture and art is a great phenomenon in general.” 

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE FILM was awarded to Sabaya (Sweden). Filmmaker Hogir Hirori said “This award is not only an important recognition of everything that the ISIS survivors have been through but it also brings much needed attention to the fight to save the more than 2000 Yazidi women and girls that are still held captive by ISIS and reunite them with their families.

Two special awards representing APSA’s founding partnerships with UNESCO and FIAPF were announced last week. 

THE CULTURAL DIVERSITY AWARD under the patronage of UNESCO is awarded to Sri Lanka’s Prasanna Vithanage for Children of the Sun (Gaadi). Despite many previous APSA nominations for Sri Lankan films, this award marks the first win. Revered filmmaker Prasanna Vithanage said “I am extremely happy to receive this award today. Gaadi has been a dream project for me. I have been working for thirty years for this project. Today I would like to thank the entire team of Gaadi who contributed to give a long-due dignity to a group of people who have been treated as human dust in Sri Lanka.

The FIAPF AWARD for Outstanding Contribution to Asia Pacific Cinema, determined by APSA founding partner FIAPF–International Federation of Film Producers Associations, was awarded to prolific Russian producer, Sergey Selyanov.

The four recipients of MPA APSA ACADEMY FILM FUND GRANTS were also announced during the APSA Ceremony. 

Now in its 12th year, the Fund 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 2021, the four recipients are: 

Dea Kulumbegashvili (Georgia) for HISTORIA

Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (Islamic Republic of Iran) for RED MIST DESCENDING 

Teng Mangansakan (Philippines) for THE SPELLCASTER OF TAMONTACA 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Thailand) for 9 TEMPLES TO HEAVEN 

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KAMILA ANDINI and her third feature film, “YUNI”, (Indonesia, 2021)

by Cynthia Webb, at Brisbane International Film Festival, Qld, Australia

(Scroll to below the photos, to find the article please!)

Kamila Andini and her third feature film, “Yuni” 2021

                                                                  by Cynthia Webb, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

The first thing to mention is that I am a long time friend of Kamila Andini and her family, so there is no objectivity possible, however deeper insights ARE possible.  When I see any of her films, I see them through my own eyes, which also see and know Kamila  as a sensitive, intelligent and deeply empathetic young woman who has turned her creative talent to film-making.

Friends and family call her Dini, and Dini grew up observing and more importantly, absorbing the cinematic work of her father Garin Nugroho, who has long been Indonesia’s most internationally recognized film director. Having studied Sociology at Deakin University in Australia, Kamila Andini added  academic knowledge to what she already knew about her own people, their cultural ways and their lives in Java, Indonesia.

Kamila Andini has made three feature films now, plus a one hour ‘short film’, which almost became a feature. All have been internationally successful and receiving very good reviews at international film festivals. Probably some of those reviewers had no personal experience of the multi-cultural nature of Indonesia, and the varied ways of living across that great archipelago. It’s a complex land of many totally different ethnic groups, with their own languages and ways of life. Watching films about other cultures can be very informative and inspiring, even though probably we also miss out on some of the nuances of cultural beliefs that are being portrayed, but slip past us. But after spending years watching world cinema we can learn so much. Most important of all, is the knowledge that everywhere people have the same hopes and dreams and needs.

The first feature was about a little known group, the Bajau or Sea-Gypsy people who live in bamboo huts on jetties, built above coral reefs, rather than on the actual ‘mainland’ of the islands. They live on the sea, and from the sea. These people can be found throughout South East Asia, from the Philippines, to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. The film’s title is “The Mirror Never Lies” (or “Laut Bercermin”, 2011). It is beautiful to behold, thanks to glorious location in South East Suluwesi and the stunning cinematography. The story is about a ten year old girl, waiting for her father to come home from a fishing trip in his tiny boat. He’s days then weeks late, and probably won’t return, but hope springs eternal.

This was followed in 2018, with a film Kamila had been planning for a very long time, and had told me about back in 2011.  The title, “The Seen and the Unseen” (“Sekala, Niskala”) – which is Balinese language for the same, meaning that both worlds exist together in the Balinese culture. This film was about twin children, a boy and a girl around the same age as her previous young protagonist. The boy becomes fatally ill, and is in hospital, and the story examines the Balinese girl’s spiritual way of coping with losing “her other half”.

Between these films, Kamila made “Following Diana” – about a Javanese wife and mother, whose husband has decided he wants to take a second wife. Diana just won’t stand for it, and prefers anything to being superseded by a younger woman. No woman anywhere would want this, and Kamila Andini is well aware of that fact , especially now that she herself is a married woman with two young daughters. Diana chooses the more difficult way in practical terms, to live as a solo-mother, rather than allow her pride and dignity to be insulted this way, a way that is still happening in Muslim Indonesia, although officially ‘frowned upon’.

So now in her third feature film, “Yuni”, Kamila has tackled another situation that commonly occurs in Indonesia – that of teenage love and marriage, or even teenage marriage minus the love, because it is pressed upon the unfortunate girls by the demands of the traditions and the parents. The not often considered lost hopes and dreams of the young women is the most important theme in Kamila’s mind. 

Of course this also happens in many other Islamic cultures, in the regions far from the more sophisticated and modern cities.  Indonesia is very comparable to Turkey, with Sunni Islam, with a small number of sophisticated, modern 21st Century lifestyle cities, and remote but vast areas of villages and small towns where the old customs are still applied. I have seen Turkish films on exactly the same theme.

 There are many countries which have a sort of split personality such as this, and it’s so difficult in this Internet era, for the young women living in the remote traditional small towns and villages. Modernization raced ahead at dizzying speed in the outside world, where in their villages, and probably the minds of their parents, time almost stood still. On their cellphones, teenagers find out how their contemporaries in the cities are living, and what is happening in the outside world. They want to be free to develop their talents, their lives, and their fullfil their potential. But their hopes and dreams are often thwarted by their parents, and the close-knit life and traditions of the villages, which belong to a by-gone era.

So here in “Yuni”, we can see through the empathetic eyes of Kamila Andini, the life of Yuni, who is 16 years old and one of the smartest students in her school. She is about to graduate from high school and would love to continue her studies. One of her teachers has even organised a scholarship for her. BUT, back at her home living with her beloved grandmother, while her parents work far away in Jakarta, suitors are coming calling with offers of marriage, explaining unimpressive dowrys as persuasion.  First is a handsome young man who works at the local factory and has career potential. She spurns him.  Second is a kind and nice man, twice her age and already married, who wants to make her his second wife. He brings his wife and says she approves, but did she have any option?

Although the local custom says it’s very unlucky to refuse a second marriage proposal, Yuni refuses anyway. Then there is a third proposal too, and this one has some hidden complications and some of them actually might even suit her. They could have perhaps been a way out for her.

 However, in the meantime, Yuni has done something desperate, to try to escape marriage, because she doesn’t want to marry anyone!  She wants her freedom, to explore her own potential, and feels unready to even contemplate marriage.

 In the film, which shows how vulnerable, ill-informed  and innocent Yuni and all of her young girl-friends are, we sometimes listen in on their ‘secret girls’ conversations’, where they share what they know about the mysterious matters of sex and men, and the frightening condition of marriage, made all the more frightening when you are only in your mid teens. They live in a small village, on the coast, a world of its own, where without the coming of the internet and the cellphone, they would be even more ‘in the dark’ about these matters.

Yuni is shown in several scenes going to a small kiosk to buy more internet data for her cellphone, which is her connection to the wider world. She buys this charge-up funding for her internet access from Yoga,  a young man who is painfully shy and  desperately in love with her.  This link between her, the internet access and the young man who loves her is crucially important, symbolising and defining her predicament.

Everything is filmed on location in a typical village and school and so reality is vividly portrayed.

There is more, which is not to be told here… except to say, that once again Kamila Andini is showing her sensitivity and insight into the things that are ‘women’s business’.

 She is a creator, and so uses her own ideas and understandings to write her own screenplays, and to find the right locations, in which to set and film her stories. Therefore of course they are one hundred percent accurate to the way of life on her own island of Java, Indonesia.

 Kamila hasn’t been a village girl, nor subjected to any of this sort of thing herself, but she knows it very well, from her own observations. Actually she is a sort of role model that so many young women in Indonesia would look up to with great admiration and some envy too. She’s grown up in a sophisticated, artistic and loving family who also observe the old traditions of pre Islamic Java. She has known life in the city of Jakarta, and also in Yogyakarta, which is a large town, but rather like a village in so many ways. She is steeped in Javanese tradition, at the same time as being a cosmopolitan, privileged young woman of the 21st Century. 

In the 2021 Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) Kamila Andini was in the nominations list for her sensitive work as Director on “YUNI”. Yes, this emerging young director, is in a list competing against a maestro of world cinema, Asghar Farhadi, who started his journey on the road to international fame at APSA too, back in 2009, when he came to the Gold Coast with a film in competition, “About Elly”, and a screenplay that won a grant, and became the worldwide hit “A Separation”, which ultimately won the Academy Award for foreign language films. When he first came to APSA, he too was unknown outside his own country, and had made only a couple of previous feature films.

In previous APSA years, two of Kamila Andini’s films have won Best Youth Feature Film. They were”The Mirror Never Lies”, and “The Seen and the Unseen”.

I would think that this film “YUNI” could not be screened in Indonesian cinemas, without some censorship cuts of certain scenes, and if that were to happen, it would remove a crucial aspect of the story of Yuni’s life, and weaken the film’s statement.  This would be a great pity, because so many millions, yes millions of young women there would very much appreciate seeing, in its entirety, a film that tells their own story.  (The island of Java has a population of around 130 million and half of them are women.)

Copyright – Cynthia Webb

29th October, 2021

photo of Kamila Andini, by Cynthia Webb

Film Poster, thanks to the Producers

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) returning home to City of Gold Coast in 2021.

by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia

Great news has been announced on 26th July 2021, concerning the future of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. After a quite long and worrisome period with the future of APSA in doubt after Brisbane City Council decided its budget would no longer include this prestigious international cinema awards event, City of Gold Coast, (the location of APSA’s first five years), has now called this prestige event back home.

There will be the third Asia Pacific Screen Forum, from 11th to the 16th November, and the Presentation of the Awards for this year’s full competition, will be on the 11th November, and will be live streamed to the world. There was no competition last year because of Covid-19 pandemic, so this is the 14th APSA event. The inaugural APSA Ceremony was in 2007 at City of Gold Coast, and since then the APSA Academy has grown to around 1,200 members, including some of the world’s greatest names of cinema.

The announcement was made at the outdoor theatre of The Home of the Arts, (HOTA). It is Gold Coast’s Arts Centre which includes a state of the art theatre for stage and screen events, and two art house cinemas, a recently opened five floor art gallery, bar, shop and café, and an outdoor stage with ‘bowl’ style grass seating. It is a great venue and since back before the 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast City Council has been assuring us that they are concentrating on building the Arts and Culture side of this city, already famed for outdoor life beach life, sun and surf.

On a sunny Monday morning, the announcement was made to a gathering of local media people. The Chair of APSA, Ms Tracey Viera spoke of the amazing diversity of the Asia Pacific region and how the cinema of that region reflects that diversity, and can teach audiences so much about other cultures.

Two internationally successful actors were present, David Wenham of Australia, and Cliff Curtis of New Zealand. Both are currently at Gold Coast working. Both have attended previous APSA Ceremonies, and Cliff Curtis won the Best Actor Award in 2014 for his role in “The Dark Horse”.

Mr Wenham said that he has attended film events and awards ceremonies all over the world, and called APSA the “most exciting” because of the diversity of fascinating cultures included in the region of the Asia Pacific. He was also most impressed by the spirit of camaraderie amongst the visiting film-makers, supporting one another and taking opportunities to support each other and collaborate any way possible.

The Asia-Pacific region includes 70 countries and areas, and has 4.5 billion people, and creates half of the world’s film output. The three countries producing the most film and television are India, South Korea, and Turkey, all in Asia. This is according to the author Fatima Bhutto’s book “New Kings of the World”, about this subject.

APSA has been the first stepping stone along the way to international fame and renown for quite a few directors over the last 15 years, the most obvious being Iran’s Asghar Farhadi now often referred to as a “maestro of world cinema”. Recognition at APSA has assisted many films to gain wider distribution too.

David Wenham praised the Gold Coast and its superb winter weather, the many and varied shooting locations close by, and the Village Roadshow/Warner Bros complex of sound-stages, complete with one of the world’s quite uncommonly found large water tanks for shooting scenes at sea… (e.g. A “Pirates of the Caribbean” film was made there).

