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Asean films on the lagoon

Sep 15. 2015
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By Donsaron Kovitvanitcha

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In Venice, a trio of entries from Southeast Asia make a splash outside the main competition
ONE OF THE most important film festivals as well as one of the oldest, the Venice Film Festival wrapped on Saturday and awarded its treasured top prize, the Golden Lion, to “From Afar” (“Desde Alla”). 
The directorial debut of Lorenzo Vigas from Venezuela, and the first Venezuelan film ever selected for competition in Venice, it beat the expected winners Alexander Sokurov and Tom Hooper.
Asian titles did not fare so well this year, at least in terms of awards, but festival-goers were treated to several promising titles from the region. 

'The Return' by Singaporean artist Green Zeng

In competition, a Turkish film, “Frenzy”, won its second-time director Emin Alperrom the Special Jury Prize while Zhao Liangs breathtakingly beautiful documentary “Behemoth” and Israeli master Amos Gitais latest film “Rabin, the Last Day” were well-received by the audience. 
Three Southeast Asian films were screened in the festival this year. In the sidebar competition Orizzonti, Joko Anwar’s fifth film “A Copy of My Mind” enjoyed a warm welcome from the audience. A veteran filmmaker whose films have travelled to many festivals, Anwar’s “A Copy of My Mind” marked his debut at Venice.
“The story was conceived three years ago and we went to the Asian Project Market with it last year. Its the first film we have produced under our new company Lo-Fi Flicks,” says Anwar who co-produced the movie with South Korea’s largest entertainment company, CJ Entertainment. 
“A Copy of My Mind” was awarded a cash price from CJ Entertainment at the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Project Market, and the company liked it so much it worked with Anwar in distributing the film on international market.
“‘Kala’ was my reaction to the anti-pornography law in 2002 and ‘The Forbidden Door’ was my reaction to child abuse but I coated them as genre films,” says Anwar of two of his earlier films.
“This time I chose to make my film more realistic.”
“A Copy of My Mind” is a portrayal of two small lives damaged by politics and corruption in the country. Sari works in a beauty salon by day and at night indulges her thirst for films with latest pirated releases. Fed up with poor subtitling, she tries to return a title and meets Alex, who wiles away his nights creating subtitles using Google Translate for illegal releases. They fall in love but their lives become complicated after Sari steals a DVD from the cell of an imprisoned client to whom she is giving a beauty treatment and discovers evidence of political corruption.

'A Copy of My Mind' by Indonesian Joko Anwar

Another Southeast Asian film at the festival was “The Return”, the directorial debut of Green Zeng, an artist from Singapore. It as selected for the Venice International Film Critics Week.
“My works examine historiography, the history-making process and Singaporean identity. I have worked on history, exile, political prisoners and the history of the leftists and this film is the combination of all of that,” says Zeng, who is one of the few Singaporeans ever invited to Venice.
“The Return” tells the story of Wen, a political prisoner in Singapore who refused to sign a document renouncing his political ideas. Released after several years in jail, he finds it difficult to reunite with his family, especially with his son who accuses him of abandonment.
“The main protagonist is a combination of many people I have studied over the last few years”, says Zeng, adding that he was inspired by the lives of left-wing activists in the 1960s arrested under Singapore’s Internal Security Act, which gives power to the government to arrest and detain any person without trial. 
“Its a self-funded film because we wanted to retain our vision,” he says though he acknowledges that it would have been very hard in any case to find funding for a political film. It took Zeng two years to complete the project. 
“We didnt have money to hire everyone. Many of the crew came to help us for free, but we had to wait until they had free time.”
The only Thai title in the Venice Film Festival this year was Wichanon Somumjarn’s latest short “The Young Man Who Came from the Chee River” (“Jer Gun Muer Rao Jer Gun”). Previously with Electric Eel Films, Wichanon created his own Isan New Wave Production to produce new films from Thailand’s Northeast, which he describes as different from other movies produced in the region.
“The film is supported by Urban Youth and Family Centre of Khon Kaen Municipality and the Ministry of Culture,” he explains.
“Khon Kaen Municipality offers support to filmmakers and artists, but their work and the working process must be related to the community,” says Wichanon, whose short is about a young debt collector who has always dreamed of the Chee River behind his childhood home. He wanders around Khon Kaen collecting debt and meets many people. 
“Films from the Isaan region are growing. There are many filmmaker groups like that of Professor Preecha Sakorn from Maha Sarakham University, or Uten Sririwi, who made Phu Bao Tai Ban,” Wichanon says. “Isaan films are mostly comedies and inherit their style from local performance like mor lam,” says Wichanon, who is confident that independent filmmakers from Thailand’s Northeast, will become an increasingly important voice in Thai cinema.

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