Narrative and Narratology. Is there an Asian cinema?

If there is such a thing as an Asian cinema, it can only be understood as the demonstration of a mosaic of nationalities that identify with their local narratives, related or not, but still expressing the coexistence they maintain with each other in an information society dominated by the image. It is a plural cinema, representative of the geographical, political, economic and cultural diversity of an unequal continent. In this inclusive framework that the festival aims to be, all the productions presented at the Asian Film Festival Barcelona | AFFBCN, from its first edition in 2011 to the present, are brought together. Cinema, like literature, can make the private public and elevate the private to the public. So, the spectator is given the opportunity to explore and share both the domestic life and the public life of its protagonists. The physical place where the event takes place in turn becomes decisive in understanding what is happening. At the same time, the space-time of what is narrated and what has been narrated is decisive: the moving image speaks for itself, alternately crossed by the words and the silences that rule it.

The discovery of places, territories and identities that cinema brings us closer to cannot be compared to any other means of communication. When we speak of Asian cinema, we cannot fail to refer to the extent of its development over the last two decades. This has been spectacular in many cases, understanding the commitment of its authors to the creation and transmission of their own stories and the value of a radical imagination that has managed to overcome all obstacles to name worlds without a name if it were not for the visibility that cinema has given them, favouring access to privileged information for all its recipients without distinction. Cinema introduces us individually into the lives of individuals, communities or groups that make up the societies to which we belong. The great stories that this cinema tells, bringing together fragments cut from anonymous lives, inform us about their power of communication and at the same time instruct us about the imaginaries that shape their identities.

The festival’s programme presents films from critical human geographies that defy the globalisation of markets by resisting erasure. The AFFBCN offers the public productions from different cultures and ethnicities that come from Central Asia, Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific, allowing the viewer to embark on a journey from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, to Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, China, Mongolia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Laos, Indonesia and Vietnam, to Australia and New Zealand. The festival proposes multiple itineraries through a wide relation of images that the cinema induces us to investigate between countries that share physical or linguistic borders, and nodes of conflict, within the same area or region of the continent. The proposal lies in the educational journey that the spectator can undertake from the moment he or she begins the audiovisual experience in contact with other cultures and their protagonists.

The AFFBCN 2021 programme will continue to be distributed into the following sections: Official, Official Panorama, Discoveries, Netpac and Special, all in competition. The festival will also include in its programme the Retrospective dedicated, on this occasion, to Satyajit Ray (Calcutta, India, 1921-1992), which will be held as every year in collaboration with the Filmoteca de Catalunya and will feature 16 films, making it one of the most complete retrospectives of the filmmaker to date. We will have the specialist Sangeeta Dutta for the presentations of Pater Panchali and Aparajito. In addition, this year we are opening a new front with the Hong Kong New Talents section, organised by the HKIFF Hong Kong International Film Festival, with 10 titles, which in many cases coincide with the debut of their authors. This programme is a demonstration that auteur cinema is being made in Hong Kong, which has moved away from martial arts to concentrate on interpersonal relationships and conflicts arising from social unrest or a broader global context in which cultural identities are being diluted. It is a cinema, whose antecedents go back as far as Wong Kar-Wai, whose revival through the recent remastering of his best hits has made a decisive contribution to following closely a cinema that cannot go unnoticed.

The festival brings together 26 countries and 138 titles, forty-seven of which will be screened online on the FILMIN platform, as was the case in the previous edition. We will have guests who will be part of the juries and will present their films, such as the Australian Luke Eve who will introduce his debut film I Met a Girl. We will also have among us the Iranian Negin Kianfar who will present her first feature film A New Day and the director Jesse Miceli with his film Coalesce from Cambodia; and the Korean John Kwang Kim, director of Josée. On the other hand, this year we will have the presence of two Afghan filmmakers, whose debut films we have screened in previous editions and have followed their respective careers over the last few years. They are Sahraa Karimi, former director of the Afghan Film Institute, whose film Hava, Maryam, Aysha, and Sahra Mani, whose film A Thousand Girls Like Me will be screened. They will be members of the juries of the Official Section and the Official Panorama Section respectively. For years we have been supporting Afghan cinema and especially the role of women filmmakers who talk about their country and try to give visibility to what is happening, committed to the real and reality, and to all those who share the same destination. During the festival we will organise several meetings, where they will talk about the current situation in their country and their projects for the future, and where at the same time the four Afghan productions selected by other directors for this edition of the AFFBCN will be presented.

Among this year’s highlights, first of all we should mention the opening film Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021) by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, from which we will also be screening Drive my Car (2021, Best Screenplay Award at the last Cannes Film Festival). Both films will soon be released in Spain after winning awards at several festivals. In this edition, the AFFBCN presents itself with new incentives as an essential complement to the annual programme, which increasingly covers more productions and countries from the different regions of the Asian continent. The Australian Dream by Daniel Gordon (Australia), My Childhood, My Country, 20 Years in Afghanistan by Phil Grabsky and Shoaib Sharifi (Afghanistan), Fire on the Plane by Ji Zhang (China), The Salt in our Waters by Zulfikar Zilandra (Bangladesh), Josée by Jong-Kuam Kim (Korea), Verdict by Raymund Riboy Gutierrez (Philippines), Better Days by Derek Tsang (Hong Kong), Where is Pinki? by Prithy Konanur (India), Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Edwin (Indonesia), Walnut Tree by Mohammad Hossein Mahdavian (Iran), 18Khz by Farkhat Sharipov (Kazakhstan), The Lake by Emil Atageldijev (Kyrgyzstan), 1990 by Lkhogvaa (Mongolia), Lato Kosero by Shirish (Nepal) and The Year of Everlasting Storm by Apichatpong Weerasethakul (collective work, Thailand). These are just a few of the highlights, but naming them does not mean ignoring any of the fourteen Iranian films produced in 2020 and 2021; the fifteen titles coming from India in 2020 and 2021, nor the Philippine cinema of Joel Lamangan, nor the new cinema coming from China, Korea and Japan, as well as from all the countries that will have a presence at the festival, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, which despite traditionally having a large local industry had not developed an independent cinema like the one we can see for some time now, and other Southeast Asian countries. But I would especially like to highlight the presence of Australia in this edition, as it is a country with a very powerful film industry, although not so evident in European film festivals, where Australian cinema deserves more space than it usually has. The answer to the question of whether or not Asian cinema exists is, in view of the productions we have gathered, affirmative, because its construction is not unconnected with its visibility and transmission. And this is our contribution as a festival, because we believe that cinema is the best instrument to communicate and to establish complicity with the Other, the one we only know through the moving image.

Nor should I fail to mention the presentation of the first film by Eugènia Balcells, Cartas de Akyab, which we are presenting in the Special Section out of competition, or another cinematographic exercise such as the one by the artist Paloma Polo in El Barro de la Revolución (Netpac Section). On the other hand, the programme is extended with the OFF-Festival, which is conceived as an introduction and an extension of the AFFBCN, and which allows us to extend the calendar in which we can offer this type of cinema, extending the screenings throughout the year, instead of limiting them to a specific moment in the year. This extension, in turn, consists of three cycles: Asian Cinemas outside Barcelona, Asian Cinemas at the Cinemes Girona (Retrospectives and Monographs) on a weekly basis, and Asian Cinemas at BETEVÉ, which will start a few days before the opening of the festival. On the other hand, we continue to increase the Casa Asia Channel on Filmin with the most recent productions.

Menene Gras Balaguer

Director for Culture and Exhibitions
and director of the Asian Film Festival. Barcelona

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