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.

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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


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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