Mr Wenham said that Baz Luhrmann had recently told him that he thought it was one of the very best places in the world to shoot a film.

There are around three or four films underway at Gold Coast right now, and it’s difficult to find crews, Ms Tracey Viera added. There are job opportunities right now, including chances to begin a career as a crew member, she said.

The Mayor of City of Gold Coast, Mr Tom Tate, mentioned that bringing APSA back to the city, is part of an ongoing plan to expand the local economy, and mentioned a possibility of more infra structure for film production – perhaps another Film Studio complex in future. He will encourage the State Government and private enterprise to contribute to this future development of our film-making facilities.

Cliff Curtis called the film studios we already have here “phenomenal” saying he wished there was such a studio complex in New Zealand. He also praised the Gold Coast as a safe location in the time of COVID-19. He has recently done some research about Queensland’s response to controlling the pandemic, and he found that our State has an even better record of success and a lower number of cases and deaths, than New Zealand. He said according to his research Queensland is about the size of both islands of his homeland across the Tasman Sea. So on the grounds of this research, Cliff Curtis has brought his wife and ‘some of the children’ over to live at Gold Coast with him while he’s working on the new film, and they can escape the coldest months of the New Zealand winter here. We all know that New Zealand is world famous for the prompt and efficient way they minimized their exposure to the pandemic.

This is Cliff’s ‘vote of confidence in Queensland and City of Gold Coast.

City of Gold Coast has cast a big vote of confidence in world cinema and in one of our most important local industries – film-making.

Australian actor, David Wenham
Mayor of Gold Coast Tom Tate
Actor, Cliff Curtis, from New Zealand

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“Girls Can’t Surf” documentary, 2021 directed by Christopher Nelius……..comments by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia

Image: Wendy Botha ( 4 time World Women’s Champion, 1987, 1989, 1991, 1992. She is taking part in a Q & A after the screening, along with Cheyne Horan, a surfing contemporary of hers, who knew the right questions to ask! Photo by Cynthia Webb

How many times did I hear that (Girls cant surf!) during the thirty years that I was a practising surfer?

I spent most of my lifetime either inside or strongly connected to the world of surfing, in New Zealand, and then from 1970 at Gold Coast, Australia. I observed the whole history, since I began to surf in 1960 with the earliest of them, in my homeland, New Zealand, and where, in 1964 and 1965 I was the first (and second) Women’s Champion. It was an era of amateur competition, just organised by enthusiastic local people, and there were not yet any big surfing based companies. In 1964, New Zealand’s organisers didn’t even program a Women’s Event, when there would have been enough to have at least one competition heat.

I am telling my own history to explain the difference in the surfing experience, once surfing became a professional sport. Also to show that I have my own personal experience of observing the story told in this film. Even though I was not actually involved in it, I knew full well just what women surfers were having to put up with.

I started so early that I didn’t have to go through the discrimination and prejudice and plain abuse that the women in this film suffered. There were so few surfers then – male or female. Often I was the only surfer out at my home beach, Whangamata, NZ. By the time there were quite a lot of guys out in my home break, I was as good as a lot of them who were still learning, just because I had started several years earlier than they did. It didn’t last long, I have to admit!

This documentary film, which has been so long coming, tells the story from beginning of the era of professional surfing, so it covers from 1980 on-wards. By then I was busy with family and watching from the outside, but feeling the pain in empathy with my surfing sisters. I personally, had no real competitive urge, but was in surfing for the sheer love of it. The difference between these professional surfing women and me is huge.

These amazing women, featured in Chris Nelius’ remarkable film, are so brave, ambitious and determined, and I am in awe of them for their ‘never-give-up’ spirit. I could never have withstood the obstacles they faced in their path to fame and renown, as Women’s World Champions. Nor could I have matched their incredible surfing ability.

They are, Wendy Botha, Jodie Cooper, Pam Burridge, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Anderson, Freida Zamba, Layne Beachley, and finally we see Stephanie Gilmore….all of whom won a World Title…and also the sisters from California who were in there too, but the obstacles so often stalled their careers. Wendy Botha said that from the age of 14 or 15, she wanted to be Number One. She came to Australia from South Africa to pursue this ambition.

The typical obstacles they faced were:

1. A general entrenched attitude amongst the males, that “Girls can’t surf”. (Even though if those men looked honestly they would have seen clearly that girls COULD surf, and some could surf a lot better than a lot of them!)

It eventually happened that Lisa Anderson (USA) had the cover photo of a leading surfing magazine, in a most awesome position on a wave. A woman on the covers was unheard of beforehand. AND, the mischievous editors put a caption in a most noticeable spot – bottom right corner reading, “Lisa Anderson surfs better than you.” Most buyers of these surf magazines are male.

By then Lisa was also the mother of a very young baby, waiting on the beach! This scene brought a loud cheer from the largely female audience in the cinema where I attended the Queensland Premiere of this excellent documentary film. Note that even now, I suspect that the men are not really interested in women’s surfing or more of them would have been there, at HOTA,(Home of the Arts) Gold Coast, at a screening organized by Gold Coast Film Festival in a series called “Trailblazers”.

Obstacle 2. Bored judges with that preconceived notion in their minds.

Obstacle 3. At contests, the women’s events were usually held at the worst possible times for surf conditions, such as lunch-break, low tide and smallest surf times, or after the on-shore or crosswind has come up.

Obstacle 4. The prize money for the Women’s Champion was vastly less than for the Men’s Champion – at least one-quarter, or less. Sometimes in the earlier days, one-tenth! One time there was no prize at all, not even a trophy! Please note: It took 40 years (until 2019) for the World Surfing Association to announce that at long last, the Women’s World Champion would receive equal prize-money as the Men’s Champion. Some of the responsibility rests on the sponsors, the surfing companies, who didn’t have much interest as they didn’t really have much stock for women. The coming of the ROXY brand, made a big difference, because then they actually needed some top women surfers to wear their products in the surf and in advertising.

I might be a bit cynical, but I have been inside the surfing scene, and seen and heard a lot about attitudes, so I wonder if they were just forced into it by political correctness, world opinion, and concerns that the brands of their sponsors might suffer if they didn’t surrender, and treat the women surfers with more respect.

Obstacle 5. The worst one of all was verbal and even physical abuse sometimes experienced at a most appalling level.

A glorious moment in the history of women’s surfing and in the film, was when at a contest in the USA, the OP Pro, the surf conditions had become totally unsurfable… tiny waves, low tide, and breaking into the rocks, and yet there was a huge crowd on the beach, there to see surfing! The sponsors expected the organizers to HAVE surfing, so those organizers decided that the women should go out and surf. This was just the last insult to the brave women, brilliant surfers who had had enough! They went on strike. They just sat on the beach beside their boards and refused to go out into the water. This shocked the board-shorts off the organizers, and in the end had the desired effect. I was writing in my notebook, “These women need a Union”, immediately before the film showed the footage of the women on strike. I had tears in my eyes..

The World contest organizers had been pressured at one time (after a recession in the early 1990s when sponsorship money from the biggest surf companies dried up to low levels) to cancel the women’s events altogether, so that there would be more money for the male competitors! I hadn’t heard about this, and was aghast when it came up in the film.

Even back in my years as my country’s champion, The amateur Surfing Association wrote to me that I should get a passport, and smallpox vaccination ( which was required for overseas travel back then) as they had sponsorship money from Air New Zealand, and the male junior champion ( Alan Byrne) and senior champion (John McDermott) and I would be going to compete in a world championship competition in the USA. A few weeks passed, and after I had done both of those things, they contacted me again to say there was now less money, so I would not be going! This was in the mid 1960s.

The brave professional women surfers tell their personal stories in this documentary too and there are many moving moments. Most of them have been through immense personal trials, but all through it, their love for surfing prevailed and gave them courage and a reason to carry on. Their stories of their competitive careers in the 1980s and 1990s are told, and they all still surf now.

I have seen a lot of the major movies about surfing that have been made since about the mid 1960s, and none I saw featured women surfers in an equal light as surfers, but only brief shots of shapely bikini clad women on the beach, (eye-candy for the blokes who watched the films.)

Surf movies were just one more thing to feed “the impossible sense of their own magnificence” as Nick Carroll said in the film, describing the attitude of the blokes towards the female surfers.

(He is a former professional surfer, and surf journalist.)

After 40plus years, Christopher Nelius has at last treated women’s surfing with equal respect to men’s surfing, and told a story that must be told.The fact is, it was an era that lasted far too long, where plain male-chauvinism in the upper levels of the professional association and surf corporations continued until 2019. I hope some of them are sorry, and some of them angry about it, if and when they watch this excellent piece of documentary cinema. They will see and think for the first time about how while they were staying in 5-star hotels in international surf venues, the women were sleeping in a kind local person’s backyard in a tent, or sharing a motel room with a large number of them, sleeping on the floors, sofas, chairs.

Following the screening was a Q and A with Wendy Botha, who was a 4 times World Women’s Champion, 1987,1989, 1991 and 1992. She also won a major title in 1979 in South Africa, before moving to Australia and becoming a citizen. She told the stories of some of her own accommodation experiences. They usually travelled with little or no money, and depended on having ‘friends in every port’! The moderator was Cheyne Horan, (yes a male!) who was a champion in the same era and knew the right questions to ask.

As for me, I am so proud of these heroic women, my surfing sisters.

Copyright, Cynthia Webb – 9 February 2021

Image: Ex World Champion, 1987,1989, 1991, 1992 -Wendy Botha speaking with Cheyne Horan ( yes a male surfer of the same era) as Moderator. He knew the right questions to ask.

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by Cynthia Webb, City of Gold Coast, QLD, Australia

This year’s much smaller event was held at HOTA (Home of the Arts) City of Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

The usual glittering and glamorous Asia Pacific Screen Awards event could not happen in Brisbane in the usual form in this COVID-19 year, as during the past eight years. In previous years many of the nominated international filmmakers from the Asia Pacific Region are present in person, and there is a lot of excitement in the air, as some of the legends of world cinema are among us.

However, the annual announcements of the recipients of four grants in the sum of $US25,000 (the richest film-making grants in the Asia-Pacific region) went ahead on 26th November, at Home of the Arts (HOTA) City of Gold Coast.

Forever optimistic and committed to this grants program, the names of four new recipients for the eleventh straight year, 2021. They are for projects from The Philippines, Japan, Palestine, and India.

The Annual FIAPF Award was also announced, and a legendary Thai film producer, Soros Sukhum was chosen this year. The FIAPF Award recognises the recipient’s long term valuable contributions to cinema of their country and the region. Also recognized with the NETPAC Young Cinema Award, was Akshay Indikar for his film “Chronicle of Space”, and there was a Special Mention for local film-maker Stephen Maxwell Johnson, for his feature film “High Ground”.

The annual APSA FORUM for film industry professionals was also held during the previous week at HOTA, utilising on screen ZOOM style communications with the panellists and professionals, sharing their wisdom. The Forum was somewhat reduced in events and numbers of attendees, because of the troublesome travel and financial restrictions.

While considering APSA’s importance it must be remembered that Asia-Pacific is now the world’s biggest film and Television series producing region. I would just like to remind you that Asia officially includes countries from the landmass starting at the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and eastwards all the way to the east coast of Russia, China, down into South Korea, Japan. Also of course, India and South East Asia, our neighbours. It is one-third of the world.

It is known that the most prodigious film and television making nations in the world, taking over the streaming market with films and Series, are Turkey, South Korea and India, all in Asia. In fact, Europe, UK and USA are getting left way behind. You can read all about that in the recently published book, by Fatima Bhutto, “Kings of the World” where she explains it all and gives the statistics to prove it.

We always knew we adored the cinema for the big screen experience, for entertainment, and for education and for art’s sake. Now we love our streaming on the home-screen too, enabling the ‘binge-watching’ of riveting series from around the world and viewing of international films. Currently there is quite a lot of fear about the survival of the world’s cinemas, because of the combination of changes in people’s viewing habits, and COVID-19’s effects on the world of film.

COVID-19 has demonstrated that film and video professionals are the ones who helped the world to carry on in 2020, enabling ZOOM conferences, and everything from working from home to the world leaders’ G20 Summit meeting in November. Screen, cinema, video is THE art-form of the 21st century.


