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Asian cinema finds its zeitgeist

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Like any industry get-together, the Locarno film festival can be a blur of cinephiles frantically networking over some of the newest offerings from around the world.

This content was published on August 14, 2009 - 21:35

Asian cinema stands out from among this year's melee, with two key sections of the festival focusing on filmmaking in the East.

Manga Impact, a retrospective of Japanese anime, has run as a thread throughout the 11-day event in southern Switzerland, drawing curious interest from festival regulars and fans alike. The presence of a dozen Japanese heavyweights from the genre has helped boost its popularity.

The festival's trump card was gaining a world premiere of Redline, a feature anime by a duo with a cult following, Takeshi Koike and Katsuhito Ishii. Buzz had already been building online ahead of the first screening. Footage had been leaked but was later removed.

In an explosion of colour, speed and sound, the 2D film charts a race in a Star Wars-like galaxy; it was shown to audiences for the first time on Locarno's Grand Piazza screen on Friday night.

British author Jonathan Clements told the festival's daily newspaper that with 200 cartoons and 100 films on show, stretching back over 90 years of material, Japanese fans had flooded the festival. Pokemon had sent a contingency to shoot a documentary about the project.

Olmo Giovannini, Manga Impact's coordinator, said the festival had aimed to bring this popular genre "out of the ghetto".

"This is something totally new. We really felt that we needed to have this type of event," he told swissinfo.ch. "People have not stopped talking about it. That's a very good feeling."

Rivals face-to-face

Giovannini said the retrospectives typically attract the festival faithful, who come every year "without preconceptions" and to see whatever is on offer; they trust the organisers' taste and want to be surprised. This year, a Manga family day also attracted young couples and teenagers, who have been the main audience at showings of anime television series.

Avid fans queued for the rare chance to go to Swiss screenings of vintage Manga films.

But for Giovannini, the highlight was a roundtable discussion that brought together ten Japanese animation stars and experts to debate the genre and how it was perceived in the West.

"It is hard to make them collaborate at the same event as they are rivals. To see them talking together, it was the most important moment of the event. It shows how deep we have gone and what we have created at this event."

Open Doors, another feature of the festival promoting works-in-progress this year centred on the greater China area, including the mainland, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Twelve projects were chosen from among 114 applications to take part in the event, which helps directors and producers find co-production partners and complete their films. Another 23 key films from the area that were made in recent years were screened for the public.

Organisers say commercial cinema is expanding in mainland China while more original and independent projects are struggling to break through and find audiences.

"We identify with the need and the passionate desire to support these projects," said coordinator Vincenzo Bugno, who noted that screenings were often fully booked.

"It is practically impossible to ignore greater China. It has such a strong film tradition. It is a must."

The industry office, which helps pair up all the festival's films with buyers and distributors, commented that "Asia was very, very present this year".

Asian zeitgeist

Asia also takes centre stage at the close of the festival, with a new film by Byambasuren Davaa, the German-schooled Mongolian director of Academy Award nominee The Story of the Weeping Camel.

Davaa's latest offering, The Two Horses of Genghis Khan, has its world premiere on the Grand Piazza on Saturday. Like her previous works, she says this production has qualities in common with other Asian productions.

"Many Asian films have a different rhythm, structure, and they are much simpler. In my films I've used the most simple, basic film language. If I had used a western style it wouldn't have worked."

But despite it being a traditional narrative that celebrates her homeland and its folklores, she admits she has had to rely on her German co-producers to help get the film made.

"In Mongolia there is no functioning film industry and market. What I particularly appreciate is the support I got in Europe, financially but also in other ways," she told swissinfo.ch.

"Twenty years ago I couldn't have gone to Germany to study film or worked in Europe. In our time, it has become possible. This is our zeitgeist."

Jessica Dacey in Locarno, swissinfo.ch

History

Founded in 1946, the Locarno Film Festival is the biggest of its kind in Switzerland.

Every August, around 180,000 cinema-goers, 1,100 journalists and 3,400 professionals converge on Locarno, in southern Switzerland, for the 11-day event.

The town's Piazza Grande is converted into Europe's biggest outdoor cinema for the event, with a capacity of 8,000.

Filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Jim Jarmusch began their international career at Locarno.

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Snapshot

Leopard of Honour
US director William Freidkin (French Connection, The Exorcist)

Rezzonico Prize for Best Independent Producer
Martine Marginac (Le Pont du Nord, Ne Touchez Pas la Hache)

Excellence Award
Italian actor Toni Servillo

Retrospective
Manga Impact – The World of Japanese Animation

Piazza Grande
13 feature films, 2 shorts, with 10 world premiers.

International Competition
18 films (at last count) from 15 countries, with 14 world premiers

Leopards of Tomorrow

37 works selected

Ici & Ailleurs

Around 30 short and long works (of which 26 world premiers)

Open Doors

Focus 2009 on greater China area

Swiss works
27 selected for different arenas

Critics' Week

7 documentaries

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