Friday 13 October 2017

A Tale of Two Awards for the Best Film(s) from Asia

This is a tale only still partially told but still worth telling.

Apichatpong Weerasethakeul
The Asia Pacific Screen Awards have been bowling along for eleven years now and I am among the members of its ‘Academy’. I did some work for them some time ago helping sift through the entries and recommending titles that went on to a further stage of consideration. So you can say I have an interest. Be that as it may, it finally doesn’t stop me from saying that APSA has made its blunders. The most notorious of those blunders occurred in the year that Apichatpong Weerasthakeul’s Uncle Boonmee won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and failed to get a single APSA nomination. The prize that year, awarded by a jury presided over by Lord Putnam of the UK, was awarded to a piece of Chinese Communist Party propaganda called Aftershock  directed by the commercial hack Feng Xiaogang. It was a disgrace but nobody said anything, including moi.

But notwithstanding such decisions, APSA has a very rigorous selection and nomination process. It seeks to engage with the film industries throughout its area (though its area is ludicrously defined such that countries like Israel get a guernsey to nominate.) This engagement occurs at all levels and produces some remarkable things. I still recall the fabulous year when I was required to sift through some twenty-seven new films from Iran. Amazing work and almost proof positive of the statement made by a friend of mine that no bad film has ever been made in Iran.

APSA’s selections this year are now completed and you can find the very comprehensive lists if you click here. In brief the Press Release says this: "41 films from 21 countries and areas of the Asia Pacific region have received nominations in 2017, including the first nomination for a film from Bhutan. Winners will be announced at the 11th APSA ceremony on November 23, where they will be presented with a unique and exquisite handmade APSA award vessel made by Brisbane-based internationally awarded glass artist Joanna Bone.

Mohammad Rasoulof
"Competing for the APSA for Best Feature Film in 2017 are Vivian Qu’s Angels Wear White (Jia Nian Hua, People’s Republic of China, France), Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot (Israel, Germany, France, Switzerland), Sergei Loznitsa’s A Gentle Creature (Krotkaya; France, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands), Mohammad Rasoulof’s A Man of Integrity (Lerd; Islamic Republic of Iran) and Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country (Australia). For the first time in the history of the event, three of these extraordinary filmmakers have had previous films win Asia Pacific Screen Awards: Vivien Qu (Black Coal, Thin Ice, 2014), Samuel Maoz (Lebanon, 2010), Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah, 2009). Additionally, Mohammad Rasoulof ‘s Goodbye, received three nominations in 2011."

All well and good though yet again you have to wonder what a film from Israel is doing in  a selection from the Asia-Pacific and similarly what’s with another whose provenance lists France, Germany, Lithuania and the Netherlands. Please.

But national qualifications aside, the process is, as I said, rigorous. A team meets in Brisbane chaired by Professor Kim of South Korea and talks its way through it.

Compare this with the new Award being offered by AACTA. That organization released its nominations earlier this week. It has to be said that all the films are from Asia and the heavy hitters of the region are represented – China, Japan, India, South Korea. Good.

But from there on the standards go way down and very fast. Ironically, given my diatribe above, Chinese hack Feng Xiaogang has his film I am not Madame Bovary in the mix. Possibly it will win the prize because of its unusual shooting style which might grab Russell Crowe and his jury’s attention big time. If you want to know more you can read Barrie Pattison's review published here on 21 November 2016. Yep it’s an oldie but apparently AACTA thinks it’s a goodie.

Which brings me to how AACTA actually thinks. The selection process for the nine films is clouded in mystery. Who selected these films, who cast their eyes over them. Did they see a host of entries or, as I’m wondering has the whole thing being hurled together and a bunch of domestic box office successes put on a list for Russell and his team to judge. The process is to say the least shrouded in mystery especially when it includes some old stuff and excludes not one, not two but all three fine films from Japan and China that were screened recently at Venice. Click on the link and you can see an authoritative report about them from David Bordwell.

Just asking. But you have to wonder whether AACTA is making a fool of itself with an award that may hardly rate a mention and likely do little to garner support for AACTA and the AFI’s core business of promoting our own films.

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