APSA was founded in 2007. The concept came from Mr Des Power, who at the time was Chairman of Queensland Events Corporation (part of the Queensland State Government). He’s an independent writer and producer and a man who loves cinema. He had a lot of knowledge of the international cinema-scene and realised that the Asia Pacific region had no platform of its own, for its films compete and gain international recognition. He was also aware of the massive potential as Asia in particular is the mega financial growth region of the 21st Century.

In the past a small number of the region’s films have managed to find acceptance and even top prizes at European film festivals, during the 20th Century. This year for the first time in history a film from South Korea, actually won Best Feature Film at the Academy Awards in Hollywood. It was of course, “Parasite” by Bong, Joon Ho, a film which had already won Best Feature film at the 2019 APSA Awards several months earlier. It also won Best International Feature film, Best Director, and Best Screenplay at the Academy Awards.

Never was there a clearer sign that the cinema energy, originality, is now focused in Asia.

Creating the Asia Pacific Screen Awards was indeed an idea ahead of its time. Along with it is the APSA Academy. Both are designed in a similar form to the Hollywood Academy’s own “Academy Awards. Both are not a “film festivals”, but an Awards Ceremonies of the highest quality. Juries and selection panels were always appointed from the Asia-Pacific region’s foremost film-makers and producers.

People in the world cinema industry recognised that this was not a little local event in Australia, but had real credibility and demanded the highest standards of a film to get through the submission process, and into the nominations. Usually the submitted films numbered around 345, and the final nominations numbered around 40 fabulous films! The winners were therefore superb cinema, and during the period 2007-2019 some films which won their first award here at APSA later went on to win at the most prestigious European venues, such as Cannes Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Berlinale, and others. This is evidence of APSA’s high standard of excellence in recognising the region’s best films. The world’s top directors considered it important and worthwhile to submit their work to APSA.

Most importantly it gave the Asia-Pacific region’s film-makers their own competition platform, and has increased international awareness of the region’s remarkable cinema.

APSA 2007 through to 2011, was held at City of Gold Coast, a seaside tourist resort city ninety kilometres to the south of Brisbane, and it was supported by the Queensland State Government. Then there was a change of government in in the State to a different political party, one less interested in arts and cultural events, and in the budgeting and cost-cutting that followed, APSA was ‘dropped’.

However, the Brisbane City Council came to the rescue and from 2012, until 2019 were wonderful hosts as the APSA Academy grew ever larger with its membership now numbering over 1,000 of the Asia-Pacific region’s foremost film-makers. It was a great companion event to Brisbane Art Gallery’s Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, making the city a genuine international Arts Hub.

The APSA Academy joined forces with the Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA) to fund special grants for selected screenplays that needed financial assistance to help their directors complete the films. Over a million US Dollars have been awarded and it has been a huge stimulus for the region. The outstanding example is “A Separation” by Asghar Farhadi of Iran, which won its first prize, Best Feature Film at APSA the year after Farhadi received the grant. About three months later it was the first Iranian film to win Best Foreign Language Film at the Hollywood Academy Awards. Farhadi went from obscurity, to world acclaim in about one year, as his film collected awards around the world. Since then he has returned to Brisbane to serve as Head of the APSA Jury.

APSA also joined forces with Griffith Film School, in Brisbane, and created a “Screen-Lab”. This gave another way of supporting emerging film-makers with their projects, by arranging for them to have a mentor from the APSA Academy – someone who would be chosen for their suitability to the project and the young film-maker. A recent major success from this program was Siew Hua Yeo of Singapore, with his evocative film showing a hitherto unseen side of his island nation, “A Land Imagined”.

But early in 2020, the Brisbane City Council announced that they would not fund APSA this year. As it happened, with COVID-19 spreading rapidly around the world, the big event couldn’t be held anyway. Travel restrictions and quarantine put an end to that.

The Executive Director of APSA Ms Jaclyn McLendon, even after officially losing her job, has worked with awesome dedication and determination to find a way to keep APSA going.

It occurred to me that after thirteen years of work, celebration of cinema, building up an international reputation and creating the Academy of Asia-Pacific Nominees and Winners over twelve years, APSA is now rather like an elegant empty mansion, waiting for it’s new owners to move in, to love and care for it, enhance its value even more.

Where are these people of vision and love for the cinema?

Ideally APSA should remain in either Brisbane or City of Gold Coast, to take advantage of the partnership built up with Griffith Film School.

The new “owners” of the beautiful ‘mansion’ that is APSA would gain world-wide publicity, recognition and respect for the maturity of a city that knows the value of the Arts. We only need to look at the recognition that flows to Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and so many other cities, because of their being ‘home’ to the world’s most respected film festivals.

To see the precious structure that is APSA, end up wasted and fade into the past is enough to make me weep. These are tough times yes, but let’s not sacrifice any more than we have to because of COVID-19, and the financial stresses that it has forced upon the world, or worse still, because of a lack of knowledge and vision.

Cynthia Webb,

copyright December 2020.

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“SON-MOTHER” (2019, Iran) directed by Mahnaz Mohammadi

review by Cynthia Webb ( December, 2020)

The first feature film for the director, Mahnaz Mohammadi of Iran is a work of great emtional power and realism and it is also educational for those who live outside Iran.

“Son-Mother” (2019) is screening in the Sydney Film Festival, December, 2020. (If you are in Australia you can stream it online from their website until 20th Dec 2020). This is an important film, which not only introduces audiences to a gifted film director, but also informs us about the kind of excruciating situations that women in The Islamic Republic of Iran can find themselves in. It is also beautifully directed, acted, edited, and I could find no fault with it.

Today’s Iran is a man’s world, which Mahnaz (a young woman director who was previously awarded in international festivals for her documentary films) is showing us. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the traditional ways are definitely favouring men, and women are suffering many indignities that women of the so-called West couldn’t begin to imagine.

Mahnaz has twice been imprisoned by the regime for her statements in her films, which were perceived to be anti the regime’s treatment of women. She is a brave and beautiful woman who described to me in person, her times in prison. The first time, speaking of 2 months in solitary confinement, she admitted that it was very, very hard for her. However, the second time, she stated it was not so bad because “all my friends were in there too,” – referring to other female activists.

Here in the 2019 film “Son-Mother” we watch a film in two segments. The IMDb site tells us that the screenplay is by Mohammad Rassoulof, who is one of Iran’s most respected directors, who has also been a longtime critic of the regime in his homeland, via his filmmaking.

Mahnaz’ film tells us about the excruciating difficulties of a young widow, Leila, the “mother” of the title. After becoming a widow, the fact that her beloved son Amin even exists is a stumbling block for her future options.

The second segment shows us how these excruciating problems for her, affect her son Amin, who is aged around 12 or 13 years old.

Leila is being courted by a nice man named Kazem. However, he is a widower with a daughter of around the same age as Amin. It is deemed to be not proper for these two young people to be in the same household together… “What will people say?” Kazem wants to marry Leila, but his conditions are painfully difficult for her. His condition is that she send her son away for about three years, until such time as his daughter is engaged or already married off. He is a kind man with the best of intentions, and Leila realises this, but her motherly heart of course is appalled by this condition of his offer, because she loves her son and wants to keep him with her.

In this very relevant and perceptive screenplay, the young mother of two, Leila has to wrestle with this problem. She is a widow, and her son Amin, is about age 13 and she also has a baby daughter who is around one year old.

At her place of work in a factory, she is also experiencing many difficulties. Being a widow is one big problem in Iran, as people see widows as dangerous, reckless, even immoral. Also, she has been late to work quite a few times , because of her responsibilities to her children. She suffers abuse from colleagues. All this, and more besides, is revealed by scenes of her being called to the personnel manager at the factory where she works.

This moving scenario takes the Western audience into situations we could never imagine, and we are sympathetic to both Leila and her suitor Kazem, and even towards the Personnel Manager at her place of employment.

However, the most unfair and painful load rests on the young shoulders of her son, the boy Amin. He sees and hears everything. He is brave and self-sacrificing as he agrees to the so-called “solution” that is offered to his desperate mother, who soon becomes unemployed due to the prejudice of her work colleagues. A woman named Bibi offers to assist. She has been coming to Leila on behalf of Kazem, conveying his ardent messages of persuasion in support of the marriage. She works in a boarding school for deaf/mute boys and claims to have known Kazem since his childhood, but I wonder if she is a professional “match-maker” on the side.

This screenplay, because it is so personal, arouses the empathy of the viewer is to the utmost degree.

The true value of “Son-Mother” is to communicate to the audiences outside Iran, just what kind of world the people must struggle in.The widow Leila is struggling, but there is pain for her suitor Kazem too, that he musteven put such a condition to her. The Iranians themselves know only too well, how things are in their ancient and proud land, now ruled by an unpopular government. Elections do not serve to remove them.

“Son-Mother” contains quite a few powerful metaphorical images which you will find for yourself: However, some I will mention: – A shot of Leila walking in a crowded Tehran street, and she is surrounded by a sea of men, – she’s the lone woman in the shot. It’s a man’s world.

There is a beautiful scene of Leila behind a window covered with a curtain – she’s just a shadow, walking back and forth, holding and humming a song to her younger child. This is the condition of so many women in today’s Iran – just a shadow, powerless.

There are more, of these visual metaphors and you will find them and feel them. I don’t want to spoil your viewing experience if you are lucky enough to get a chance to see this important film, please do.

There is some uncommonly effective editing…. holding a couple of frames for much longer than we are accustomed to. Do not look away! I think maybe you cannot anyway, because our attention is locked on to these protagonists.

The most crucial revelation of all, I must speak of: It is coming through loud and clear in the second section of the film, entitled “SON”. This dear boy Amin, is all eyes and ears, and he knows everything as his own life changes and he is in a new life situation. Having understood and silently agreed to go along with it – he finds himself in a boarding school for deaf and mute boys. There he is talented at playing the part – it’s necessary. His wide all-seeing eyes never falter and he is strong, in not communicating but instead playing the role of a deaf-mute for as long as necessary, to help his mother and baby sister.

He observes everything..especially the blatant lies being told by his mother and her helper Bibi. With considerable aptitude, he begins to play his part in weaving a web of lies. He reminded me of one of the Three Wise Monkeys, (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil), or so it appears to others. But actually, he hears and sees everything.. just doesn’t speak. Amin has learned a dreadful thing – that to survive in today’s Iran it is often necessary to lie and that adults are doing it all the time. It is such a terrible thing to understand at such a young age.

This story demonstrates that the contemporary way of life in Iran sometimes demands 100% sacrifice from many women, and in this particular story, demands 100% sacrifice from children too. Amin grows up much too fast.

It seems there is no provision for plight of widows in the Islamic Republic of Iran. I seem to recall that in Arabia there was a tradition that brothers of the deceased man would take in the widow as a second wife to take care of her. In this story there is no brother in evidence, and this is Iran, a different culture altogether. A different type of Islam, (Shia, not Sunni). I admit I don’t know what the tradition providing for widows is there if they have one.

However, I do know the director personally, and if Mahnaz Mohammadi says this is what can happen in Iran, I believe her.

“Son-Mother” is very good cinema – the directing, the screenplay, the cinematography, the editing, the acting, the sound… all of it.. and filmed in the actual locations in Tehran. Here is a debut film that looks like something from a long experienced director….and it is a must-see film. Even if I had never met Mahnaz I would be quite ‘knocked out’ by the quality of this strong feature film. I congratulate her, even while revealing to readers that she is a friend of mine.

By Cynthia Webb

copyright, December, 2020

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“They Call Me Babu” (Netherlands, 2019) writer/director, Sandra Beerends

POSTER They call me Babu 2019 Nederlands
REVIEW by Cynthia Webb

Infused with respect and an under-current of regret to the people of Indonesia from a Dutch woman film-maker, this documentary by Sandra Beerends is a very valuable work, a gift. Ms Beerends’ own mother had a ‘babu’ (the word is a combination of two Javanese words… Mbak (miss or sister) and Ibu (mother)and told her stories about her own childhood nanny. To prepare the film Ms Beerends talked with many people from Dutch families who had a babu to care for the children. Ms Beerends and her collaborators spent a huge amount of time viewing archival footage and creating this artful concept for a beautiful documentary, which plays almost like a feature film.I would imagine that choosing footage, and marrying it with the story would have been a task which was a two-way interaction, with each aspect taking priority at different stages.

