Identity a main theme of New Currents

12 features from 11 countries and territories most diverse yet

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BUSAN, South Korea -- The notion of cinema as a means of diplomacy and national representation is particularly evident at this year’s New Currents section, the PIFF sidebar dedicated to introducing upcoming Asian directors.

Showcasing 12 debut or sophomore features by filmmakers from 11 countries and territories, the mix is the most diverse yet, ranging from Korea, China, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the first feature film produced in the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan in 18 years.

“True Noon,” the first Tajikistani film produced in the 18 years since the Soviet Union dissolved and the nation gained its independence, took its director Nosir Saidov seven years to put on the screen. The country went through a devastating seven-year-long civil war in the 1990s, consequently became one of the world’s poorest nations and saw its film industry decimated. Saidov is now hoping the film’s Asian premiere in Busan will help revive filmmaking and convince its government of the necessity of a home grown film industry in the Central Asian country, where locals embrace pirated Hollywood and Bollywood movie DVDs. 

“Before the Soviet Union collapsed, filmmaking funding came directly from the central government, but now the Tajikistani government is clueless about how much a film costs, so they offered very little budget,” said Saidov, whose black comedy was financed by a state-owned company and the Tajikistani Cultural Ministry, funds which took him seven years of persuading to obtain. “After the civil war, the film industry in Tajikistan was completely destroyed. Although there had been television series and digital videos produced, the government didn’t care about feature films, there were no labs and no facilities for film. The government has no idea that films can travel around the world and show our culture and national condition to people across the globe,” Saidov said, “but my first aim is to get the Tajik people more involved with films from their own country, not those from Hollywood or India.”

Contemplation about national conditions was also the central theme in actress-turned-helmer Jiang Wenli’s directorial debut “Lan,” an autobiographic story about growing up in rural China in the 1970s, before Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms transformed the country. “There’s a huge difference between China then and now; the people possess greater material wealth, but the lives in those days were more emotionally and spiritually fulfilling,” said Jiang, whose onscreen work includes Chen Kaige’s “Farewell My Concubine” (1993) and “And the Spring Comes,” which won her a best actress award at the Rome International Film Festival in 2007.

Childhood memories likewise colored Iraqi Kurdistan director Shawkat Amin Korki’s second feature “Kick Off,” an anti-war tragedy that highlights humanity in the face of military brutality. “I grew up in a very difficult situation during wartime,” said Korki, whose family fled Iraq to Iran when he was two, “and I want to show the horrors of war and tell the stories of my country.” The film is a co-production between Korki’s own Narin Film, the Iraqi Kurdistan cultural ministry and Japan’s NHK, a deal made when Korki attended the Tokyo International Film Festival with his debut “Crossing the Dust” in 2006. 

For Thai first-time director Anocha Suwichakornpong, allegory was the best way to offer a critical look at Thai society and politics. Her US$150,000 “Mundane History,” now generating buzz in Busan after its world premiere on Sunday, is a political critique “disguised as a family drama.”

“The family itself is a microcosm of Thailand itself,” Suwichakornpong said. Fittingly, the film was partly financed by herself, her family and friends, and it has received funding twice from the Rotterdam Festival.

Similarly showing a locality is Hong Kong first-time feature director Rita Hui’s thriller “Dead Slowly,” funded by the government’s Arts Development Council, which involved a rapist-cop plotline that seemed to have been ripped from the city’s headlines. Also included in the New Currents section are Iranian Payman Haghani’s “A Man Who Ate the Cherries,” Korean So Sang-min’s “I’m in Trouble!,” Japanese Shiraishi Kazuya’s “Lost Paradise in Tokyo,” Malaysian Charlotte Lim’s My Daughter,” Korean Park Chan-ok’s “Paju,” Indian Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni’s “Vihir,” and “Squalor” by absentee Filipino director Guiseppe Bede Sampedro, who is still on his way to the festival.

Two of the directors will be honored with the New Currents award and cash prizes of US$30,000 each, determined by a five-person jury headed by French director Jean-Jacques Beineix and presented in the Closing Ceremony on Oct. 16.