ASIA PACIFIC SCREEN ACADEMY (APSA) PRESENTATION CEREMONY 26th November, 2020.

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.

THE RELEVANCE OF APSA:

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.

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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