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Imaging Asia pictures reality of Asian film

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The Imaging Asia conference and screening series in New Delhi wrapped up the previous Sunday with a visit to an exhibition of Indian art forms whose narrative visual story-telling foreshadow and yet pre-dated the film industry by hundreds of years. Similarly, the conference shed new light on old issues.

Problems raised ranged from a shortage of theatres suitable for showing Asian art cinema, the increasingly urban focus of Indian cinema, the changing function of film festivals, through to issues of national identity and film education.

The event was billed as a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the NETPAC organization, but also acted as a wake for the Cinemaya film literary magazine and a replacement for the Cinefan festival of Asian cinema which Delhi had previously hosted.

As an overall, conference delegates seemed to want more tools – e.g. funds, festivals and treaties between government bodies – to boost the number of co-productions within the Asian region.

“The problem of access to world markets has been dealt with, now the problem is oversupply – which means tastes revert to the most familiar, and in the case of Indian cinema Satyajit Ray,” said Nina Lath Gupta, head of India’s National Film Development Council.

Rotterdam festival programmer, Gertjan Zuilhof, said that the problem was not a lack of financial means. “I’ve been surprised how little money is needed for film-making in Asia,” he said and cited the example of a €15,000 script development grant from the Hubert Bals Fund that was used to produce a film. “The technical quality was difficult, but from a content point of view it was a complete and professional movie.”

It was brought to attention that if cross-border distribution of Asian films is weak, then film festivals are playing a big role in filling the gap, albeit imperfectly.

Film festivals were criticized for an over-emphasis on quantity (especially of world premieres) rather than quality and for the growing practice of charging screening fees.

Critics also claimed some festivals placed emphasis on western films and western ideas, though other festivals earned praise for providing funds for script development and film production.

Pusan’s Kim Dong-ho showed his support for film festivals by pointing to the successes of Pusan through its involvement with the film industry, its role in discovering new Asian filmmakers and in raising the market share of Korean cinema in its home market.

There were mixed messages about the roles of sales agents. On one hand they were seen as useful catalysts of sales, on another they were seen as the ones who benefit from screening fees, rather than producers. One speaker criticized how they were losing their role as an independent provider of films to festival selectors as many now double up as producer and financier as well.

Online distribution was pitched as a way to channel distribution of Asian arthouse titles, and as an aid to film education.

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