Ms Beerends has written the story of Alima, a fictitious young Javanese girl who was embedded in a Dutch family, living and working with them as a babu for several years until 1942. That’s when the Japanese invaded Indonesia, causing upheaval for the Dutch, and promising the Indonesians “liberation”/merdeka, a promise they did not fulfill. Things got worse, not better. Alima suddenly found herself alone again when all of her Dutch family were suddenly taken to prison camps and their house seized by the Japanese.
Babu Alima had even returned to Holland with them during her time working for the family…On the journey she learned a lot about the world beyond Java, and marveled at how the Dutch family ‘behaved the same everywhere, as if the world belonged to them.’ She also learned that servants in Holland were entitled to one day off a week, something which was denied to her by the same family, when in Java – “Different rules apply here,” she was told curtly upon their return.

They had arrived in the Netherlands in winter, and she wore a winter coat over her batik kain (sarong) and a beret as she walked Jantje in his pram around the snowy streets, and stared in wonder at ice skaters on the canals. It was so bleak and cold and stern, an extreme contrast to her sunny, warm and gentle homeland. As the family are leaving Holland after three months, they travel to Genoa by train, passing through Germany, where we see the ominous sight of a Nazi swastika flag flying from a building beside the River Rhine.

When they all returned to Java, Alima saw her home with new eyes. She was changed forever, and no longer fitted so seamlessly in her own culture.

After the Japanese took control, Alima worked for a while with a wealthy Chinese family whom she found cheerful and kind, but difficult to get used to, as they had such different ways than the Dutch family. She loved little Jantje and always missed him. She left and went to Jakarta.
There she met and fell in love with a young man, Ribut ( meaning noisy) who has freedom on his mind and is a follower of Sukarno. Just to see the footage of the young Sukarno speaking to his people, rousing their desire for independence, and other historic moments, including his arrival in Bogor at the Palace to take his place as first president of Indonesia, is inspiring and worth the price of the ticket to view this wonderful documentary film at home, as part of the “online” Sydney Film Festival of 2020.

The young couple return to his (and her) hometown Yogyakarta in Central Java, when the War of Independence begins after the Japanese surrender and departure, which was followed soon after by the return of the Dutch. Just imagine the immense dismay in the hearts of the Indonesians. It’s heartbreaking. Although the Dutch homeland had been occupied by the Nazis, they still hadn’t understood that they were doing the same thing in Java….for 300 years. But this time the Indonesians were determined to have freedom, and led by Sukarno they fought for and gained their independence in 1949, after having actually declared Indonesia a free nation on 17th August 1945.

This story told with compilation footage has a touching conclusion and contains some magical moments of joy for Alima and Ribut, although they lived through so much turmoil.

Alima’s life is a blend of the lives of many young Javanese women who worked as a ‘babu’ but is true to the historical facts and rings very ‘true’. Alima’s young life straddles the birth of a nation. It tells one woman’s story, a part of the colonialism that was no doubt also happening in many other countries in the era of colonialism by European countries of lands in the south.

The archival film is beautifully edited to complement the story and the pace is gentle and quiet in spite of the sometimes turbulent historical events.

The film-maker has been fortunate to find a Dutch family where it seems that the father was a home movie enthusiast and made a lot of documentation of his family life and the children growing up. As Alima is with the youngest child twenty-four hours a day, she is seen a lot in the first half of the film.

It has the same ‘energy’ of calm and softness that is typical of the Javanese culture, so refined and delicate, and the story is told through Alima’s eyes. The voice of the narrator and the words that Ms Beerends has written for her are perfect and feel ‘right’ to me, as someone who for twenty-five years has been close to the Javanese in modern times.

There are included a small number of out of context scenes that are actually shot in Bali not Java, however they won’t be noticed by many viewers unless they are Indonesians, and they still complement the narrative well. Some other footage is placed there for it’s metaphorical significance, such as the scene of the crocodiles being captured. It’s a vicious battle which we see before the final battle of the War of Independence. Another metaphor is the image of a somewhat greedy Dutch man on board the ship, taking three large spoonfuls of rice for his own plate, under the unsmiling, and disapproving gaze of an Indonesian waiter.

I very much hope that Indonesians will be offered the opportunity to see this beautiful film. I think they will appreciate the recognition of their story and the empathetic and respectful way in which it has been told.

by Cynthia Webb
Copyright June 2020

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“The Beach” (2020) by Warwick Thornton

Alexandra Wyman “THE BEACH”(2020) produced and directed by Warwick Thornton (Australia)

“The Beach” (the TV SERIES) produced and directed by Warwick Thornton, has just concluded its premiere screening on SBS and NITV tonight…29 May 2020. This was the chance to see the six episodes in one long, glorious viewing. Thornton, is one of Australia’s leading film directors, famous for “Sweet Country”(2018), “Samson and Delilah”(2009).

For a break from the pressures of modern life, Thornton goes to the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia for a few months living in a corrugated iron hut on a spectacular spot beside the Indian Ocean, under the awe-inspiring skies, with the Milky Way hanging overhead. He’s eating from the sea and mangroves and gifts of eggs from his three chickens. He’s well-equipped with tools, and cooking equipment,carefully chosen to create a certain harmonious “look” of the time of exploration and do-it-yourself rustic independence and, he has his chickens for company. It turns out that Warwick Thornton is a creative cook, and the culinary influences are decidedly South East Asian.

He shares his deepest personal memories while chatting with the chickens. Past regrets and an animal ghost from the past that still haunt him are revealed.

The D.O.P was Warwick’s son Dylan(River)Thornton, and the images are superb, and this is an occasion when use of drone photography was necessary to capture the vastness. Although of course, Warwick Thornton was there with a film crew, we see only him, alone with the glories of remote North Western Australia, plus the local birds, insects and fish! Months of footage have been beautifully edited to guide us through Warwick’s self exploration and the daily routine of his ‘retreat’.

I hope they plan to enter this film in festivals around the world, because it is compulsive viewing and gorgeous to behold. It is also highly entertaining with a few laugh out loud moments, and the almost three hour duration passed quickly and left me wanting more! The glorious visuals and the deft editing saw to that.

It seems to me that this ‘film’ has the potential to be a major international success, and will show international audiences the awesome Australian coastal wildnerness. It could possibly re-start tourism in remote Australia too, after we’ve all finished ‘self-isolating’ because of COVID-19, as Warwick Thornton was before us, for different reasons.

Note: If you didn’t watch the premiere tonight, you can find it in six episodes on SBS on Demand. If you love good cinema, please watch.
by Cynthia Webb

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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

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
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)


“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.

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.


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

Copyright – Cynthia Webb, December 2018

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

Esrafil poster
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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Press Conference with Oliver Stone, Tehran, Iran. At the Fajr International Film Festival, 19-27 April, 2018

Press Conference 25th April 2018 at the Fajr International Film Festival, (FIFF),Tehran, Iran.
(Festival Director, respected Iranian film maker Reza Mirkarimi.)
Report by Cynthia Webb (Tehran, Iran)

Media from Iran, from nearby countries, and even from Agence France Presse,and even Hollywood, attended this very interesting Press Conference, with a man who is certainly not a typical American film-maker, however he is a very famous one. His films have won several Oscars, and he has always had an interest in “the other side of the story” which is demonstrated by his documentaries as well as the feature films. His documentaries include interviews with Arafat,Castro, Chavez, Netanyahu, and Putin, and the ten episode series: The Untold History of the United States of America, made with a prominent American historian, which is riveting viewing.
Mr Stone came to Iran a few days early, and visited, Kashan and Esfahan before coming to the FIFF for workshops with Iranian film students and the press conference. Apparently he is the first big name American film-maker to ever attend this festival. As for the Fajr International Film Festival, he mentioned that it was a great opportunity for inter-dialogue between film-makers and other people.

He said it is his first time to come to Iran, and that he has met the warmest of hosts, and smiles. He added that movies speak any language.
Mr Stone explained that he had seen between 12-24 Iranian films, amongst thousands from many other countries. At this Film Festival he has watched about ten films, and was particularly impressed by those from Central Asia, Russia and even Germany too. He said it was a more relaxed festival for him, because he was not presenting a film of his own.

When asked why he accepted the invitation to come to Iran, Oliver Stone replied ,“ The history and culture. Persia has been on the map for two and a half thousand years. I was always interested in Iran but I have been very busy. However, this Festival is at the right time for me, and my son and my South Korean wife have urged me to come here. I am having a wonderful time.”

As for Iranian films, Mr Stone said that when he was on the Jury of a Film Festival in Bhutan, he saw many interesting Asian films, and “Blockage” from Iran was one of the co-winners . He commented that it was a very honest film, about corruption, even in everyday problems. He said, “The main character was a policeman, and there seemed to be no shame about the corruption. The film was absorbing to watch and the Jury all loved that film. It happens everywhere to some extent.”

In recent years, Mr Stone has made a lot of documentaries: “The Untold History of the USA”, The Putin Interviews, and also films about Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, Arafat, Benjamin Netanyahu. He said he has been finding it refreshing to get back to reality, and talk to real leaders. When asked if he had any plan to make a film about an Iranian leader, he answered that he did not.
Another question came about if he had considered making a film about the activities of ISIS, which are seriously affecting some countries in the region. He said “That’s a very good idea! Write a treatment and we’ll pitch it!” He was smiling, and then added that actually the world is very political, including the world of cinema and thatthere’d be little chance of him getting the money for such a project.
“You can do it honestly, here in Iran,” he added.

Deborah Young from “The Hollywood Report” asked his opinion of the situation regarding famous Iranian director, Jafar Panahi. Mr Panahi has a film in the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, (“3 Faces”) as does another Iranian, Asghar Farhadi. Mr Panahi cannot attend, as his passport is still revoked by the Iranian government.
Mr Stone did not know the full details and said that if Mr Panahi had made quite a few films, then that is an achievement in itself, and that he is personally against all ‘detention’.

(Note from the writer:) Mr Panahi was arrested, forbidden from making films for 25 years, passport revoked, and he was under house arrest for a long time. This was because of his outspoken comments in the street demonstrations after an election in Iran, in 2009. He also had a history of making films critical of the Iranian regime, particularly with regard to women’s rights, and even his newest film “3 Face” has that same theme. It later won a shared Best Screenplay prize at Cannes Film Festival, 2018.)

Asked what he thought of Iranian films, Mr Stone said that a few were very good, and continued, ,“I often wonder how can some films are so monotonous and don’t have enough tension. He made this comment in general , about films from many lands that he sees in Festivals across the world. He then advised – “Make your film exciting.” He mentioned that the issue of pace is subjective, according to your cultural background and told an anecdote about the legendary Billy Wilder (Hollywood director) who said “Make your point and get off. Cut the film in three weeks and have a preview.”

The subject of international prejudice against Iran was raised, when another reporter mentioned that lately a lot of films had made Iranians the villains. (e.g. Hollywood’s “ARGO”).

Then Mr Stone brought up his film “Alexander” 2004, (Iskandar) which was discussed in some journals as “anti-Iranian”. He clearly had a lot of historical knowledge about Alexander The Great’s exploits in Iran, and the historical battles with the army of Emperor Darius. He told the audience that there have been several versions of this film released on DVD, and that he had a lot of trouble with Warner Bros Studio’s very strong management. He said they had wanted a lot of things censored, such as sex between males, and the violence cut down. “It was very limiting” said Mr Stone. “The only version to watch, the one that I supervised and love is available widely around the world, entitled “Alexander: The Ultimate Cut” which came out in 2014 as a fourth version.. It runs for 3 hours 26 minutes.” This DVD has sold over a million copies and came out ten years after the original studio version.

The next matter raised, was that the Israeli press had published negative stories about Mr Stone coming to Iran and had printed some incorrect facts in the past, saying he had requested to interview Amedinejad. He assured the audience that the latter was totally false information. Israeli press also criticized him for visiting Iran for the Film Festival, criticism that he just ignored.
Someone asked which world crisis he felt would be interesting to make into a film.
“That’s a giant subject,” he answered. Then continued to say that it would be better to work on the subject of ISIS’ effect on the Middle East countries in documentary form, rather than feature film.

On making political films he mentioned that his film “W” ended in 2004 when President George W Bush ( the subject of “W”) invaded Iraq, and therefore the movie suffered at the box office. Stone said that he loved the film for its satire. He explained a particular scene, showing President Bush and Dick Cheney, studying a map of the region. The Cheney dialog – “Our goal”, (pointing to the oil rich Middle East nations and Iran). “The prize is oil money. We’re going to Baghdad!”
When the President asks, what is our exit strategy? Mr Cheney replies, “There IS NO exit!”

Mr Stone admitted that it hurt him when the American Press criticized and slammed the film, but he acknowledged that it was predictable, as American soldiers were at war with Iraq at the time.
“My timing sucked!” said the director.

