From Small Things, Big Things Come
“We can find much more interesting stories if we escape our own little pond and move to the big lake, river and oceans.” – Kim Dong-Ho APSA Patron
In 2003, a dream was unveiled by Des Power AM: the creation of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and the formation of the Asia Pacific Screen Academy. They would be a celebration of films and filmmakers as diverse, rich and colourful as the region itself. They would spark engagement within the region, bring together artists from the burgeoning region, and offer filmmakers the chance to come together under the banner of APSA, an organisation aligned with the European Film Academy, that would represent something totally one-of-a-kind and coveted by those too often left out of the global cinematic discussion.
APSA were the new kids on the block, but Des and then Executive Director Jane Hickey (now Malcolmson) hit the ground running. Or, more accurately, they took to the skies, venturing far and wide across the region and across the globe as they conducted an extensive feasibility study. From Japan in East Asia to Lebanon in West Asia, chalking up over one hundred meetings, treading carefully and cautiously, the model for APSA had to be the right one. It had to be the model the filmmakers and the industry wanted. It was the biggest of dreams, but Des was passionate in making it a reality.
“All the meetings we had across the region affirmed that the filmmakers would put great value in having their own prestigious award”, Jane says. “What Des and I needed to find was the point of difference. APSA had to be distinctive. It became more than obvious that the diversity of the thousands of films coming from the seventy countries and areas, and the myriad of cultures of the region was key. Asia Pacific is the richest concentration of cultures in the world.”
The most significant endorsement came upon securing the support of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Des and Jane met in Paris as the organisation’s 191 member nations debated the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity, which was unanimously carried.
“The wide diffusion of culture, and the education of humanity for justice and liberty and peace are indispensable to the dignity of man and constitute a sacred duty which all the nations must fulfill in a spirit of mutual assistance and concern” – UNESCO Constitution
“Ever since then, we felt that APSA could play a significant role in helping UNESCO achieve its objectives”, says Des. “It was a moving experience for us to be in Paris at that time. APSA’s current chairman, Michael Hawkins, and Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk have maintained a strong-held commitment to respect cultural diversity and the craft and courage of the region’s filmmakers,” Des says. “And APSA’s relationship with UNESCO has only strengthened during this period.”
Securing the involvement of the International Federation of Film Producers Association (FIAPF) and appointing one of Asia Pacific’s most influential advocates of film culture, Kim Dong-Ho, founder of the Busan International Film Festival as Patron only gave APSA more momentum in its early days.
Australian screen legend, Jack Thompson AM PhD, was the next vital appointment. In 2008, the star of iconic Australian films such as Sunday, Too Far Away (1975), Wake in Fright (1971), Breaker Morant (1980) and The Sum of Us (1994) became President of the Academy, which is comprised of nominees, winners, jurors, members of the International APSA Nomination Council and special invitees. Aiming to nurture talent and encourage collaboration among the region’s filmmakers, the Academy now numbers some 1,000 members from all corners of the globe, who are coming together to make and promote films within Asia Pacific.
Many films that have won an APSA have been nominated for and won many other prestigious prizes – including at Cannes, Berlin and Venice film festivals as well as the Academy Awards®, Emmy® Awards, Golden Globes®, BAFTA® Awards and many more – but an APSA is something all its own. Thanks to our unique award vessels, our embracing of cultures too often ignored by wider film discussion, and the strengthening of the region’s film industry by connecting its artists and fostering their talent through grants and funds, the effect and the power and the stature of an APSA accolade only continues to grow.
Beyond Borders: Defining ‘Asia Pacific’
During the establishment of APSA there was much debate about defining the region. Just type “Asia Pacific” into an online search and see how many definitions exist! APSA devised its own inclusive definition, one that comprised 70 countries and areas and encompassed 4.5 billion people, which at inception was responsible for half of the world’s film output.
For some, the inclusion of Australia seemed unusual – but the Pacific Ocean laps our eastern shores and we play a large part within the region. Egypt is not usually included either, but the country’s Sinai Peninsula is located in Asia and acts as a bridge between Asia and Africa so its inclusion is appropriate and symbolic. Furthermore, a glance at any map shows just how much of Russia’s landmass extends across the Asian continent, sharing a border with China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and the Pacific Ocean.
