Asia House Film Festival 2015 focuses on new generation of filmmakers

A still from Jalanan (2014) which is being screened at The Horse Hospital on 31 March

A still from 'Jalanan' (2014) which is being screened at The Horse Hospital on 31 March

Asia House Film Festival 2015 focuses on new generation of filmmakers

27 March 2015

By Naomi Canton

The Asia House Film Festival 2015, which kicks off at the Ham Yard Theatre in Soho on Friday, will showcase three European premieres, eight UK premieres and three London premieres of films made by young and emerging talent from across Asia.

Three directors Lucky Kuswandi, Byamba Sakhya and Kulikar Sotho are flying over for this year’s Festival, generously supported once again by Prudential, the theme of which is ‘New Generations.’

“The Festival shows films from across Asia – countries that many people may not have been to and so it’s a window on different cultures, whilst at the same time showing the universality of experience,” said artistic director Jasper Sharp. “Most people, when you say for example Mongolia to them, they think of epic landscapes and nomads, but these films show what the lives of people in Mongolia are actually like,” he added.

Sharp, who has a PhD in Film Studies and who has written extensively on Japanese cinema, is directing the Asia House Film Festival for the first time. He previously curated films for the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival and for four years directed The Zipangu Fest, a UK film festival devoted to Japanese film, which he founded.

“I had followed Japanese cinema for about 15 years but I had always been interested in Asia generally as the difference between somewhere like Vietnam and Japan is very distinct. Then you have countries like Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population of any country. The Asia House Film Festival was always on my radar as I wanted to explore other film cultures. It’s different to the other Asian festivals in London as it is pan-Asian. The  Terracotta Festival shows films from the Far East but it does not, for example, show films from Uzbekistan,” he explained.

He said the digital transformation of the industry across Asia has led to a rise in young filmmakers in Asia, many of whom previously would not have been able to make films when the industry was analogue. “Before, when the whole industry was analogue, if a film was shot in colour in Vietnam or Cambodia, they would need to send it to the labs in Tokyo to be processed and there were huge costs associated with distribution. It’s now much cheaper to create a digital film and you can send it to the other side of the world over the Internet. China and Indonesia are having a very big cinema rebuilding programme at present creating lots of refurbished state-of-the-art cinemas. This has put countries like Cambodia on a level playing field with Indonesia,” said Sharp who had just flown in from Ohio where his own first feature-length documentary The Creeping Garden, which he co-directed with Tim Grabham, was screened at the Cleveland International Film Festival. Grabham also made the Asia House Film Festival 2015 trailer.

Asia House Film Festival 2015 Trailer from Asia House on Vimeo.

Sharp, who has written two books on Japanese cinema, added: “Ever since the end of WWII, Japan has been a regional centre for the film industry in Asia. At the same time Japanese films were distributed in all these countries, but Cambodian films were not necessarily shown in Japan. Now the rest of Asia has caught up with Japan.”

Whilst Japan dominated the cinema scene in South East Asia, the Mongolian film industry’s regional centre was Moscow and Beijing, so was heavily influenced by them until Communism fell in Mongolia, when a different more liberal style of cinema emerged there.

One of the aims of this year’s Festival is to look at those changes in cinematic styles, traditions, and old and new production practices.

“When I saw Passion, which is being screened at Rich Mix on Saturday, it was so interesting to discover that Mongolia had had quite a thriving commercial film history during its Communist period as there was a big Soviet-funded studio system. It looks at both of these sides – the current system and the old system; it also gives a window into life for two generations in Mongolia and this is what inspired me to do the Mongolian day of films Mongolian Treasures on 19 April at the Cinema Museum,” he said.

A still from 'Passion' (2010), a Mongolian film, being screened at Rich Mix on Saturday, 28 March

A still from ‘Passion’ (2010), a Mongolian film, being screened at Rich Mix on Saturday, 28 March

“That was the starting point because it was only then that I realised there were all these Mongolian films from the Communist period. Historical drama Before Rising Up the Rank / Zereg Nehemiin Omnomade during the golden age of films in the Communist period, is one of the films being shown on 19 April.