He went on to say that ever since then (2004) the USA policy was Regime Change. It has been a pattern since 2001 – 2018 for the Neo-Cons, a policy that works for them. He said, “It is referred to as “creative destruction”. It’s a disgusting policy, ruining millions of lives, and continual tragedy is unfolding. It has been the same under both Presidents Bush, Obama and now Trump. America will break any treaty. We are continuing to do this. The USA tore up the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. For us, treaties are breakable! We lay waste to a region and we call it “peace””.
Stone is openly appalled at the foreign policy of his own country. (note from writer: only a few weeks after this Press Conference, President Trump tore up his agreement with the Iranian Government about their nuclear power stations, so after that the Iranian parliament followed suit, tearing it up too, now that it was one-sided. It was a huge media story in Iran, and greeted with much dismay.)

Speaking about his impression of Iranians, Mr Stone praised the ‘charm, warmth and softness’ of Iranians he has met. He then added that one Iranian man told him – “We can be hard when we want to!”

A reporter from France asked about censorship in Iran, and requested comments, to which Mr Stone said that censorship restricts artistic freedom.’ Then he expanded by saying that there was almost no interest in his film “W” or “Snowden” in the USA, and that this too was a sort of censorship. However in France and Germany where 60% of people approved of what the real Edward Snowden had done (he was a whistleblower about USA government activities in spying on citizens) it did well.
“In some countries censorship can sometimes be excessive, to protect national security. For film-makers dealing with a subject that is about such matters, film-makers must be very subtle – it’s the only way to get around the problem. In the USA when I cannot get the money to make a politically controversial film, they call it “Economic Constraints”, but actually it’s a kind of censorship working in advance. No studios wanted to go near “Snowden”. “They just don’t give you the damn money!” Mr Stone exclaimed.

There was some plain speaking from Oliver Stone. He made a special point of again addressing specifically, the representative from the Agence France, to say that he had been very depressed by seeing on TV the previous evening, the young French President Macron, in cahoots with Trump on certain issues, and thought that it represented a return to the thinking of the French colonial era Imperialist attitudes. He said that Macron didn’t seem to have much sense of history. Mr Stone noted that his own mother was French. It was clear that Mr Stone definitely wanted his comments known in France, by taking this action.

Another questioner enquired as to whether Oliver Stone thought that was any chance of Iranian films penetrating the USA, and being widely seen there.
He answered, “No, because no other international cinemas have managed to do it yet either,” and mentioned China, and France as examples. He went on to say,
“Americans won’t watch sub-titles, and most of them do not travel abroad. However things are changing, through television where we have Netflix. Sometimes some hit TV series and films from France and England have been re-made in the USA”
Note from writer: Examples are “House of Cards” (based on a former, British version of the series, which was even more edgy). Also several French comedies by Francis Weber have been treated to the American re-make treatment in the past. The Swedish film, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was re-made with American setting, by David Fincher. This is about the limit of such international film-sharing. So, it is not very promising for Iranian films to hope to get wide viewing in the USA.

There was then a question on whether Mr Stone would like to make a film about the situation in Syria, and he said that he would never be able to get the funding for such a project, as an American. He also mentioned that he “looked to Saudi Arabia as the major destructor in the region.”
Someone said that he had once made statement that George W Bush was like John Wayne. Therefore, who would he compare Donald Trump to?
His answer coming quickly, was one word, “Beelzebub”. There was a bit of explanation for some who didn’t know that this name Beelzebub is associated with the Canaanite God Bal, and was later associated with the Devil.

As is by now very clear, the political nature of Oliver Stone’s previous work and political interests, plus the situation in this region of the world, and the strained relations between the USA and Iran, led to the majority of the questions at this press conference being political ones.

Next, an Iranian journalist wanted to know if he knew about the eight year Iran/Iraq war, and if he’d like to make a film about it. He said, “no, not much at all, but that it was an interesting subject for an Iranian film.” He added, “You have to remember I am limited, and it is not possible at my age, and that it would be impossible to get the money for such a project because the USA was supporting Iraq at that time, when Iraq attacked Iran. (although not necessarily for the actual attack). He said that if there were chemical weapons in Iraq, they got them from the USA. “The USA fights proxy wars” he said, looking very depressed and angry about this fact. As for his future work, he said he’d return to subjects in the USA.

The final question was about whether Oliver Stone thought that at rare times in the West, when Iranian films won prizes, ‘was it a political choice’, rather than based on the merit of the film. (Two Iranian films are in competition at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, from Asghar Farhadi, a 2 time Oscar winner in Best Foreign Language Film category), and Jafar Panahi, a political activist who has been punished by the Iranian regime with strong restrictions on his life and professional activities.
Mr Stone answered, “Probably”.

As the press conference, which had been very long, wrapped up, I looked at my list of questions, and regretted that I had not known about the list to put my name on, to ask a question, and also, perhaps I wasn’t important to be on that list anyway, as I am not from any major newspaper or news service.
My final note: For the record, I’d have liked to ask about the fascinating moment during his Putin Interviews, when he enthusiastically showed Mr Putin footage from the Stanley Kubrick film, “Dr Strangelove – or How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb!” I had watched Mr Putin’s face carefully, and he did NOT seem to think this image of the end of the world by nuclear war theme was any kind of laughing matter. Perhaps this extremely black satire/comedy just didn’t “travel” or perhaps he needed to watch the entire film or perhaps he did. It wasn’t clear but a scene out of context is certainly not really fair if that’s what happened.
Also, I wondered what Oliver Stone thought about the standard of the films emerging from Hollywood in recent years, where I see a depressing fall in the intelligence and quality. There are very few quality films, or good dramas on serious subjects emerging from the Studios anymore. Another of my questions, he had commented on during the conference, which was about whether he was intending to return to making feature films. He had already said that he would. If he does so, then it will be a big relief to see some good work about serious subjects again, in my humble opinion.

Copyright, Cynthia Webb, Tehran, Iran
Photos by Cynthia Webb
Film Poster: Courtesy of the Producers, via IMDb
26 April, 2018

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“The 15:17 to Paris” (2018) Directed by Clint Eastwood. (review by Cynthia Webb)

POSTER 15 17 To Paris
“The 15/17 to PARIS” (2018) Directed by Clint Eastwood
By Cynthia Webb
Perhaps Clint Eastwood’s days as a great director are over, going by his latest offering. Or perhaps this screenplay just didn’t have enough interest in it to sustain a feature film, albeit a comparatively short one, at 92 minutes.
“ The 15:17 to Paris”. This film is interesting for the fact that it tells the story of an event in August 2015, and the 3 young male stars are the actual young men who participated in dramatic events on the Thalys fast train between Amsterdam and Paris. At Gare du Midi, a Brussels train station, a 25 year old Moroccan man boarded the train. He went into the toilet and was noticed to have been a long time and a couple of men were waiting outside the door. When he opened the door, he was shirtless, but heavily armed and dangerous. One man instinctively tackled him, there was a scuffle, a shot was fired, and one passenger was shot and was on the floor losing a lot of blood. In the carriage, were 3 young men, Americans, life-long friends, two of them with training in the armed forces. They showed the benefit of their training, and did not hesitate to charge at the assailant. With help from a couple more male passengers, (French and British) they took his gun and knocked out the Moroccan, trussed up with ties and whatever else was to hand.. One of the Americans spent 20 minutes with 2 fingers jammed inside the bullet hole in the neck of his fellow passenger, pressing on the artery and thus saved his life. The train was diverted to a station about 20 minutes away and the police, and medical help boarded , removed the injured, the would-be shooter, and it was all over.
This is all public knowledge, and I’m sure most people remember that it was widely reported around the world.
However, I am sad to say that this is really the only interesting part of the film, when it begins to feel like a Hollywood Studio film directed by a legend, rather than home-movies.
For two-thirds of this one and a half hour movie, we are watching the standard growing up of 3 ‘All-American boys’, nice boys, good people with caring families. The opening scenes are truly awful, because they show two of the mothers getting repeatedly called to the office of the Principal of their Christian private school. However the film does not show their sons as even slightly deserving of being in trouble, OR having Attention Deficit Disorder, as one teacher informs the flabbergasted mothers. She thinks they should be on medication, but we the audience have seen nothing unusual.
This film could have been considerably improved and more interesting, if there had been an attempt to balance their All-American stories, with the story of the young Moroccan man…. Who was he, why was he on the train with all these guns. What was he thinking? What led him to this? He later claimed in court that he wanted to rob people, not kill, but he had enough firepower to kill most of the passengers. However, he appeared to be very inept with weapons, and fortunately for almost everyone, the AKM assault rifle jammed. He seemed to be a lone amateur and a bit of a bungler too. I might point out that there is a large community of Moroccans who live in Belgium, most of them good law abiding people. Way back in 1964 the Belgians invited them to come to live there and work in their coal mines, also steel and auto industry – work that Belgians weren’t keen to do themselves.

As for the young American heroes, following the childhood scenes, there’s a stretch of watching their grown up years, finding careers for themselves, and till close friends, keeping in touch via Skype.

When they plan a backpacking tour together in Western Europe, there’s more footage reminiscent of any American tourists’ amateur video recording – yes, far better quality than that would be, I admit, however the content is unremarkable… Eastwood seems to want us to only see the glories of Europe as a backdrop to the young heroes. The friends take a lot of Selfies, see a few of the compulsory “tourist attractions” in Italy, Germany and then go off to Amsterdam, after meeting an elderly musician in a bar, who tells them how great it is there. As they “do” Rome, Venice, Berlin, they seem to hardly bother to look at the history all around them. Like so many tourists I’ve seen in Europe myself, they are more interested in taking Selfies.

This first 45 minutes of backstory, is occasionally punctuated with some brief ‘flash-forwards’, with which Eastwood has attempted create a link to a moment happening in their youth. .. or maybe try to tell us everything was leading to this event on the train. One of the young men is still a dedicated Christian, and so there is, at least twice, a bit of unconvincing dialog, about being drawn to something powerful in his destiny. If those things were really said, and felt, the film has failed to show it as anything more than random chance.

In Amsterdam they are even considering not bothering to go to Paris. Are they in their right minds? Some of the dialog is rather lame on this subject too, where they say that various people they’ve talked to say it’s not worth bothering to go there. Are average Americans really this culturally blind and insensitive or is it just the folly of youth, or dare I say it, growing up in one of world’s most insular nations?

At least I enjoyed a small moment when they were on a bicycle tour of Berlin. The tour guide told them they’d stopped on the location of Hitler’s suicide, at the end of the war. One of the Americans, argues and says he thought Hitler died at his Alpine retreat in the South. The German says that Hitler was right here and it was the Russians that took Berlin, and caused Hitler and Eva Braun to commit suicide, in their underground bunker. He said, “You American’s cannot take credit for everything, in the war.” It is indeed a fact that it was really the Russians who won the war, and they lost eighty men for every one G.I. who died in World War Two. They had been fighting the Germans in the East for four years, when the Americans finally entered the war in only the final year.

The action scenes of the drama in the train are quite a relief after the tedium of the long lead up. It probably would have been better to just make a documentary about the event for television.

Clint Eastwood has made quite a few films recently about Americans at war, going right back to Flags of our Fathers. It was generous of him to put in the above-mentioned scene in Berlin with that dialog, in a small attempt to counteract how he has glorified the USA at war. Of course the individual young men and women, their courage, their sacrifices, should be appreciated and forever remembered. But it would be far better if the USA didn’t go to so many wars these days.

However I hasten to say the world was grateful when they finally appeared in the European theatre of war, in 1944, but much earlier in the Pacific, (because they themselves had been attacked at Pearl Harbour.)

The final scenes of the film are the actual media footage of the young men and another of the passengers, being presented with France’s Legion De Honneur medal, by President Hollande, and then a sort of victory parade when they came home to their hometown Sacramento, California.

I went along, I suppose only because I have lived about 4 months in Antwerp, Belgium since 2013, and will be back there for another couple of months very soon. I often use this train line, boarding at Antwerp Station. The spectacular architecture of Antwerp Station‘s building would have been impressive. This very busy station has a “layer cake” of four levels of lines and platforms, one on top of the other, because it is such a busy point on Europe’s rail transport network.

However, back to the film, my advice is “Don’t bother” to go to it. It’s not as interesting as Paris!

