ASEAN film quality improving: BIFF Director

Hakim Hayat in Seoul, South Korea

The quality of films from ASEAN member countries has improved over the last few years with the advent of film-making talents mushrooming all over the region, giving them the potential to break into the international market, said Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Director Jay Jeon on the sidelines of the closing ceremony of the 24th BIFF in Busan, South Korea last weekend.

He was speaking to representatives of eight Asian countries participating in the month-long 2019 Kwanhun-Korean Press Foundation (KPF) Press Fellowship, where the Bulletin had been selected to represent Brunei.

Other participating countries in the press fellowship include Malaysia, Cambodia, India, Myanmar, Mongolia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Jeon told journalists that films from the ASEAN region have been more visible as of late and are gaining traction, exploring storylines and visuals that depict the rich and preserved multi-cultural heritage of the different countries of the region that has the potential to be exported like Korean films which has been international hits for decades.

Jeon also shared that the Korean Film Council is embarking on an ambitious plan to set up the Korean-ASEAN Film Centre funded by the Busan Metropolitan City where he said the approval would be obtained from member countries next month.

He also shared that Busan’s mayor, at a roundtable discussion on the proposed centre, had said ASEAN cinema had witnessed huge development in recent years and become a pillar of world cinema.

ABOVE & BELOW: Busan International Film Festival (BIFF) Director Jay Jeon; Iraqi director Mohanad Hayal and Vietnamese director Tran Thanh Huy. PHOTOS: HAKIM HAYAT

Jeon added that to make this a reality to solidify the status, there was a need for close and continuous cooperation between industry players to make Busan the Cannes of Asia and raise the profile of ASEAN cinema globally.

In this year’s edition of the BIFF, Brunei’s The Bungsu Story was nominated along with other productions from across the region in the Best Asian Drama Award category in the first-ever Asia Content Awards (ACA) of the BIFF, proving Brunei’s capabilities to produce international-quality films. Thailand’s Hormones: The Series and Singapore’s Faculty shared the award eventually.

Jeon also spoke of the growing unease in the cinema industry from changing market trends especially in digitalisation that has impacted the film industry world-wide. Anxieties about alternative models of funding, distributing and watching films have gripped the industry over the last few years, he said, especially with emergence of streaming platforms like Netflix.

At the closing ceremony of the 24th BIFF last Saturday, the New Currents Awards went to Vietnamese director Tran Thanh Huy for his film Rom, and Iraqi director Mohanad Hayal for Haifa Street.

Mohanad’s film centred on the eponymous street in Baghdad where violence, hatred, resentment, and despair are entangled, had won the hearts of the jury. They noted that the director exhibited deep understanding of cinematic language. Mohanad, who was a former journalist who reported on war conflicts in his country said it was truly a dream come true for him.

Meanwhile, Rom, Tran’s debut film, is the story of a boy who tries to raise money to find out where his parents are after they abandoned him when he was young. It depicts a world of desires on the backstreets of buzzing metropolitan Ho Chi Minh City. Tran told journalists he only wanted to paint a true picture of what was happening back home. The film courted controversy in Vietnam as it had entered the BIFF without the Vietnam local authority’s consent and thus could not be screened there.

The festival, one of the largest in Asia, opened on October 3 in the southern port city of Busan, 450 kilometres southeast of Seoul, featuring 303 films from 85 countries. Among the invitations, 120 films, including 97 feature-length movies, were world premieres.