Asian alternative cinema battles paucity of funds, platforms

New Delhi, Aug 22 (Calcutta Tube) Alternative and art house cinema in Asia is battling shrinking resources, poor distribution channels and dwindling viewership to survive in the greater cultural ethos and hold its own against the big purses and high glamour of the mainstream movie industry.

More than 50 filmmakers, scriptwriters, festival directors and cine activists from nearly 40 countries expressed concern over the poor promotion of alternative Asian cinema in mainstream forums at the festival-cum-conference of Asian cinema, ‘2010 Imaging Asia’.

The event was hosted by the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) and the Confederation of Indian Industry during Aug 18-22. For the last 20 years, the network has been promoting alternative Asian cinema made on shoestring budgets.

‘Festivals of alternative Asian cinema face budget difficulties. The lean economic situation has forced central and local governments to cut back on spendings. Companies are reluctant to sponsor alternative cinema. Moreover, the global mainstream finds Asian narratives too local,’ Kim Dong-Ho, director of South Korea’s Pusan International Film Festival, told IANS.

He said Asian movies have ‘their cultural background and historical aspects’.

‘The American and European audience often cannot comprehend Asian sensibilities expressed in the continent’s cinema,’ Ho said.

The Pusan Festival has been trying to provide a platform to young Asian filmmakers for the last five years with an Asian Cinema Fund and an Asian Film Academy that supports 27 movie projects annually.

Malaysia, considered one of Asia’s top tourist destinations, does not have a single decent film festival to screen alternative and new cinema.

‘We have a film club of which I am the president. But we have been idle for the last two years. We usually try to promote alternative cinema made by independent filmmakers,’ Wong Tuckcheong, who manages Kelab Seni Filem, a film society, told IANS.

The Malaysian government has a support grant of $10,000 for short films. However, full-length alternative movies do not have any source of funding.

‘Asian filmmakers usually seek assistance from foreign pools like the Hubert Bal’s fund or the Fond Suds Cinema fund in France,’ he said.

Statistics show that Hubert Bal’s fund, set up in 1988, has helped 900 projects by independent filmmakers in Asia, the Middle East, eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa in the last 22 years.

Intishal al Timimi, director of the Abu Dhabi Film festival and an authority on Arab cinema, said: ‘Between 1991 and 2003, Iraqi filmmakers could not make movies because of an unofficial embargo under the dictatorial regime. It was a blow to the cinema movement in Iraq.’

A native of Iraq, Timimi said the ‘government did not support alternative filmmakers in his country’.

‘I can recall three major movies in the last seven years that have made an impact in international festivals. ‘Son of Babylon’ by Mohammad al Darraji, ‘Quarantina’ and ‘Alham (Dreams)’ by Oday Rashid,’ Timimi said.

He said filmmakers – from both the commercial and alternative genres – in the Arab world are keen to forge production linkages with India.

However, the scenario in Iran is not as bad as Iraq.

‘The country makes at least 70 to 100 feature films annually. But the market is narrow for art films. The government backs only commercial cinema. Lack of support for serious cinema has led to the birth of underground cinema in Iran,’ Iranian film critic and writer Mohammed Atebbai told IANS.

‘Underground cinema deals with critical social and political issues that the government is not comfortable to address. These films are made by independent filmmakers with the help of private resources (funds),’ Attebai said.

Delhi-based independent filmmaker Siddharth Srinivasan, whose movie ‘The Tightrope Walker’ premiered in Venice in 2002, said: ‘Bollywood has been revolutionised with small budget movies being made on the basis of a mere thought. The screenplays are original and the cast is fresh.’

‘But the problem is once you want to make your own film as an independent filmmaker outside the purview of Bollywood, you run against a wall,’ he said.

The pre-sale distribution rights for Srinivasan’s new movie has been purchased by Hubert Bal’s fund for the Rotterdam Festival.

‘We need better networking, more venues and visionary distributors to promote alternative cinema in India, Asia and in the world in general,’ he added.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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