Likewise, there is much debate about whether Turkey is European or Asian, but Turkish producer Zeynep Özbatur Atakan, a strong APSA advocate and a 2012 APSA International Juror, is firm in her conviction that Turkey identifies strongly with Asia. A connection that was only furthered in the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival’s second year when they showcased classic and contemporary Turkish cinema in a collaboration with the Turkish Government’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
As more filmmakers from more of the region make and release their films onto the world’s screens, it’s clear that Asia Pacific is so much more than a simple delegation of borders, but a spirit and one that APSA is only too keen to embrace.
Diverse Films Make For Diverse Memories
“What was truly inspiring and emotional every year was to see so many people from so many countries connect in such a profound way.” – Tracey Mair, Australian film publicist
Stories like those in 2011 when Samuel Maoz, a previous APSA winner for his film Lebanon (2009) and a member of the International Jury that year, mingled with Iranian film nominees at a dinner. A coming together that couldn’t have happened anywhere else. Or in 2015 when Turkish producer Olena Yershova accepted the Best Screenplay APSA on behalf of Senem Tuzen for Motherland from Russian Federation International Jury member and award presenter Alexei Popogrebsky just days after political conflict between the two countries had escalated into violence. It was a powerful moment on the APSA stage of art building bridges and bringing everything into perspective.
APSA Patron Kim Dong-Ho suggests that “APSA is truly one of the most unique film events in the world. They acclaim the cinematic excellence of filmmakers big and small, from large countries to small pockets of this eclectic region.” APSA has allowed films as diverse and acclaimed as Shawkat Amin Korki’s Memories on Stone (2014) and Maryam Ebrahimi’s No Burqas Behind Bars (2012) reach global attention, screening in Paris and Washington D.C. at prestigious international gala events. And they are just two of the films that APSA is honoured to have helped foster into existence with the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund, letting the region’s filmmakers tell their own stories and open hearts and minds.
The spotlight thrown on indigenous filmmakers has been another of the exciting elements brought on by APSA. Australia’s Warwick Thornton, winner of the 2009 APSA for Best Feature Film for Samson and Delilah, noted in his acceptance speech a call to arms for the indigenous languages of all of our countries. A telling reminder that English is a minority language in the Asia Pacific and that we should embrace our heritage in the face of rapid globalisation. This is something continued this year by films like Knife in the Clear Water about a little-known Chinese-Muslim community, and Lion about an Indian-Australian man’s desire to reconnect with the culture taken from him as a child.
Home Grown Impact
“Des Power really put Australia on the global film map through his work in creating the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and its Academy.” – Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (in 2013)
By firmly placing Australia in context of our Asia Pacific neighbours’ screen industries, it has encouraged filmmakers to look to the Asia Pacific for alternative co-producing opportunities and strengthened industry relations. From ten years, Australian films and filmmakers have been rewarded with 25 nominations from 21 films for nine wins, including two FIAPF Lifetime Achievement honourees (George Miller and Emile Sherman), winners in Best Feature Film (Samson & Delilah), Best Children’s Feature Film (The Black Balloon) and Best Animated Feature Film (Mary and Max), one APSA UNESCO Award (Toomelah) and three script development fund recipients.
Anne Démy-Geroe, a member of multiple International Nominations Councils, speaks of her excitement and pride when viewing Stephen Page’s Spear, a powerful story about indigenous experience told through wordless dance, in the presence of her jury colleagues with the film ultimately receiving a Special Mention for the UNESCO Award.
And Maxine Williamson still talks about David Gulpilil’s powerful speech at the 8th APSA ceremony upon receiving a Special Mention for Best Performance by an Actor in recognition of his work in Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country (2013). He had already won the Best Actor Award from Un Certain Regard in Cannes and his win at the 2014 APSAs was another moment of pride for the iconic Indigenous actor, with the Australian icon using his speech to touch upon his connection to Asia, including an encounter with Bruce Lee, and to detail how his struggles inspired his acclaimed performance.
