Vietnam Int'l Film Fest to debut this month

"Under the Hawthorn Tree"

Event joins Pusan, Tokyo to showcase best in Asian cinema

Can Pusan survive without Kim Dong-ho

In 1996, when Pusan opened South Korea's first international film festival with British director Mike Leigh's "Secrets and Lies," neighboring Japan was preparing the ninth edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Just a year earlier, Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran -- whose previous film, "The Scent of Green Papaya," drew a 1994 Oscar nomination as well as the Cannes Camera d'Or -- surprised the world when her drama "Cyclo" won the Venice Golden Lion.

It was a heady moment for Vietnamese cinema: Two years running, a director from a country with no international film festival of its own stole Asia's share of the international spotlight from two far more mature film markets.

Since then, Vietnamese film has slinked quietly along while Korea has loudly boasted commercial and critical successes like Bong Joon-ho's "The Host" and Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy."

Despite decades of deflation, Japan has seen its moviegoers prove as insatiable as its filmmakers are innovative. Yojiro Takita's 2008 "Departures" won an elusive (foreign-language) Oscar (only the 16th ever awarded an Asian film) and China only just this year overtook Japan as the No. 2 box office market for Hollywood exports.

Each member of the autumn Asian festival trifecta will offer visitors a glimpse of the evolving state of their local film market and its players' aspirations.

Pusan 2010 opens with "Under the Hawthorn Tree," a romance from veteran Zhang Yimou, a nod to China's rising importance as a source for box office growth and potential co-production finance. Tokyo 2010, flaunting market maturity with a website in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, Thai and, last but not least, Vietnamese, opens in Hanoi on Oct. 17.

Just getting going, organizers in Hanoi have yet to announce their festival's opening film, a Vietnamese release that at press time was still undergoing review by government censors. Here's a look at what to expect this year at three of Asia's most prominent film events. (J.L.)

Pusan International Film Festival
A quick look at the guest list of this year's Pusan International Film Festival presents an artful balance of the old and new, tradition versus style.

At one end of the spectrum is the presence of mainstream celebrities from the West, like Oliver Stone, who will be on hand for a gala presentation of "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," and Willem Dafoe, on hand for Giada Colagrande's drama "A Woman," which screens in the World Cinema section. Other visitors will imbue the event with more of an international edge, like Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, who will lead the festival's Asian Film Academy, and Tsai Ming Liang, a Taiwanese director who will be honored as Asian Filmmaker Award by Pusan this year. And in between, there are guests who straddle both worlds, like Yimou, whose intimate opening-night film "Under the Hawthorn Tree" marks a departure from the spectacle of his recent work, and Juliet Binoche, the French actress best known in Korea as the Lancome lady, whose poster once adorned many Korean cafes in the '90s.

The balance partly reflects a conscious effort to overcome "generational issues," says festival director Kim Dong-ho, who adds that he has observed rising political tension in Korean cinema in recent years.

The festival, which runs Oct. 7-15, offers 308 films, including 103 world premieres and 52 international premieres. The soaring reputation of Pusan, which grew into Asia's largest film festival in the past decade, is further hinted in its New Currents category, which presents 13 films that are either international or world premiers.

"We focused on the idea of 'discovery' for this year's festival," says Kim Ji-seok, the festival's chief programmer.

This year's fest also features a lineup of films from areas that are relatively unexplored, including special screenings of six Czech films and Kurdish releases that delve into themes of war, poverty and exile.

On the market side, a number of multinational co-productions make up a compelling lineup of this year's Pusan Project Plan, which features works by emerging directors like Malaysia's Ming Liang, Argentina's Pablo Trapero and Thailand's Anocha Suwich­akornpong, whose previous film "Mundane History" was funded by Pusan's Asian Cinema Fund for postproduction.

"It will be a new challenge for Pusan," says Kim Dong-ho. "With the opening of (new festival headquarters) Dureraum next year the city can open a new chapter. The festival will also strengthen the network among other Asian film festivals." (P.S.)


Tokyo International Film Festival
The 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival will run Oct. 23-31, finishing up on Halloween -- though the organizers will be hoping to avoid any real horrors this year.