Comments by Cynthia Webb
Copyright Feb 2018
Photo: Courtesy of the Producers

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“Ellipsis” (2018) Directed by David Wenham (Australia)

“ELLIPSIS” directed by David Wenham. (Australia)
Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, QLD, Australia
Australian actor David Wenham has been on many a film set starring in some of this country’s finest films, – also television. He began to ponder the matter of how film-making could be minimalized. now that this time of digital film-making is with us to stay with equipment becoming better every year, it was time to give it a try. I was fortunate to see it on 8th February at a screening at HOTA, ( Home of the Arts, the new name for The Gold Coast Arts Centre) presented by APSA ( Asia Pacific Screen Awards) and Gold Coast Film Festival. (The GC Film Festival is coming up in April, and I hope will screen this film again.)

The result is “Ellipsis”, which was conceived, work-shopped and shot (in 18 different locations around Sydney) in only ten days. AND, there was no screenplay for the two protagonists, known as Viv and Jasper, played by Emily Barclay and Benedict Samuel. Only four crew were involved, the DOP, Simon Morris, and a second cameraman, a sound-man, David’s assistant, and himself.
David Wenham said, “It was a film that I didn’t plan to make. I was well into making another film with this couple of actors, when it fell over, because of a funding issue. It was very disappointing because a lot of work had already gone into it. So, as I’d always wanted to make an experimental film, the actors and I decided to give it a try.”
David talked to them briefly about who their characters were, and took them out to lunch, “in character”. The shared luncheon was filmed, and was a success, with very natural performances from the actors.

So the experimental film commenced shooting, on a very simple premise.
Two attractive young people collide on a busy central city pedestrian crossing in Sydney. It was Jasper’s fault because he was looking at his cellphone instead of watching where he was going. Viv, who was also carrying her phone dropped it and smashed the screen. He reverses direction with her, to the side of the street, apologises most profusely and offers to take her to a phone repair shop nearby, run by a quiet and kind Chinese gentleman. Jasper wants to pay for the repairs. At first the repairman says it’s a serious job and will take a while, but when Viv pleads with him, because she’s leaving for London the next morning, he takes it home to work on it overnight.

Hence begins a day and a night of Jasper and Viv, filling in time together, wandering around Sydney, talking, getting to know one another, laughing a lot, obviously becoming more and more in tune with one-another. The only problem is, she is engaged, back in London life. They go by bus out to Bondi, they meet a dog that is out alone but has a phone number on its collar, and call the owner. They take the dog to the owner by taxi, receive complimentary eats and drinks in this grateful man’s café, then go back out onto the streets of King’s Cross, as darkness falls. There they meet various local characters, (these are all real local people) and have further adventures. All of this was as much a surprise to the actors on location, as it was to us, the audience! The young couple are becoming ever easier in one another’s company, getting somewhat tipsy and laughing more and more. The audience is beginning to wish for some sort of ‘happy ending’.
The delight of their night together is that they are living in the moment, free of any other responsibilities, obligations, and seemingly have ‘all the time in the world’ – OR at least until 8.00a.m. next morning when they will collect the repaired phone.

While all this is going on, we have the contrasting images coming from the Chinese phone repairman’s home, where he DOES have obligations, – an annoyed wife, a mother whom he has promised that he’ll assist her with something, plus the tricky job of getting that phone operational again, without the necessary spare part in his possession. Ingenuity is required, and the ending of the film reveals the ingenious way he did it in a quiet way, to the great delight of the audience with whom I saw the film, and linking the opening and closing shot of the film.

This film was delightful, with the charming protagonists, the natural performances, and the wonderful characters of King’s Cross who participated. Spontaneity is the key word, when I think of this lovely experiment in film-making.
David Wenham explained later, that he in fact lives close to King’s Cross and knows the area and all the eccentrics of the area very well. He had made certain arrangements with the ones who appeared, however, it was all a surprise to the young actors. Eighteen locations were visited, in one day and the longest time spent in any one location was two hours. The nightclub scene was where they stayed the longest, – 20 minutes!

One would think that a film like this, leaving so much to chance and the spontaneity of the actors, could end up being a bit of a mess! However, in this case. The cinematography is extremely good, and the editing has brought it all together seamlessly . The fact that Simon Morris (DOP) has experience in documentary filming as well as narrative features was a big advantage. No artificial lights were used – there was no time or money, for that.
Following two days of ‘work-shopping’ the film, they took to the streets, and all the shots in the film were captured in one take only, with no rehearsals
When asked about the stress levels , during the shooting process, David Wenham answered, “It was the least stress I have ever experienced on any film set. We were all feeling liberated, instead of having to always follow detailed instructions.”

Well known and respected film director, Robert Connolly, (“Balibo”) was Executive Producer on this project, and he said he’d be very happy to collaborate any time on another film with David Wenham. He enjoyed it because of the freedom from the normal list of ‘barriers’ that are involved with a normal type of film shoot, that involves a lot of people and equipment. Permissions are required for so many things. Rules apply in many places, such as not being able to shoot at Bondi, or on trains, he explained. When asked about the budget for this cinematic-experiment, Robert Connolly laughed and said, “Put it this way – I’ve made short films that had a bigger budget than this one. We call it a micro-budget. It’s the extreme end of experimentation.
Immediately after the shooting was complete, David had obligations to be in the USA for a role, so editing didn’t commence until about seven months later. This turned out to be a big advantage. He found he had a useful distance from the footage, and could make decisions easily. He was not so attached to the material.

David explained more about the pleasure of this way of filming. “I loved doing it and it exercised more creative muscles than being an actor. It’s the little moments of human connection, that count. Get rid of those devices (cellphones) and you have the opportunity to really connect. “
When asked what he wanted the audience to take away from seeing “Ellipsis” he said.
“I don’t want to be prescriptive. They can take away whatever they want.”
For this writer personally, I realized afterwards, that almost the only time I find I can live in that un-tethered, free and unobligated way, following the flow of events and going with it, is when travelling, (preferably overseas.) One’s normal life isn’t pulling on one in the new place, and there’s no particular routine to keep to. If something happens, you can just enjoy it, participate, follow its lead.
It also points out in a subtle way, how much we are missing by being preoccupied with ‘devices’ as David said, and missing certain experience which present themselves, hurrying on by, following an often self-imposed routine. For a day and a night, Jasper and Viv just set themselves free.

If you have an opportunity to see this film, please go along – you’ll enjoy it, and also it’s very good to support this experiment in film-making that turned out so well. You will then resolve to be ever watchful for these fleeting moments when life offers you an opportunity to connect with a stranger, and to be careful never to let them pass you by.

Cynthia Webb
Copyright, February, 2018
Photos of Mr David Wenham: Cynthia Webb
Images from the film, courtesy of the Producers

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‘DARKEST HOUR”, Directed by Joe Wright (UK, 2018)

Darkest Hour poster
“Darkest Hour” – by Joe Wright (UK, 2018) comments by Cynthia Webb

Pretty soon, this film will be collecting major awards on both sides of the Atlantic! “Darkest Hour” is the best film of a recent burst of Winston Churchill stories. He is a towering figure in the history of the 20th Century. Early on, he got the blame for the Allies’ ignominious failure at Gallipoli in the First World War. At the age of 65, he was made Prime Minister of Britain ( 1940) when Neville Chamberlain was forced to resign, he made up for it. That early failure haunted him apparently, and so it must have been weighing on him so much when in May 1940, the British Isles were under serious threat, Europe was already Hitler’s and Britain was hopelessly ill-prepared for the war they had to begin to fight immediately. No help was forthcoming from the USA, who declared themselves “neutral” at the time. Between the 26th May and 4th of June the Dunkirk evacuation occurred, using mostly civilian pleasure craft, and fishing boats – a citizen navy. This was Churchill’s only possible way to get 300,000 British soldiers back home from now surrendered, and occupied France. I hope everyone has seen “DUNKIRK” last year, so I don’t need to elaborate about that.
The film, “Darkest Hour” is directed by Joe Wright, who has touched on the Dunkirk evacuation before, in his film “Atonement”. This for me is his best film yet though. The performance of Gary Oldman is stunning, and he’s in every scene – commanding the screen, as well as the nation. He has already won the Golden Globe Best Actor Award.
His secretary is played very competently by Lily James. Kristen Scott-Thomas plays Churchill’s beloved wife Clemmie, who was his own tower of strength. All versions of the Churchill story, have implied that the nation owes a lot to Clemmie, the smart and brave woman in the background, (confirming the famous cliche).
The screenplay by Anthon McCarten is full of wry humour, brilliant dialogue, and consists of quite a lot of quotes from actual speeches by Churchill. Australia’s Ben Mendelsohn is superb as King George, with only a slight hint of the previously filmed “stutter problem” he had… (“The King’s Speech”), the man who was not meant to be king, but had to take on the role when his brother abdicated. He ended up doing his duty for his country with great courage and dignity, and was the father of our Queen Elizabeth II. Ben Mendelsohn even looks quite similar to the King, and his body-language is just right too. The film shows that he visited Churchill in his messy art studio, unannounced…. and told him he supported him. This moment was a turning point in this film anyway, for Churchill. I’m not sure if it actually happened. Nor do I know if the very moving scene where he rides the Underground to Westminster really happened, but it is a brainwave on the part of the screen-writer anyway. This is an important and powerful film, with all performances striking the right note, and the sentimental moments, not ending up being too mushy and weakening the enormous strength of this film.
It reminds us yet again, of the immense courage and strength of Britain in those darkest hours… when things looked so very bleak and hopeless, the leaders and the ordinary people found their pride, quiet dignity, and humility and gathered in their sense of humour too, and they withstood five more years of war. This included the Blitz, (nightly bombing of London) as the war this time, was air-borne, as well as on the ground. They were able to do it because their Prime Minister, Winston Churchill was able to communicate the sheer force of his will and courage into the nation, and without the aid of television!
I must admit, that this film roused my pride in my British heritage… On both sides of my family, going back many, many generations, all my forebears were mostly English and one-quarter Irish.
For those interested in history and politics, this film is a MUST see experience.
For those who appreciate superb film-making, this film is a MUST see too.
For young people who know next to nothing about those times, this film should also be compulsory viewing. It is necessary to know what your grandparents went through, and to therefore remind today’s generation of young people that vigilance is always necessary in Democracy, and that we need strong, intelligent, courageous leaders, whose first duty is to their country. Watch how you vote! What would happen if today’s leaders were suddenly catapulted into the sort of situation in which Churchill suddenly himself as the new Prime Minister. How many of them could match his leadership and instinct for the task in hand? These are the times when decency, breeding, education, courage and guts are what is called for.
Go and see this remarkable film.

Text copyright January 2018
Photo – courtesy of the Producers

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‘Sekala, Niskala” (The Seen and Unseen) directed by Kamila Andini, 2017, Indonesia Review by Cynthia Webb

Dini with her award at APSA 2017

The island of Bali in Indonesia has become a tourist magnet of powerful attraction, but probably the majority of tourists just enjoy their holiday, and don’t know very much at all about the unique culture and religious lives of the Balinese people.

The Javanese film maker, Kamila Andini comes from a mainly Muslim culture in Java, however she has been raised by a father who is also a film director, and one who appreciates and makes films about all of the varied ethnic groups on the many islands of this archipelago that the Dutch called ‘the emerald necklace’, when they were the colonial power there.

So Dini, as she is known to her family and friends, (aged only 31, and who is now a young mother of two daughters) has a rich inner life and wide understanding of her country. She has now won two major awards at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, the first Indonesian to do so. In 2012, her film about the Bajo people, or “Sea Gypsies” of the Wakatobi region of South Suluwesi won the Best Youth Feature Film Award. Now she has done it again, by winning the same award category, with her film about Balinese twins, entitled “Sekala, Niskala”. “The Seen and Unseen”, is the best English translation, referring to the hidden ‘world’ the tourists don’t know about, that the Balinese also live in. For the Balinese, the Unseen is just as real and relevant as is the material world. (For those who would like to know more about it, refer to the book “Bali – Sekala and Niskala” by Fred B. Eiseman, Jr which was first published in 1990, by Periplus.)

At Tokyo Filmex, two days after the APSA Award was announced, the Jury couldn’t choose between Kamila’s film and the film of Mouly Sourya, ( also from Indonesia), entitled “Marlina the Murder, in Four Acts”, so they awarded both films the Jury Grand Prize. “Sekala, Niskala” has been screened in the Platform section, of the Toronto Film Festival, and at Busan too, and received a lot of comment and good reviews.

