Tuesday, September 28, 2010

NETPAC celebrates 20 years in New Delhi and Bangkok

Lekha Shankar has been programming the NETPAC-FCCT Asian Film Festival, a six-film series that has been running at Bangkok's Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand since July. The series closes on Thursday night with a screening of Sell Out!, with director Yeo Joon Han and NETPAC founder and president Aruna Vasudev in attendance. Lekha also attended the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema's 20th-anniversary Imaging Asia conference in New Delhi from August 19 to 22, where Uruphong Raksasad's Agrarian Utopia and Nonzee Nimibutr's ghost romance Nang Nak were screened. To tell us all about these things, she sent this report.

Story and photos by Lekha J Shankar

The NETPAC-FCCT Asian Film Festival concludes at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand Thursday, September 30, with the much-lauded comedy from Malaysia Sell Out!, the debut feature of indie director Yeo Joon Han, which won a special mention at the Venice film festival in 2008.

The riotous film pokes fun at every institution, from media sensationalism to individual creativity to corporate greed, and strikes a chord in every city, including Bangkok.

Han, who will be attending the screening, loves everything about Bangkok, from its Mama noodles to its post-productions studios, both of which he uses to the hilt. Han attended 2008's World Film Festival of Bangkok, where Sell Out! was screened.

The director, whose short Adults Only also won a special mention at Venice, has just completed his second feature, and confessed he was quite "broke".

Which was why he was very grateful to Air Asia for offering him a complimentary ticket to attend the film screening at FCCT.

The dynamic, articulate director will do a Q&A after the film screening.

Also present for the screening and Q&A will be the founder and president of NETPAC, Dr Aruna Vasudev, who is specially flying down for the occasion, on her way back from the Focus on Asia Fukuoka International Film Festival, which had a special section on the NETPAC award-winning films from Japan. (Two Thai films, Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History and Somkiet Vituranich's October Sonata were in the festival's official selection.)

Aruna recently master-minded a mega film event in New Delhi, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema with a three-day conference, Imaging Asia – the Culture & Politics of Asian Cinema.

Held from August 19 to 22, the conference was attended by more than 60 eminent film professionals from Europe, Asia and the US. These included festival programmers from Cannes, Rotterdam, Munich and Pusan, "Asia-centric" festivals like Vesoul in France, "new: festivals like Granada, Abu Dhabi and Kazaksthan, as well as film-funding agencies like Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund and CNC from France, in addition to film experts and academics.

Nonzee Nimibutr represented Thailand, and spoke about the importance of the funding projects in Asian festivals like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Pusan (where he received a grant for Queens of Langkasuka.

Meanwhile Kim Dong-Ho, director of the Pusan International Film Festival and a member of the Netpac board, said this year’s Pusan festival would screen
15 NETPAC award-winning films to celebrate 15 years of the festival and 20 years of Netpac,

Kim, who is retiring this year after an amazing, 15-year success story with the Pusan festival, where he raised the beach town from a "cultural wasteland" to the most important film festival venue in Asia, said he was proud of the many "New Asian talents" that the festival had discovered through the Pusan Promotion Fund, the Asian Cinema Fund and the Asian Film Academy.

He mentioned Thai director Aditya Assarat, whose debut feature Wonderful Town had won a grant from Pusan, followed by the first of many international awards.

Aditya will screen two films at Pusan this year, his sophomore feature Hi-So and Eternity, directed by Sivaroj Kongsakul and produced by Aditya's Pop Pictures.

Cannes-winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s name came up a lot at the NETPAC Conference, especially from representatives of the Hubert Bals Fund and CNS, since they had both contributed funds for his award-winning Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.

Both the organizations said they were looking forward to supporting many new indie directors of Thailand.

Meanwhile, Nonzee screened his NETPAC award-winner Nang Nak to a rapt New Delhi audience, who asked him many questions about the story, technique and symbolism of the film.

The film was also screened at the FCCT as part of the NETPAC festival, where again, it had a large expat audience totally moved and fascinated by the famous Thai ghost story.

The NETPAC conference in New Delhi was supported by vibrant art exhibitions, film screenings and puppets shows. The latter included the well-known Nang Thalung shadow puppet group of Acharn Suchart Subsin from Thailand.

While the Conference’s opening was addressed by Ms. Latha Reddy, former ambassador to Thailand and presently secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, its conclusion was marked by an exclusive film tour of two cities, organised by the same ministry, for an international media team.

These included tour of the spectacular Ramoji Studios in the silicon city of Hyderabad, considered one of the biggest in the world. Media baron Ramoji Rao stated that unlike the Thai Film Office, they did not need to "seek or accept government help". Nor did they need to look for foreign production units, as they could sustain themselves totally by the numerous films being made in the country.

The second stop was the Whistling Woods International Film Academy in the Bollywood city of Mumbai, which boasted of superior equipment, facilities and teaching personnel, run by Bollywood mogul Subhash Ghai. He stated that they had students from many countries and would welcome any from Thailand.

While the major achievement of NETPAC has been to introduce Asian cinema to the whole world, its minor achievement – as the recent Netpac Conference event proved – has been to introduce the Asian countries to each other.

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