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Asia Pacific hits the heights

How the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (Nov 24) are helping to raise the global recognition of films from the region.

The fifth annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSAs), take place on Australia’s Gold Coast on November 24. The shortlists encompass a Chinese blockbuster, international festival favourites and little-seen titles from up-and-coming directors.

“We pitch ourselves as the highest accolade in the Asia Pacific region,” says APSA’s artistic director Maxine Williamson. “We are not giving out consolation prizes.”

The two films with the most nominations, Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, have already achieved international recognition, winning the Golden Bear at Berlin and the ex aequo Grand Jury Prize at Cannes respectively. Both have been released theatrically in Europe, widely in A Separation’s case, ensuring it will be one of the highest-grossing arthouse films of the year at the global box office and a favourite to secure a foreign-language Oscar nomination.

‘We pitch ourselves as the highest accolade in the Asia Pacific region’

Maxine Williamson, APSA

Another APSA best film nominee, Jiang Wen’s Let The Bullets Fly is the most commercially successful of all the nominees. It has grossed nearly $100m in China alone, which will make it one of the biggest non-English-language hits of 2011. It has not yet been released outside Asia but has sold to Japan, Australia and the UK.

The real discoveries, says Williamson, tend to be in the documentary, animation and children’s film categories.

The APSAs are funded by Australia’s Queensland state government which pumps significant resources into its relationship with Asia via the arts. Though the nascent event is little known by the general public outside Queensland, pockets of awareness are developing.

Last year a 50-minute programme about the ceremony was shown in 47 countries by the Australia Network; a half-hour interview show will be added this year. In 2010 the awards webcast was watched live by 6,000 people.

Previous APSA winners, screened under the APSA banner, have played in local Queensland film festivals and at the Beijing Film Festival. Launching an online festival in all territories is under consideration, says Williamson, but rights issues have to be overcome.

“In Japan, APSA is popular with big anime fans as well as people in the movie industry,” says producer Noritaka Kawaguchi, who produced 5 Centimetres Per Second, the winner of the 2007 APSA for best animated film.

“There is often a great deal of interest in Japanese citizens being recognised overseas,” he explains. “Masahiro Motoki’s best actor award in 2009 helped APSA become more popular in Japan. At the very least, winning a prize in APSA has a good influence on the overseas sales of the film.”

It is a view backed by other Asian APSA winners. “Chinese drama is not popular in the [international] film market but Aftershock got a lot of attention and this helped sales,” says Lana Peng, assistant manager for international and distribution with China’s Huayi Brothers, of the many awards won by Aftershock, including the APSA for best film in 2010. The Hong Kong Film Awards were better known, she adds, because of their focus on Chinese films.

‘Aftershock got a lot of attention and the awards helped sales’

Lana Peng, Huayi Brothers

Williamson is trying to increase engagement with the APSA Academy. Each year, nominees, the jury and others are inducted into the Academy. This year for the first time, 65 members viewed the nominated films on the “encrypted and very secure” APSA View website and voted in the children’s, documentary and animation categories. The linguistic and technological barriers to online voting in some territories within APSA’s 70-country footprint are being addressed.

Beyond the awards ceremony, APSA aims to assist film-makers and facilitate co-production and pan-Asian production. It has two development funds: one with the Motion Picture Association (MPA) and the other with 4 Boys Films, based in Manila in the Philippines.

A Separation director Farhadi was one of the first four to receive $25,000 in development funding from the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund in 2010. A further recipient was Peng Tao, whose Straw Man — a drama about a crematorium worker in China who profits from selling ‘ghost wives’ to families who believe a man is imperfect if he dies single — is now in post.

Korea’s Lee Chang-dong, the writer-director of 2007 best film winner Secret Sunshine, and the Russia-based Kazakh film-maker Sergey Dvortsevoy, whose Tulpan won the best film prize in 2008, have also both scored development funding from APSA for their next projects.

Lee’s Memories Of Blue Hill Club is in development and portrays a misinterpreted friendship between a university lecturer and a group of poor boys. Dvortsevoy’s Moscow-set Ayaka, about a 20-year-old who asks the policeman who raped her to recover the baby she gave away, is set to start principal photography before the end of 2011.

