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Asia House Film Festival 2015 – almost live from Sonepur Mela

Asia House Film Festival 2015 – almost live from Sonepur Mela

March 26 2015

Film festival on Asia sees works from India, Indonesia, Cambodia and Japan…

ASIA HOUSE, the London-based business and culture institute, which promotes understanding between the UK and the continent of Asia, hosts a five-day film festival focusing on the region.

It’s a unique window into the lives and dreams of those in the world’s most populous continent and includes many never seen outside of their country of origin  – until now.

The festival opens tomorrow (March 27) with the Indonesian film, “In the Absence of the Sun” at the Ham Yard Theatre, Soho. Described as a “bittersweet tale of universal appeal”, it covers the events and memories of a single day. It’s directed, written, and edited by Lucky Kuswandi, one of the leading lights of filmmaking in the region.

This year’s selection of 12 features and four short films, includes two productions shot in India.

The main feature on Sunday (March 29) is “Kings of the Wind and Electric Queens”, and is a close up and intimate portrait of The Sonepur Mela in Bihar. Held every year during the sacred moon day of Kartika Purnima, it hosts the largest animal market in Asia, where even elephants are traded. It’s a UK premiere for filmmakers Cedric Dupire and Gaspard Kuentz and the film is French/India production.

Two other short films are also being screened alongside at Rich Mix, Shoreditch, and the programme begins at 1.30pm. First up is “Small Yellow Field/Tau Seru”, an elegiac portrait of an Indian Himalayan boy who wonders what lies beyond his immediate realm. Made by Australian Rodd Rathjen with Indian actors, it first premiered at Cannes Critics Week last year to much acclaim.

The other short film is “Autonomous”, about a near reality in which robots and humans virtually swap roles and responsibilities. It was produced in Sweden and directed by Per Eriksson and Alexander Rynéus.

Jasper Sharp curates his first Asia House Film Festival as its new artistic director

This year’s festival is the first for new artistic director Jasper Sharp, a renowned author/critic/ and film programmer on Japanese cinema. We caught up with Sharp as he prepared for his very first Asia House Film Festival. (ACV): Last year, the Asia House film festival had two feature films with a South Asian angle – “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” (which incidentally is the closing gala film of the London Asian Film Festival on Saturday) were you looking for a particular kind of film about or from South Asia?

Jasper Sharp (JS): We have quite a small programme, if you consider there’s only about 10 slots, so there’s no need to replicate other festival’s programming.
Some countries are really well represented in UK cinemas or at festivals or events in London, in particular Japan, Korea and India. Finding Indian films that haven’t played in the UK before is particularly tricky, so the two I have included I’ve made sure are very different from your usual types of film you see from or about India.

ACV: What do you think will appeal to a South Asian audience watching “Small Yellow Field/Tau Seru“, and “Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens“?

JS: These are so evocative of the sights, sounds and smells of India, but they’re showing very different sides to the country. “Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens” is really immersive, vibrant, adrenalin-pumping sensory stuff, so it feels like you’re there, transported to the Sonepur fair. You can almost taste the atmosphere.
“Small Yellow Field” is set in an entirely different world, up on the Himalayan plateau in the Ladakh region, which I was lucky enough to visit myself some years back. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and I think people will be really fascinated by this window onto this little known area.

A scene from 'Small Yellow Field' shot in Ladakh

ACV: What are the personal highlights for you? We appreciate all the films will be of a certain quality and have charm as you’ve selected them.

JS: I think the Opening Gala night is going to be fabulous, because “In the Absence of the Sun” is my personal favourite from the festival, and we’ll have its director Lucky Kuswandi over to introduce it.
We’ve got quite a few guests, including the Mongolian director Byamba Sakhya and his producer Ariunaa Tserenpil, who also helped curate the Mongolian Treasures day happening at the Cinema Museum on 19 April, and Kulikar Sotho, the Cambodian director of “The Last Reel”, which is proving really popular.
Personally I’m also really excited about seeing “Flashback Memories” on the big screen and in 3D.
I think that’s also going to be a really immersive experience, just like Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens. And I also really can’t wait to see “Seventh Bullet” from 35mm again. It’s stunning!

ACV: Are there any particular trends coming out of the region?

JS: My background in Japanese cinema, and I think that what appeals most about it, aside from its overall style, is it has such a long history and there’s simply so much of it, you’re always making new discoveries, as well as the fact that you have a lot of directors who really achieved that crossover success in the West, from Akira Kurosawa to Hayao Miyazaki.
There are other film cultures in the area that don’t have the same cinema heritage, or have a very different one – maybe a lot of the older films don’t exist any more, like in Cambodia, or they were produced in very different circumstances, like Mongolia during the Soviet era where they had the massive apparatus of the studio system to make films in.
Now one might say that these countries are effectively starting afresh with the next generation of filmmakers. But it’s so difficult to generalise, and that’s what is most interesting – exploring new countries and their histories through their films.
I think countries like Indonesia in particular will play a huge role in the future of world cinema, and I was amazed how slick these films looked, as well how intelligent and engaging they are.

ACV: What were the guidelines and criteria you used to choose the films. Were you looking at films from specific countries?

JS: Actually before this I was also the director of Zipangu Fest in the UK, and Shinsedai in Toronto, both of which focussed on independent Japanese films.
I think what appealed about Asia House was the opportunity to explore other cinemas and cultures from across the whole region, and one main idea was to look at countries that don’t immediately spring to mind when one thinks of Asian cinema – like Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Indonesia.
Generally the idea is to introduce new and exciting films that people won’t get a chance to see otherwise.

ACV: Absolutely! We look forward to it…


See clips from ‘Small Yellow Field/Autonomous/Kings’ of the Wind and Electric Queens’ here in the trailer…

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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