TIFF and its TIFFCOM market have managed to put the event squarely on the ever more crowded festival circuit map, while simultaneously trying to keep a balance between attracting big names and nurturing new talent.

Heading this year's jury will be Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game") who will be making a return a quarter of a century after his second film, "The Company of Wolves," screened in TIFF's inaugural competition section in 1985.

Another TIFF returnee is Oscar-winning U.K. producer Jeremy Thomas ("The Last Emperor") who was added an executive adviser this year, and will be speaking at a seminar on co-productions. Thomas was president of the jury for TIFF in 1998 and his association with Japanese films goes back even further, to 1982's "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," directed by Nagisa Oshima.

This year sees the anniversaries of two giants of Asian cinema -- Akira Kurosawa and Bruce Lee -- who will be celebrated with retrospectives in the Winds of Asia and the Middle East section.

To commemorate 100 years Kurosawa's birth, films from Asia that were influenced by the directing legend will be screened in "The 100th Anniversary: Souls of Kurosawa in Asia Middle East" special.

"Lots of other festivals are showing Kurosawa films this year, so to avoid just repeating that we're screening pastiches, parodies and remakes of his works, including films from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Palestine," says Kenji Ishizaka, programming director for Winds of Asia and the Middle East.

The "70th Anniversary: Bruce Lee to the Future," will screen films by the kung fu master, including a rare Japanese print of both "Game of Death" and "Enter the Dragon." Also in the lineup are Vietnamese and Hong Kong movies heavily influenced by Lee, as well as "Ip Man" and "Ip Man 2," the biopics of his kung fu teacher.

"My background is as a film researcher and scholar, rather than a buyer or distributor, so I focus on retrospectives rather than just screening new works," Ishizaka says. "If audiences haven't seen the films, it doesn't matter if they're old -- they're still fresh to them."

The TIFFCOM market, which runs Oct. 25-28, continues to attract new exhibitors and expand its seminar offerings. Participants from 53 countries are already signed up for this year's market, while China, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan will all have an increased presence. It will come as no surprise that China is leading the charge with 26 exhibitors up from last year's 18.

Alongside the market, and under the umbrella of the UNIJAPAN Entertainment Forum, half a dozen seminars will cover everything from international casting to co-productions and pitching projects to Hollywood, with key speakers from around the global industry. (G.B.)

Vietnam International Film Festival
Organizers of Vietnam's inaugural film festival, running in Hanoi on Oct. 17-21, are hoping to grow the number of 500 guests registered by drawing more from the industry hoards already traveling to established movie events in Korea and Japan.

"We hope guests going to Pusan and Tokyo will also make a trip to Hanoi," says Ngo Thi Bich Hanh, chief festival programmer and sales and acquisitions vp at Vietnam Media Corp.

Led by festival director Lai Van Sinh, VMC and the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, the festival launches as an upwardly mobile population has boosted Vietnam's box office receipts fivefold in four years.

Seeing the industry's growth potential, "Salt" director Phillip Noyce from Australia, Venice International Film Festival director Marco Mueller and Francois Cantonne, cinematographer on 1993's foreign-language Oscar-winner "Indochine," are three of five judges who will pick the winner from a nine-film competition featuring works from eight Asian countries.

After an approval process -- "Vietnam is a bit like China in this way," Ngo says. "We must wait for a film's approval" -- "Floating Lives" was selected to open the festival.

Opening and closing ceremonies will be held at the 2,500-seat National Convention Center and public screenings of 68 films from 20 countries will be held at a number of multiplexes, as well as the National Cinema Center and at the French colonial-era Hanoi Opera House, which was built in 1911.

In addition to the features competition, independent festival judges will choose the best short films and documentaries from the A Vietnam Today section, which consists of 15 locally made films, each subtitled in English.

An audience award comes with a distribution deal and $30,000 of in-kind promotion and marketing support. Technicolor will sponsor a $25,000 Asia Award devoted to completing postproduction on the best Vietnamese project.

A Country in Focus section of five films from France sponsored by UniFrance and K+, will award $10,000 to the best French film selected by a Vietnamese audience. (J.L.)
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