APSA NOMINEES 2011: BOX OFFICE TO October 16 OF SELECTED titles

BEST FILM

A Separation (Iran)
Dir Asghar Farhadi
France (Memento Films) $8.3m
Germany (Alamode) $1.2m
UK (Artificial Eye) $572,257
Netherlands (Cinéart) $362,209
Belgium (Cinéart) $359,365
Sweden (Folkets Bio) $110,706
Spain (Golem Films) $99,760*
Greece (Strada Productions) $66,811
Hungary (Mokep) $2,153
To come Italy (Sacher Distribution, October 21); US (Sony Pictures Classics, December 30).

Goodbye (Iran)
Dir Mohammad Rasoulof
France (Pretty Pictures) $264,924

Let The Bullets Fly (Chi-HK)
Dir Jiang Wen
China (Emperor) $97.4m
Hong Kong (US Films/Emperor) $1.6m
Singapore (Golden Village) $235,884
Thailand (Mongkol Major) $74,014
Malaysia (Golden Screen) $32,527
Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turk-Bos & Herz)
Dir Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Turkey (Tiglon) $533,635
To come Greece (Ama Films, October 27); France (Memento Films, November 2)

Wedding Planners (Ind)
Dir Maneesh Sharma
India (Yash Raj) $6m
UK (Yash Raj) $99,703
Australia (Mind Blowing Films) $44,760
New Zealand (Forum Films) $5,015

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below (Jap)
Dir Makoto Shinkai
Japan (Media Factory) $1.1m
South Korea (A-One) $340,217

Leafie (S Kor)
Dir Oh Seong-yun
South Korea (Lotte Entertainment) $13.9m

RPG Metanoia (Phil)
Dir Luis Suarez
Philippines (Star Cinema) $1.1m
Tatsumi (Sing)
Dir Eric Khoo
Singapore (Golden Village) $9,878
To come France (Happiness, February 1, 2012), UK (Soda Pictures, January 13, 2012)

The Ugly Duckling (Rus)
Dir Garri Bardin
Russia (Argument Kino) $65,543
To come France (KMBO, Nov 2)

*Still on release

Further Apsa nominees 2011

Best director

Asghar Farhadi, A Separation (Iran)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turk-Bos & Herz)
Mohammad Rasoulof, Goodbye (Iran)
Jiang Wen, Let The Bullets Fly (Chi-HK)
Na Hong-jin, The Yellow Sea (S Kor)

BEST ACTRESS

Judy Davis, The Eye Of The Storm (Aus)
Nahed El Sebai, Cairo 678 (Egypt)
Nadezhda Markina, Elena (Rus)
Shayesteh Irani, Facing Mirrors (Iran)
Leyla Zareh, Goodbye (Iran)

BEST ACTOR

Peyman Moaadi, A Separation (Iran)
Wang Baoqiang, Mr Tree (Chi)
Sasson Gabai, Restoration (Isr)
Fa’afiaula Sagote, The Orator (NZ-Samoa)
Daniel Connors, Toomelah (Aus)

BEST SCREENPLAY

Yoon Sung-hyun, Bleak Night (S Kor)
Denis Osokin, Silent Souls (Rus)
Alexey Balabanov, A Stoker (Rus)
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation (Iran)
Ercan Kesal, Ebru Ceylan and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turk-Bos & Herz)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Vladimir Bashta, Brest Fortress (Rus)
Yuri Klimenko, The Edge (Rus)
Mark Lee Ping Bin, Norwegian Wood (Jap)
Sonthar Gyal, Old Dog (Chi-Tib)
Gokhan Tiryaki, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Turk-Bos & Herz)

BEST CHILDREN’S FEATURE FILM

11 Flowers (Chi-Fr) Dir Wang Xiaoshuai
Buta (Azerbaijan) Dir Ilgar Najaf
The Flood (Isr-Fr-Ger-Can) Dir Guy Nattiv
The Fourth Portrait (Tai) Dir Chung Mong-hong
Red Dog (Aus) Dir Kriv Stenders
Wind And Fog (Iran) Dir Mohammad Ali Talebi

Best Documentary Feature

Amin (Iran-S Kor-Can-Ukr) Dir Shahin Parhami
Bakhmaro (Georgia-Ger) Dir Salome Jashi
I Was Worth 50 Sheep (Swe-Jap-US) Dir Nima Sarvestani
Marathon Boy (Ind-UK) Dir Gemma Atwal
Pink Saris (Ind-UK) Dir Kim Longinotto

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