The geographical area covered by the Asia Pacific Screen Awards is ambitious. So too are the aims of the organization, which calls Brisbane, Australia, its home and this year celebrates its 10th edition.
The APSA boasts alliances with Unesco and the Intl. Film Producers’ Assn. (FIAPF). And while other awards shows focus on glamour and celebrity, APSA takes seriously its role as a champion of cultural range and sensitivity. One of its prizes each year is a United Nations-sponsored award for diversity.
British filmmaker David Puttnam, arguably the biggest foreign celebrity at APSA this year, heads an awards jury that, unusually, reconvenes all of APSA’s previous jury heads. Although not hailing from any part of APSA’s territory, Puttnam returns after heading the 2010 jury that rewarded Feng Xiaogang’s “Aftershock.” A passionate enthusiast of independent Asian cinema, he has been U.K. trade envoy there since 2012.
“When we started this nobody expected Asia to grow and develop like this,” says Kim Hong-joon, the Korean filmmaker and former festival head who heads APSA’s international film selection committee. He has been responsible for selecting and nominating the APSA contenders throughout the awards’ decade-long history.
“There have been some gradual changes and some huge leaps forward. Ten years ago, cinema within the Asia-Pacific region was dominated by the national cultures of Japan, Greater China, Korea, India, and Russia,” Kim says.
“Now other Asian identities are emerging, especially in Southeast Asia, where Malaysia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, in particular, are growing,” Kim says. “It may be hard to see from the outside, because most of the new independents don’t make the (APSA) shortlist, but there are many more new films and filmmakers just underneath, pushing. We are witnessing a second ‘new wave.’ ”
That is a feeling reflected in numerous film festivals worldwide, where films from the Philippines and Indonesia are increasingly finding places, after what may have been a false dawn a few years ago.
“Most striking among the big leaps is the rise of China, its size and its aggressive expansion. We have a new giant,” says Kim.
China’s rise has not always been reflected in the award winners or nominations. This year Chinese films picked up only five nominations compared with eight from India and seven each for Russia and Iran. But it is interesting to note that APSA’s 10 years neatly coincides with the emergence of the mainland Chinese film industry from the economic doldrums to being the world’s second-largest theatrical market.
Kim defends APSA’s working definition of Asia, which has been criticized as too wide — it stretches from Palestine to the Cook Islands.
“We use a United Nations definition of Asia, which has its pros and cons. Among the cons are that it is such a big area. It is too diverse and we are said to be wandering in the forest. But in 10 years we didn’t have a problem operating with it. So we will keep going,” says Kim.
APSA intends to harness and cultivate cultural links through its academy, a body made up of past nominees and winners.
“One of the smartest things that APSA ever did was to create the academy. It is a loose network, for sure. But each year it gets better and an identity is growing,” he says.
During the past decade, three other trends have emerged — digital cinema, growth of independent cinema, and a large increase in the number of women filmmakers. “These three things are each a little bit separate, but together they form a kind of synergy,” says Kim. This year at least a quarter of APSA nominees are women, up from just a handful previously.
“Digital technology has created a democratization of film production that is especially noticeable in Asia. Access to 35mm stock was effectively monopolized by the big studios. Overnight that changed.”
APSA and the Academy’s next tasks may be to add more meaningful functions and try to lock in some of the gains that Kim sees, but which may already be being eroded by other forces.
“Government policy towards film is different in each country. The success of the Korean Film Council’s policies has influenced other governments to revitalize their industries. Now we may need to look at cultural protection policies, especially freedom of expression. It may be time for us to raise our voices where necessary.”