Rare films from Indonesia showing the richness of the culture, and the variations from island to island, are often totally fresh and new to the eyes of Westerners. “Marlina” is shot in the remote island culture of Sumba and is quite unique. “Sekala, Niskala” is shot in Bali, (a vastly different culture from Sumba’s). Mysticism and spiritual power that runs strong beneath the visible world of Bali. It comes from a mixture of Hindu/Buddhism and Mysticism. Seen through the eyes of the young, who are still pure and undamaged by the tourism aspect of life in Bali and the realities of adulthood, that world is revealed to us in Kamila’s delicate film.

We meet village-dwelling twins, a boy, Putra and a girl, Putri, aged about 10. The names are the male and female version of the same name. Their village is in close proximity to the holy mountain, Gunung Agung, which is often seen in the background of night-shots, and is thought of as “the navel of the world” by the Balinese. Babies and young children in Bali are seen as still connected to the Niskala, the unseen world, and these two are no exception. They run freely in the rice paddies, and play imaginative games, and can read each other’s heart and soul.

But, catastrophe strikes. The boy becomes ill with a brain tumour and must go to hospital. His sister is quite terrified at this turn of events, and is afraid to even enter the strange white and sterile room, where he has been settled on a high bed and attached to a drip. They have been so at home in Nature, and now have to go to the city and are now in an unfamiliar world.
Putri finds a way of coping by removing herself into the world of Niskala, where she puts on costumes and dances with him, she plays games with him and is often accompanied on her night time walks by the ghost-children. Her dreams of happier times together when he was well, wake her. The ghost children are also surrounding Putra in this strange between-worlds place, the hospital. He is in the slow process of leaving the real world, he is not yet in the Unseen world, but he has access, through his sister’s imagination, love and connection to it.

The passing of the months is communicated to us via the phases of the moon in the night sky.

There is very little dialogue between them, and we do not miss it, we do not need it, and neither do they. The film is all about feeling and visions of mystic life that the sad little sister enters, and allows us to experience with her. She does everything she can to hold him to her, as he is her other half. She tells him, after one of their duo dances, in wonderful bird costumes that she has created from grass and paint, that she would trade places with him, if she could. She collapses to the floor, and he collapses to the bed – it has been his final effort in this life. He soon descends into a coma.

Balinese spiritual life is linked to the Saka Luna calendar that came to Bali from Java, with the migration to the island of Hindu people from Java’s Majapahit culture, in the fourteenth century. The calendar is organized around the moon’s cycles, still also observed in Javanese culture. The new moon is the beginning of a new cycle.

Duality (represented by the male and female twins) is potent in Balinese culture. Balinese religious activities, offerings, ceremonies are directed at attempting to keep the balance of good and evil. Their traditional black and white checked “poleng” cloth represents the two opposites.
The eggs, that appear several times, during the film, tell us that these two are really ‘one’– an egg that divided in the womb. How will Putri carry on in the Sekala world, without her brother? Putri will only eat the white of the egg, and Putra eats the yolk. In the opening scene, as the boy is being wheeled into the hospital room, she symbolically crushes the last ‘whole’ egg in her trembling hand. Later she is eating lunch with her mother. In her hard-boiled egg, there is no yolk.

A lot of “Sekala, Niskala” is filmed at night by Anggi Frisca, who captures the shadows against a sky often lit up by a full moon, and the silhouettes of mysterious children in the long grass. Night magic is abroad on the island some know as the Island of the Gods. The sounds of nature are also evocative in experiencing this unique film. The scene of Putri dancing for the moon silhouetted against the night sky, and in full Balinese traditional dance costume is particularly beautiful.

Kamila Andini’s primary achievement is in the concept, and it’s in her realization that words are not necessary, and that this sad story can be fully told visually. Only the scenes with the adults have dialogue… her mother talks to her a reassuringly, and she witnesses one scene where the village men discuss the crucial to life matters of planting the rice paddies, and sharing the water. We also see Putri make an offering at a simple rice-field shrine to Dewi Sri, the Rice Goddess. On Dewi Sri, and on water, all of Balinese life depends.

In a film about a death, these scenes about life, are also about the ‘duality’ and give meaning and balance, so important to the Balinese ways.

Kamila does everything to keep the subtlety, the delicacy and the sweetness, and she succeeds. There is no story, except that a fateful time is passing quietly in the timeless pace of Balinese life, so closely linked to the sacred world and to nature. We are privileged to be watching through the eyes of the brave little Putri.

Kamila has a quite miraculous ability to see and share with her audience, the innocence and beauty of childhood, in both of her APSA Award winning films. Her gift to Western audiences is to show us how to see and feel beyond the material world.
Copyright, Cynthia Webb – November 2017

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Asia Pacific Screen Awards, 2017 by Cynthia Webb

APSA entered its second decade this year, with a line-up of breathtaking films in the nominations for the awards presented on 23rd November 2017. Even before the awards night and after watching quite a large number of the nominated films I was thinking that this year the standard is the highest ‘across the board’. In previous years there has been a bit more of a variation between the winners and some of the others. But this time, all of the nominees are of a close to similar standard. I was glad I wasn’t part of the Jury, although I did choose correctly in some categories, such as Best Actress, Best Director, Best Cinematography.

Having not seen Warwick Thornton’s “Sweet Country” (Australia) which was the winner of Best Feature Film, I didn’t try to guess that category. I had already noted its excellent reviews from overseas. Warwick Thornton has won this award once before at APSA for his “Samson and Delilah”, and he made a powerful acceptance speech, talking to the other nominees and everyone in the room, telling us that we all have stories within us, and we don’t really need the cameras, we can share them in the old ways too. As an indigenous Australian (the world’s most ancient surviving culture) he knows that the spoken word can echo down through millenniums.

The Jury had so many superb films and actors to choose from, that they awarded:
Jury Grand Prize to Alexander Yatsenko, (Russia) for his work as an actor in “Arrythmia”. This is one of the most wonderful acting performances I’ve seen in a very long time and is one of the films that left me ‘gasping’.
Best Actor Award, went to Rajkummar Rao (India) for “Newton”.
A Special Mention in Best Actor category, for Navid Mohammedzadeh (Iran) for “No date, no signature”.
A Second Jury Grand Prize, to Ana Urushadze (Georgia). Ana directed the stunning film, “Scary Mother” Mentioned above.
In Best Cinematography, I was happy to be correct in giving my personal award to Pyotr Dukhovskoy and Timofey Lobov for “The Bottomless Bag”. This was a most unusual film, in sublime black and white, telling old tales from the Russian culture… and in which the whites were radiating light. It reminded me sometimes of “Rashomon” – just the look of it, or other even earlier black and white films from Russia. It was full of exquisite images.

Structured like the Hollywood Academy, the nominees and winners become life-long members of the APSA Academy, and APSA’s Academy now has a membership of over 1015 of the greatest film makers of its region. The APSA Awards are chosen each year, first by a preliminary process of finding the best of the films, which is done by an international group forming the Nominations Council. There were 42 nominations. The winners of the various awards are announced at the Ceremony in Brisbane each year.

This year around 300 films from 47 countries were submitted from the vast region.

In 2015 and 2016 there was also a film festival running simultaneously with the APSA lead up period and the public were able to see the nominated films. Q & A sessions could be held as the directors were often already in Brisbane. This seemed like an excellent idea, as each year from commencement of APSA in 2007 people would ask, “But how can we see the films?” However the two year experiment has been abandoned in favour of going back to the previous Brisbane International Film Festival, now a separate event again. Perhaps the film-fare of APSA nominations was just too esoteric for the general audience, who like to be seeing something a bit more familiar, work by directors whose names they know, such as famous Europeans.

APSA certainly takes the film-lover out into the new territories of world film-making, and believe me it is a thrilling journey. This year the nominated APSA films enabled us to experience the lives and cultures of Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Ukraine, Bhutan, Iran, Israel, India, China, Japan, The Philippines, Indonesia, Turkey, Syria, Russia, Korea, Australia, New Zealand. Many of the films left me gasping at their power, their originality, their depth of exploration of the human experience. These films have such courage and they show great confidence in their audience, that they will offer their open heart and mind to go on these journeys that can sometimes be challenging. One such film, was “Loveless”, from Russia, directed by Andrey Zvayagintsev, who won Best Director for this master-work of heartbreaking bleakness. Another one, “Scary Mother” contained great maturity of emotional content, and was directed by the surprisingly young Ana Urushadze. The remarkable actress, Nata Murvanidze in “Scary Mother” won the Best Actress Award, and rightfully so. She was breathtaking.
If Nata’s performance hadn’t been there, another wonderful young Turkish woman, would have won I think, Ecem Uzun, for her heart-rending performance in “Clair-Obscure”. Young Ecem Uzun was in another of the nominated films too, “A Big Big World” (Koca Dunya).

This was in Best Youth Feature Film, which are not films for young audiences, but films seen through the eyes of young people, or about young people.
In that category which always contains wonderful films, the winner was the exquisite “Sekala Niskala” (The Seen and the Unseen) by Indonesia’s Kamila Andini. This was Kamila’s second time to win the award in this hotly contested category. Back in 2012 her film, “The Mirror Never Lies” was the winner. No other Indonesian has ever won a second award at APSA. So far. Her film’s title refers to the cultural/religious tradition of Bali, where the two worlds, seen and unseen, are as real as each other for the people. So when the closeness of twin children is being torn apart by the fatal illness of the little boy, his sister is devastated, and finds her courage to interact with him through the unseen world, because reality has become too terrible for her. The film takes us into her world of Niskala ( unseen) and lets us have a usually forbidden glimpse of that secret place, through her eyes. Those scenes are truly moving and unforgettable. Ghost children wait for him, as the sad-sister dances under Balinese culture’s all-important full moon, under which many the temples ceremonies take place in that culture. The Balinese calendar and life, is linked to the moon, via an ancient calendar from India, via Java. The film has very little dialogue, and it is not needed and not missed, because this film is a spiritual experience. Kamila told me five years ago, about this film being in her mind. Since then she has married, had two daughters, and made a film about an hour in length, “Following Diana”. Now she has worked with her Producer /Director husband, Ifa Isfansyah, on “The Seen and the Unseen”, which has also had very good reviews internationally after being shown in the PLATFORM segment of the Toronto Film Festival a couple of months ago.

This year APSA had a heartening number of films about women, and directed by women. That’s why, as mentioned above, the Best Actress Award was so very strong this year. Indonesia’s Cut Mini was also nominated in “Athirah” (Mother) in which she gave a very different style of performance than the two previously mentioned women. This role expressed the quiet, dignified and internalized way in which the protagonist, Athirah, was coping with her life. A Muslim woman is suffering the agony of trying to accept her fate when her husband leaves his family to go and live with a second and younger wife. This film, directed by Riri Riza, is based on the life story of the mother of Indonesia’s Vice-President, Yusuf Kalla, who is in his early teens in the film, observing his brave mother’s journey.

Another leading role for a woman was in “Marlina, the Murderer, in Four Acts” directed by a woman, Mouly Sourya of Indonesia. This is a most unusual film to come out of Indonesia, a kind of ‘Western’ in form but set in the very rural, dry and spacious island of Sumba, (it is situated four islands to the East of Bali) where there is a very different culture, and where they have a death ritual called Paraing Marapu, and where the deceased is wrapped in a traditional textile and sits in the house with the family for a long time before burial. In this film, one can observe this, but it is not explained. However, murder of the title, is caused by a local custom which seems to allow the local men to feel free to do what they will with the widow Marlina (played by Marsha Timothy). However, Marlina is not a woman to be trifled with. The film has the feeling of a spaghetti western, from the sixties, and there is more than a pinch of black comedy mixed into the dinner that she prepares for her male visitors, and for us the audience.

2017 has been the best year yet for Indonesia at APSA, with three nominations . It is a country still developing its Post-Reformasi ( post 1998) film industry, with no assistance so far from the government or any other organization. Indonesia’s government have yet to understand the immense benefits that a strong film industry can bring to a nation, respect in international eyes, and in tourism, by promoting awareness of the cultural richness, of which Indonesia is particularly endowed.

The Cultural Diversity Award (UNESCO) went to “Dede” (Mother) from Georgia, directed by another young woman, Mariam Khatchvani. She was so surprised and thrilled to win, that she was unable to speak for quite a length of time, when she went to the microphone to accept her award. The story is shot in the highest village in all of Europe, during winter, when deep, deep snow is on the ground. The young protagonist’s destiny is to be unlucky in love, and lose her beloved husband. This puts her into conflict with the remote location’s old traditions, which mean that her child must now go to live with his family, the grandfather and others. Also it means that her husband’s brother will now marry her. He happens to love her too, but she doesn’t love him and refuses. Like any mother, she only wants to be with her little son.

