Strong push for Southeast Asian films at New York Asian Film Festival

Strong push for Southeast Asian films at New York Asian Film Festival

Bad Genius
"Bad Genius", a thriller from Thailand, is about a group of high-school students involved in an exam cheating scheme that would make them millionaires. (Photo: New York Asian Film Festival website)

NEW YORK: For the past 16 years, the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) has followed through on its mission of introducing films from Asia to a wider audience.

This year, 57 foreign films from across Asia are being presented - and all have been chosen with the audience viewing pleasure in mind.

NYAFF's small team of six curators spent the year on the hunt for films that don't meet traditional "art-house" criteria - meaning thrillers, horror films, and mysteries take centre stage, as opposed to highbrow art films that are often featured in film festivals.

This focus has helped distinguish NYAFF from more well-known counterparts like the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Samuel Jamier, the first Asian director of NYAFF, said that film festivals can tokenise Asian films, for example adding one title from an Asian filmmaker in at the last minute as a nod to diversity. But with NYAFF, he wants to turn this idea on its head.

"When people ask me about the festival, I tend to say it’s a festival of cinema that happens to be Asian; we are trying to reverse that perspective," Jamier added.


There is also a push from organisers to include more Southeast Asian films into the mix. This year the starting lineup included a thriller from Thailand called Bad Genius, about an exam cheating scheme.

Another notable entry hailed from the Philippines. Mikhail Red, one of the festival’s youngest filmmakers, is the mastermind behind Birdshot, about a young farm girl who accidentally kills an endangered eagle, causing authorities to try and track down its hunter.

Red said: “The story of Birdshot is a very universal story - it’s sort of like this parable about morality but at the same time it’s also like this parallel view of what’s really going on in Philippine society.”

Birdshot film
A scene from the film Birdshot from the Philippines. (Photo: New York Asian Film Festival website)

Red said the international funding circuit helped him create the film, which is his second feature.

"In local Filipino films it’s difficult for us to find distribution internationally. One aspect could be the overall production value or sometimes we just don’t have the know-how or the network to make it happen for us," he said.

The team behind Birdshot hopes that movies from the Phillipines, and other smaller markets in Southeast Asia, can reach a wider audience through the New York Asian Film Festival.

With films from Thailand and the Philippines to those from Hong Kong and Japan represented, the goal of the New York Asian Film Festival is to curate unexpected cinema and seek out rising stars in Asia.

Source: CNA/ec