Australia has long succeeded at films that tell stories for and about young audiences. Nowhere is this better demonstrated in the APSA categories for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Youth Feature Film, which have awarded Australian filmmakers with nine nominations over as many years. The broad range of titles cover coming-of-age musicals (Bran Nue Dae), blockbuster family films (Red Dog), innovative explorations of gender and teenage sexuality (52 Tuesdays), childhood favourites with themes of environmental conservation (Blinky Bill: The Movie, Happy Feet Two) and the boundary-pushing handcrafted claymation of Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Adam Elliot (Mary and Max).
The success of Australians at the APSA ceremony extend even further to our performing talents. Both veterans and newcomers like Aaron Pedersen (Mystery Road), Judy Davis (The Eye of the Storm), Reef Ireland (Downriver), and Daniel Connors (Toomelah) have all competed alongside the region’s finest and most celebrated actors, while international names Dev Patel (Lion) and Joan Chen (The Home Song Stories) have been recognised for their work in Australian productions, highlighting our country’s multiculturalism and diverse range of films.
From Strength to Strength
“The future of APSA is assured through the ever growing production of content and the platforms on which to see it. The strength of APSA lies in the growth of its Academy, which I hope will soon be connected in a way that will facilitate dialogue and engagement between fellow academy members and in their artistic endeavours.” – Michael Hawkins, APSA Chair
Professor Hong-Joon Kim has chaired the APSA International Nominations Council since its inception and observes that the APSA film competition “has grown remarkably since its beginnings”, suggesting that the effect of APSA on the region can be seen clearly in how “the creative voices of this region have become powerful and a new wave of debut filmmakers with distinct and strong storytelling is seen every year. Asian cinema and that of the Pacific has come a very long way in just ten years and APSA has provided an invaluable platform for global recognition and funding support of this important region.”
Michael Hawkins succeeded Des Power as the APSA Executive Chairman, bringing another industry perspective with his long history in exhibition. As he sets about overseeing APSA’s second decade, Michael says of the awards themselves that “in a world rich with diverse cultures, that often struggles to manage that diversity, APSA celebrates that diversity through film. Film is a wonderful medium in which to engage, educate and entertain the many peoples of our world.”
Maxine Williamson, Film Director of APSA, has been with APSA since its inception and has been the organisation’s greatest activist and champion, bringing her clear vision and drive to the awards and has been directly responsible for how they have blossomed across the world. Her efforts have been major factors in awareness of the awards internationally and in obtaining the best and most interesting films from the region. Her hands on attitude has even seen her lugging APSA’s stunning but heavy and fragile award vessels around the world to personally deliver them to recipients unable to attend the ceremony. And in 2014, Maxine was vital to the creation of the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, a vehicle for actually bringing the astounding and vast array of Asia Pacific cinema to audiences of Brisbane. With BAPFF, it is unlikely that audiences would have had the opportunity to see movies like Apichatpong Weeresathukal’s APSA Best Feature Film winner Cemetery of Splendour, Tamer El Said’s In the Last Days of the City about the preservation of cultural identity, or Rithy Panh’s Exile, a film that played at no other Australian festivals despite being from an Oscar-nominated filmmaker. Maxine’s legacy with both APSA and BAPFF continues across the city’s film scene.
APSA is widely regarded as one of the world’s most important international cultural initiatives and 2016’s event will be the biggest in its history. Its permanent base is Brisbane, Australia’s New World City, thanks to a decision three years ago by the city’s Lord Mayor Graham Quirk for ownership to be handed to Brisbane City Council.
“Whatever the future holds for filmmaking amid the shifting sands of distribution and exhibition,” says Michael Hawkins, “it is clear in the Asia Pacific it is only going to grow. Technological advances and the expanding film festival market are only making it easier to see these films and to do so on the big screen. As evidenced by the awe-inspiring number of first-time filmmakers making an international splash at APSA, the future of film is right here and APSA is at the centre.”
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