With Asia representing a whopping 65% of the earth’s population, it’s small wonder that the continent’s film industries are becoming more influential on the world stage. By some measures, China’s rising box office numbers have already surpassed those of the U.S., and India’s film business is the world’s largest by number of films produced.
That’s why the mission of the Asian World Film Festival, which is to strengthen ties between the Asian and Hollywood film industries, is critical to establishing avenues of communication between filmmakers and film executives in the U.S. and in Asia.
This year, AWFF will present films from more than 50 Asian countries and showcase them to members of the Motion Picture Academy, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. and all the guilds during a critical phase of the awards season leading up to the Golden Globes and the Oscars.
All films selected by Asian countries as Oscar or Golden Globes contenders are automatically invited to participate, and HFPA recognizes these showings as the required official screenings for their voting members.
The festival will kick off its fourth annual edition on Oct. 24 with a screening of India’s Golden Globes foreign-language contender “Love Sonia” (pictured above) as the opening night film. China’s “In Harm’s Way” will close the fest on Nov. 1 at Arclight Cinemas in Culver City, Calif. AWFF’s centerpiece film, “Burning,” is this year’s Oscar contender from South Korea.
“Love Sonia,” inspired by real events, tells the story of a young girl’s journey to rescue her sister from the world of international sex trafficking. The film was directed by Tabrez Noorani and produced by Oscar nominee David Womack (“Life of Pi”). It stars Mrunal Thakur as Sonia, Richa Chadda, Freida Pinto, Mark Duplass, Demi Moore and Anupam Kher. Pinto, Thakur and Duplass are scheduled to attend the opening night.
“In Harm’s Way,” unspooling for its U.S. premiere, is the story of a young American pilot forced to bail out near the coast of China after a bombing raid on Tokyo in World War II. He is saved by a young local widow who risks her life as she hides the injured man. Two-time Cannes Palme d’Or winner Bille August directed and Emile Hirsch and Crystal Yifei Liu star. The film will be released theatrically in the U.S. on Nov. 2.
“Burning” tells the story of part-time worker Jong-su, who bumps into an old friend, Hai-mi, with whom he has a brief fling. She asks him to look after her cat while she’s on a trip to Africa. She returns with Ben, a mysterious man she met there. One day, Ben visits Jong-su along with Hai-mi and confesses a secret hobby. Director Chang-dong Lee will attend the opening night. The film stars Ah-in Yoo, Jong-seo Jeon and Steven Yeun.
AWFF’s Courage to Dream Award will go to Pinto, best-known for her role in “Slumdog Millionaire.” The fest’s Snow Leopard Lifetime Achievement Award will recognize Lisa Lu, who over 60 years has appeared in the likes of “The Joy Luck Club,” “The Last Emperor” and this year’s hit “Crazy Rich Asians.”
The Snow Leopard Rising Star Award will go to Awkwafina, whose outlandish character was a scene stealer in “Crazy Rich Asians.” She was also part of the ensemble cast in “Ocean’s 8.” (AWFF is partnered with the Snow Leopard Trust to raise awareness for the endangered snow leopard and its ecosystem in the mountains of Asia.)
A special tribute will celebrate the 90th anniversary of the birth of Soviet and Kyrgyz author Chyngyz Aitmatov. He is known for such films as “The Girl With the Red Scarf” (1977) and “Jamila” (1994). Aitmatov’s literary works found a new audience after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
AWFF’s panels include Streaming: The Future of Global Entertainment; Asia — Hollywood, a discussion of the changing Asian film scene; Women in Asian Film; and a discussion on blockchain, a new way of financing entertainment, which has taken off in Asia.
“At this time of global tensions, we intend for the AWFF to serve as an inspiration for creativity and communication on a global basis to bring people together,” says fest executive director Georges N. Chamchoum. “The collective films of the AWFF provide a rich window into the human condition, one which we hope to share with Southern California.”