“I can’t think of any other time when a Mongolian film from the 1960s has been shown in London or the UK,” he said. “The other films being shown that day are Remote Control (2010) , directed by the same director that made Passion, Byamba Sakhya, which is a story about contemporary Ulaanbataar and Yellow Colt (2013), a family drama set among nomadic horse herding community,” he added. Sakhya will be present for a Q + A session after the screening of Passion on Saturday.

A still from Yellow Colt

A still from ‘Yellow Colt’ (2013), being screened at The Cinema Museum on 19 April

The Festival focuses on the new generation of filmmakers in Asia.

One of Cambodia’s few female directors Kulikar Sotho, who is making a name for herself in a still male-dominated Cambodian society, is flying in to speak about her film, The Last Reel and the Cambodian film industry, which is now picking up, at Rich Mix, tomorrow. Her film is about the cinematic heyday of Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge.

“All traces of that cinema industry were erased by the Khmer Rouge. The film is about a young girl who discovers an incomplete reel of a melodrama from the early 1970s (pre Khmer Rouge times),” he said.

Whilst Yangon Calling – Punk in Myanmar an undercover documentary made by two German directors, looks at the punk scene in Myanmar, which was influenced by British punk, Jalanan, which is being screened the same night, is about street musicians who are from the bottom of society and who make their money through music – often using political lyrics. “This Closing Night film shows a very different Jakarta to In the Absence of the Sun which shows more the wealthy classes. It’s showing Jakarta through the eyes of poor people. So it’s about the same place but from a different perspective,” he said.

Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens is very vibrant documentary that evokes the energy of India. “When foreigners make films about Asia there is that danger of ‘exocitising’,” Sharp said.  “But equally foreigners may notice interesting things about a country that the locals take for granted. In the same way if a Mongolian filmmaker came to London they would find a number of interesting things that we take for granted. This film is about the Sonepur Cattle Fair in India – it’s observational and immersive and you really feel like you are there. It is fabulous on the big screen,” he added.

A still from 'Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens', being screened at Rich Mix on Sunday, 29 March

A still from ‘Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens’ (2014), being screened at Rich Mix on Sunday, 29 March

He then spoke about The Seventh Bullet, an Uzbek Red Western which is being screened twice – on 29 March at Rich Mix and on 10 April at The Cinema Museum. “It’s an awesome film set in the 1920s in the style of a spaghetti western about an upsurge by Muslims against Communists,” he said.

NUOC 2030 is a sci-fi film that looks at the future of the planet with a focus on how climate change could change Vietnam, also fitting in with the theme of New Generations. “It has a very visual powerful aesthetic,” he said.

Flashback Memories 3D which is being screened at Rich Mix, tomorrow, Saturday 28 March, is a musical documentary about a Japanese didgeridoo player recovering from a car accident, set against the backdrop of his performance.

“It puts you in his mindset, inside his head, permanently stuck in the present and he can’t remember the past. It’s a true story – it took him a year to recover from his accident and he still can’t remember what happened yesterday,” Sharp said.

A still from 'Flashback Memories 3D' (2012), which is being screened at Rich Mix on Saturday, 28 March

A still from ‘Flashback Memories 3D’ (2012), which is being screened at Rich Mix on Saturday, 28 March

The abstract animated short Wonder is made by what Sharp describes as “the most interesting independent animator in Japan at the moment” whilst the Swedish short Autonomous is set in Japan portraying a dystopic future of robots and automation

For Sharp ‘New Generations’ is not just about a new generation of filmmakers, but also about new generations of characters. “In the Absence of the Sun is a great example as one of the characters is an Indonesian who has just come back from staying in New York for three years and she finds her home city has modernised so much in the three years that it is almost alien with everyone looking at their mobiles all the time and everything being branded.” Exciting young director Lucky Kuswandi will be at the Opening Night tonight.

The Asia House Film Festival 2015 opens at the Ham Yard Theatre inside the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho at 18.00 tonight with a drinks reception and screening of In the Absence of The Sun and the short Trans-Mongolian: A Long Train Journey.

The Festival closes on 31 March at the Horse Hospital. Three Mongolian films will also be screened as part of a Festival retrospective on Mongolian cinema, which will take place on 19 April. For more details on all the films click here.