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

About cynephilia

Lifetime student of and devourer of international Cinema. Artist, teacher, traveller - especially to my "other home", Java, Indonesia. Features writer for 14 years, for The Jakarta Post, national English language daily newspaper. I was born in New Zealand, but lived in Queensland, Australia since 1970. My profound link with Indonesia began in 1983, when visiting Bali (then an island of arts and of inspiration for an artist), and then again in 1994 when a visit to Yogyakarta, Java, began a process of that town and it's warm people becoming another home and extended family for me. Yogyakarta is the Artistic capital of Indonesia, and so it was the place for me. In 2000 I became a regular contributor about the arts for The Jakarta Post, and cinema, my lifetime passion, later began to become my focus for writing. The advent of The Asia Pacific Screen Awards, (APSA) in South East Queensland, launched in 2007 gave me opportunities to meet some the great film-makers of Asia, and see their amazing work. APSA is a kind of "Oscars" for the Asia-Pacific Region.
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