Also in this Category – (the UNESCO Award for Cultural Diversity), a Special Mention went to “Lady of the Lake” (India).

For “Die Beautiful” directed by Jun Robles Lana, from the Philippines, there was no award, but it deserves a mention as a film of heart and love, about a different kind of women. It was about three transvestites and the little girl one of them has adopted – battling their brave way through life. The performance of Paulo Ballesteros was nominated in Best Performance by an Actor, and was full of courage and strength of character.

Before you go to to read the full results list, I will list the titles of some of my other special favorites not yet mentioned in my article above:
“A Man of Integrity” (Iran) director, Mohammad Rasoulof. His passport has been confiscated by the Iranian Islamic regime, for making yet another film that clearly criticises the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Wajib” by Palestinian Anne Marie Jacir (this film was developed with a grant from APSA Academy-MPPA Film Fund)
“Foxtrot” (Israel) Samuel Moaz
“Centaur” (Kyrgyzstan) directed by Aktan Arym Kubat
“Your Name” (Japan) Amimation Category, by Makoto Shinkai, for the gorgeous hand-drawn animation that he is famous for.
“Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web” by Annie Goldson, A documentary film from New Zealand, telling a most complex and interesting topical story, that’s not quite over yet.

copyright Cynthia Webb November 2017

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Second nomination in APSA, for Kamila Andini of Indonesia

CCE10132017 Kamila Andini gains a nomination at Asia Pacific Screen Awards
Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia

It has been five years since an Indonesian film has made it through the process of elimination, to be nominated for an APSA. Kamila Andini’s film “Sekala, Niskala” has at last ‘broken the drought’ and gained a nomination at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in the category of Best Youth Feature Film. Her previous success at APSA was in 2012, when her lovely film, “Laut Bercermin”/”The Mirror Never Lies” won that same category.
Talking to her over lunch in Jakarta back in early 2012 Dini told me about her idea for a film set in Bali, and now we have it – “Sekala, Niskala” – (“The Seen and the Unseen”).
It has been shown in a side-bar section of the Toronto Film Festival called Platform, in September 2017 (one of the world’s most respected film festivals). This section is in its third year, designed to catch the gems that were noticed to be slipping through without getting the attention they deserved. “Sekala, Niskala” has received quite a lot of glowing reviews, written by critics who have been bewitched by its portrayal of the little known, and mysterious world of Balinese culture as shown through the story of twin siblings, a boy and a girl. One writer called it “a small revelation, poignant and hallucinatory”… a sign that it is very, very interesting. Some critics have compared it to the work of Thailand’s internationally successful Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, with “Uncle Boonme, Who Can Recall his Past Lives”.
Kamila Andini’s (she’s known as Dini) father, Garin Nugroho, and her film-maker husband, Ifa Isfansyah are the producers of her latest film, and a grant came from APSA to help develop and make it. APSA has a fund from which $US25,000 is given each year to two projects that are still in development stage. The Motion Picture Association of America contributes to this fund too.
Since Dini won the APSA for “The Mirror Never Lies” in 2012 , she had been married, (the following year) and now has two little daughters. She has also made forty minute film “Following Diana” which was screened in film festivals and received good reviews. The subject was about a Muslim Javanese wife, whose husband wanted her to agree to him taking a second wife. Diana already had a child, but was not willing to agree and embarked on life as a single mother, and also on life as a woman who charts her own course.
This year the eleventh APSA Ceremony will be on 23rd November, in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
During the last five years, at least 5 or 6 Indonesian films have been submitted each year, but none made it through the elimination process of viewing by the Nominations Council. Usually, around 350 films come from all over the Asia Pacific, and must be reduced to about 40 nominations. The competition is fierce, as some of the great names of Asian cinema submit their films. The Nominations Council, and later the Jury for APSA always consists of international film people of the highest calibre from the nations of the Asia Pacific. A nomination at APSA is already a major recognition, and a win, opens doors which may lead to bigger things on a world-wide stage. So, congratulations to Kamila Andini for this achievement.
Previous Indonesian films that have been nominated since APSA began in 2007 are:
2007: “Opera Jawa” by Garin Nugroho. This is the only nomination so far in Best Feature Film category for Indonesia, and “Denias, Singing on a Cloud” directed by Ari Sihasale, (winner of Best Youth Feature Film)
2008: “Kantata Takwa” by Gotot Prakosa (In Best Documentary category)
2009: “3 Doa, 3 Cinta” by Nurman Hakim
,2012 “Laut Bercermin”/”The Mirror Never Lies” by Kamila Andini ( winner of Best Youth Feature Film) and 2012: “Negeri di Bawah Kabut”/(“The Land Beneath the Fog”) directed by Shalahuddin Siregar, again in the Best Documentary category.
Kamila Andini studied sociology and media arts at Deakin University in Melbourne. During our conversation two years ago, she talked about how difficult it was then (and probably still is), for young and serious film-makers to find funding. She described how most producers want to make crowd-pleaser type films that will pack in the young audiences in the megaplex cinemas in Malls. She wanted to make quality cinema that has worth, but not yet a very big potential audience in Indonesia. She has seen her own father succeed in doing just that, so she knows it’s possible. Although digital cinema has made this easier, it still requires talented film-makers who have good ideas, vision, and tenacity.
Dini’s tenacity is demonstrated by these words from that time:
‘I’ve been in the film industry since I was in high-school, doing workshops and making short films. I am one of the youngest Indonesians to make a feature film. It was not easy. I am lucky and also a bit crazy, trying to do this in a country which has a “film climate” like Indonesia. Usually a film-maker starts doing the clapper board job and works their way up. Many young people my age are still in the learning process. I have my father’s name behind me, so I had the chance to make this film early and I want to make more films to prove myself as a director,’ said Dini. ‘Every country in Asia has its problems for film-makers. We have to find a way.’ Here Dini was referring to her film, “The Mirror Never Lies”.

Dini is only thirty-one now and is credited as Writer/Director for all of her films. She has a bright future ahead of her, so be proud of her, Indonesia.

copyright – Cynthia Webb – October 2017
Photo Cynthia Webb

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“Loving Vincent” (Poland/UK) 2017)

“LOVING VINCENT” (2017) Co-Production, Poland/UK
directed by Dorota kobiela and Hugh Welchman
review and comments by Cynthia Webb, Gold Coast, Australia
loving-vincent-poster-v2(1)This beautiful work has made history in the field of Animation cinema. For people with a particular interest in the tragic tale and work of Vincent Van Gogh, for art-lovers in general, for cinephiles it is a precious gift from devoted film-makers who have worked for seven years on this project.
Vincent painted the portrait of Joseph Roulin, Postmaster of Arles. The film tells us the story of Vincent’s life and last months before his death on 29 July, 1890 (aged 37)from a self-inflicted gun-shot wound, via the device of the postmaster’s son being sent on a mission to deliver a letter from Vincent to his brother,that has been returned.
Vincent and his brother Theo were very close, (two men, one heart, the film tells us) and Theo supported Vincent with regular gifts of money, and painting canvas and tubes of paint. The postmaster Roulin knew and loved Vincent, because these two loving brothers kept up a very frequent correspondence. These letters have been published elsewhere and make very moving reading indeed as well as being enlightening as to Vincent’s artistic thoughts.
Armand, the son of Roulin goes to Paris, and to Auvers-sur-Oise where Vincent had been in care after he had an emotional breakdown, and talks to people who knew Vincent. He is like a detective, trying to get to the truth of what really happened. He is at first unwilling, but becomes interested, then passionate to find out the truth of the man Vincent, whom he is now starting to fully appreciate.Armand Roulin Armand Roulin’s portrait, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888

The wonderful aspect of this film is that the entire story, 95 minutes of it, is told in hand-painted oil paintings, done in the style of Vincent’s own work. Scenes begin with an image that Vincent himself painted and if viewers are familiar with all his works, they will recognize the people and the places. But now they are moving, they are speaking, they are telling their stories, and their impressions of Vincent, the man. Some were fond of him, some ridiculed him. There are various points of view.
Technically the film “Loving Vincent” is a wonder of animation. One hundred artists in two countries, (Poland and Greece) working in Vincent’s own style contributed full colour paintings for “the present” and black and white paintings for “the past” as the story is being told by the people who knew Vincent.
The film is made up of 853 ‘shots’, and each one began with a first frame of a full painting on canvas board. As the animation photography was done in 12 frames per second, the first painting, would then be photographed, then painted over, with each gradual change to certain details or all of it, until the last frame of the shot. (This is in place of the use of animation cels, which could not be applied in this style of work.) At the end of the ‘shot’ the film-makers were left with an oil-painting on canvas board, of the last frame. So at the end of filming 853 paintings remained, and 200 are being auctioned off, and many have already sold, (as can be seen from the films own website) although at the time of writing the film has not yet premiered in the USA. The size of the works was usually 67cm by 49cm.
Bear in mind that for one hour of film, 43,200 paintings were required, and you will begin to see the extraordinary ambition of this project. Additionally 90 design paintings were created in the planning stages during the year before shooting started. The purpose of these was to define the style in which the artists would all re-create Vincent’s style of painting and make it move, live and breathe. 65,000 painted frames in oils were made for the whole film.

The story moves along briskly and is full of wonderful characters (the people in Vincent’s life). The artworks are breathtaking and for an artist it will most interesting to observe the ways the film’s artists made a train move and a horse-drawn carriage seem to be speeding across the frames, through their changes in art techniques to suggest the speed.

The dialogue of the characters is very interesting, full of expression, as are the faces, and the characters have been created to really “live” for us. This was done by casting well known and excellent actors in the main roles, and filming them in live-action, then using those ‘normal’ cinematic images for a basis of the paintings for each ‘shot’. As the film went along, I recognized (from other films) certain of the painted faces of the real actors, who are also giving voice to the painted characters in the final work.

This type of animation has never been done before, and as it took seven years, it might never be done again either. The thinking out of how to actually do it is brilliant and has been a great success.
So in this remarkable way the previously award winning co-producers have given us an unforgettable cinematic experience. BreakThru Films (Poland) previously won an Oscar in 2008 for their “Peter and the Wolf”, and “Trademark Films (UK) also won Oscars in 1998 for “Shakespeare in Love”.

It is a rare and precious work of cinema animation, and a poignant and beautiful story. Vincent, who suffered, from what we now call bi-polar disease, was an intelligent, deeply sensitive man, who had a sad childhood in a strict bourgeouis family, and was something of a misfit. His first attempt at supporting himself was his job he took as a Protestant evangelist, in the Brabant – trying to imitate his father. This was not a success. In that poor area of hard-working and poverty stricken people he used his spare time for drawing.
He had some art lessons at Antwerp Academy and in Paris at Cormon’s Atelier for 3 months. He showed immense natural talent. This can be seen clearly and unmistakably by looking at his early drawings. When he was oil painting, after going to Paris and meeting up with some of the Impressionists in the Paris cafes, he used brush techniques that imitated the ‘signature’ in his pen and ink works.
He left Paris and went to warm and colourful Provence, and lived in his famous Yellow House in Arles. He begged his friend Gaugin to come and join him, and eventually Gaugin arrived. Vincent was over-joyed but after a few months, things went wrong between them, and Vincent seemed to become very distressed. When Gaugin departed, he was inconsolable. After the famous incident of cutting of his own ear in his distress, he went into care of Dr Gachet in Auver, where he found a kindred spirit in Gachet (Gachet loved art) and recovered. There he did quite a few more wonderful drawings and paintings. In the film the people of Auvers are mainly the ones telling us of Vincent’s final days.

Vincent saw the world in a kind of almost violent motion and almost all of his works, drawings and paintings show this. It’s as if the wind was visible to him in the air itself, not only in the resulting movements of trees, and fields of grain, or the moving sea. He never sold a painting in his own lifetime, and yet now his works hold the record as being the most expensive ever sold – which happened in modern times. He gave away some works, but sent most to his brother Theo who attempted to sell them in his Paris Art Gallery.

Please do NOT miss a chance to see this amazing film “Loving Vincent”. (The title comes from the way he signed his letters to Theo – ‘your loving Vincent’.)

A final note: The film’s flagship “Loving Vincent” Exhibition will open in Noordbrabants Museum, on 13th October. It will showcase 119 oil paintings from the film, just 10% of the paintings remaining after the filming process. The exhibition will also show how the film-makers re-imagined the paintings of Vincent himself, into the medium of film, using the very same tools (brush and canvas) that Vincent used.

copyright Cynthia Webb (September 2017)
Poster image courtesy of the film producers

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