Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival to challenge stereotypes

Image from Kami's Party, an Iranian film, which will be shown at the Pan-Asia Film Festival

Image from Kami's Party, an Iranian film, which was shown at the Pan-Asia Film Festival

Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival to challenge stereotypes

19 February 2014

By Naomi Canton

There are many good reasons to go to the Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival, not least because the movies feature diverse Asian cultures that challenge stereotypes. But another reason is this might be the only chance to see some of these movies.

The director of the Festival Alison Poltock said: “Many of these films will probably never get released in the UK so it might be the only chance you’ll get to see them on the big screen.

“Very few subtitled foreign language films will get a UK national release as distributors know it’s a niche audience. Sadly, mainstream audiences generally tend to avoid subtitled films.”

Honourdirected by a first-time British Asian director Shan Khan, is the only film showing at the Festival that is not subtitled.

The Festival, which screens films from across Asia, will take place at cinemas across London, with regional screenings in Glasgow and Leeds, between 26 February and 9 March.

“It’s a mix of documentaries and dramas but the tone of it is independent storytelling. It’s not an action-based programme, it’s not mainstream Hollywood, it’s about examining the culture of these different countries,” Poltock said.

“We like films that are challenging stereotypes, for example Kami’s Party is a tour de force about young Iranian women, showing them in a confident, provocative starring role.”

Poltock and Head Programmer of the Festival Andrew Simpson flew to the Tokyo International Film Festival in October to select films for the Asia House Pan Asia Festival. “We were watching about four films a day, many were world premieres and for many it was the first time they have been on the big screen,” Poltock explained.

“We picked three Japanese films from the Tokyo Film festival – UnforgivenThe Tale of Iya and The Shape of the Night. We also got Kami’s Party; Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy and Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain. That was the world premiere of Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain in Tokyo. It has never been shown in India. The second time it will be screened will be at our Festival in London.

“We just felt it was a great opportunity for this Festival: it’s about an important issue, extremely well produced and is presented in a way that would appeal to a British audience. It is a perfect film for us to close on.”

The other films being screened at the Asia House Pan Asia Film Festival were selected based on their own research.

Unforgiven is the Opening Night Gala Film.

“We chose Unforgiven by Lee Sang-il as our Opening Night Gala because many people will have seen the 1992 Clint Eastwood classic and be interested in seeing a Japanese take on a well-known Western. It’s a joy to watch, with rich production and those stunning, sweeping vistas often associated with great Western cinematography,” she said.

A digitised restoration of a Japanese classic will be shown.

“The 1960s Japanese cinema classic, The Shape of the Night, has been restored to mark the centenary of the birth of its director Noboru Nakamura. He is a hugely revered Oscar-nominated director, ranking alongside veteran Japanese filmmakers like Yasujirō Ozu, Shohei Imamura and Mikio Naruse, so it’s an honour to be presenting the UK premiere of its restoration,” Poltock added.

“The original film was made on 35mm film and so this is a digitised version of that film with restored colour – it’s like touching up an oil painting. In 1964 it was a big hit. It is now considered a classic of Japanese cinema. This is to coincide with the film’s 50th anniversary and the film was screened to considerable acclaim at the Venice Film Festival in August 2013 on the centenary of his birth,” she said.

Poltock, who has a background in composing music for films, has been director of the annual East End Festival for seven years and this is the second year she has curated the Pan Asia Film Festival.

When asked which film she is most looking forward to this year, Poltock took a while to respond, clearly torn between all the films, and said:

“I always loved Dangerous Liaisons and thought it was a fantastic script and I think the Chinese version is beautiful, lush and exciting; great escapist cinema.”

Dangerous Liaisons (2012) is an adaptation of the 1988 Stephen Frears film starring John Malkovich. It’s already been released in China and various Asian countries but not in the UK. It was screened at the 2013 Venice Film festival.

Dangerous Liaisons, a Chinese adaptation of the book starring Ziyi Zhang will screen at the Pan-Asia Film Festival

Dangerous Liaisons, a Chinese adaptation of the book starring Ziyi Zhang will screen at the Pan-Asia Film Festival

The other film she recommends is The Tale of Iya set in Japan. “It’s about digging a tunnel to get quicker links between cities and rural communities and is about how people start to lose the old ways and young people start leaving the mountains to go to the city. It is set in the present time. It’s partly based on truth but it is very beautiful and poetic,” she said.

“It is exciting to see such a young filmmaker and he is one to watch for the future.  It is very respectful to the Japanese masters; it is a very beautiful, mature and poetic film and I was very impressed in terms of the way that it looked at old Japan and New Japan and the conflicts that arose. I found it very exciting and I think the audience will as well,” she said. “I went to see it when I was in Tokyo. I did not have any expectations as the filmmaker is so young. He filmed it while he was at college,” Poltock added. “I was rather tired that day and it’s more or less a three hour film so I thought it might be hard going whereas in fact it was so beautiful and I was blown away. “

“I also like Kami’s Party,” Poltock said. “It gave me insight into Iranian society and felt like a fresh voice for me in terms of women. As a woman who grew up in London I find it interesting to see a young woman’s plight in another country so I found that very exciting.”

As for the two Thai films, Poltock said: “We try to get a good spread of films that make it an exciting programme to promote. 36 won the New Currents Award at the 17th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in 2012 and is a very interesting film.”

The Missing Picture uses little dolls which “is a poignant, beautiful and powerful way to depict the Khmer Rouge situation,” Poltock explained. “Had it not been for these dolls it would not be as powerful. Their innocence makes the impact of that story hitting home even harder.”

Image from Honour, a British film, which will be shown at Genesis Cinema on 8 March

Image from Honour, a British film, which was shown at Genesis Cinema on 8 March

Honour, which deals with the issue of honour killings, is set for release in the UK in April 2014. “We wanted to make sure we had a British film in the programme and Honour is a film that we thought would relate to a young audience so we are presenting it in partnership with Cutting East, the youth arm of the East End Festival, run by 16-23 year olds. It has UK stars and also deals with very relevant inter-cultural issues in an accessible creative way.”

The Asia House Pan-Asia Film Festival took place from 26 February to 9 March, 2014.