The seventh annual Asia House Film Festival is taking place in London at the end of the month, showcasing some of the most exciting new talent from the Asia-Pacific region. Taking place in venues across London including the Ham Yard Theatre, The Horse Hospital and the Cinema Museum, the festival’s theme of New Generations will see films from Mongolia, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Japan and Uzbekistan on display.
I had the opportunity to interview the festival’s newly appointed artistic director, Jasper Sharp, on what interests him about Asian cinema and his hopes for this year’s event.
You were recently announced as the Artistic Director for the seventh annual Asia House Film Festival. How did you get the job?
I’ve programmed for a lot of festivals over the past ten years, starting with 5 years at Raindance from 2005, and then I ran my own festival, Zipangu Fest devoted to Japanese independent cinema, for three years.
I’ve mainly focused on Japanese film, but I have an interest in the cinema from all round the world, and particular from outside Europe and North America, in particular how digital technology has allowed filmmakers to emerge from countries which don’t always have an established film industry, but also countries which have long histories of moviemaking that no one really talks about.
I guess I’m really interested in shining the spotlight on places that don’t get a lot of focus, and discovering new films in places you’d least expect them. Asia House approached me because of my previous curating work, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to broaden my scope to other countries in Asia.
Based on your work with Midnight Eye, you seem to have a deep love for Asian cinema. Where did this begin for you?
From my teens I’ve been interested in cinema from all round the world, but when I started Midnight Eye with Tom Mes back in 2001, it was based on the fact that I’d seen a lot of really great Japanese films at festivals over the previous few years, and no one was really talking about contemporary Japanese film or filmmakers – this was prior to Ringu, Battle Royale etc.
There was so much more than what we were seeing in the West; and especially going back and exploring 100 years of Japanese film history, it was like landing on a new planet where there was so much more than everything you thought you knew, a constant sense of discovery. I am amazed I’m still finding great films from Japan’s history, but it’s also nice to explore other countries.
For those with limited experience of Asian cinema, which directors or individual pieces of work do you feel offer a good introduction to “get someone’s feet wet” in the genre/culture?
I’ve chosen films that are very accessible and broad in their appeal. I was particularly struck by In the Absence of the Sun, which features a really universal human drama that could be set anywhere. I also love The Seventh Bullet, which despite its Uzbeki pedigree, is like a Sergio Leone western. I think these are really good starting points, with stories that can resonate with everyone but still enough local colour to make you want to find out more about the cultures in question.
What are your main goals for this year’s film festival?
Obviously, when you are talking about a region as large as Asia, there are a lot of countries to whittle down, but I wanted to look beyond the usual suspects. Asia encompasses so many different countries and cultures, all with different traditions, religions and histories, but we tend to think of Asian cinema mainly in terms of Far Eastern films, so I think a lot gets overlooked because it doesn’t fit into a certain mould.
There’s actually only one Japanese film and one [Japanese] short, but there are a lot of other great films out there from countries where you’d least expect it. Put simply, my goal is just to open audiences’ eyes to amazing films they might not otherwise get a chance to see.
The theme of this year’s festival is “New Generations”. Is this an attempt to broaden people’s views on Asian movies away from the horror and martial arts genres?
Very much so. ‘Asian Cinema’ has become almost like a genre in itself, and perhaps not really reflective on what is going on in the cinemas of different countries, nor of the region itself, which as I said is very wide and diverse.
The theme we found wasn’t intentional, but it seemed that the films I selected just happened to all fit well within it – there are several films about the history of cinema, films that explore the past to reflect upon the future, and films with young protagonists. It seemed like a very good organising principle for the programme.
Of the works that are debuting at the festival or those that you have not yet seen, which ones are you anticipating most and why?
I think The Last Reel from Cambodia is a really strong powerful drama, but I’m also excited about the Mongolian strand, because we’ve got a few new works from this country, and Passion is a brilliant introduction to the landscapes and the history of Mongolian cinema that bridges the films in the selection.
It is amazing that we’re getting the chance to show a really rare Mongolian classic from the 1960s, Before Rising up the Ranks. The directors from both these films, and Lucky Kuswandi, the director of Indonesia’s In the Absence of the Sun, are all going to be at the festival to talk about their works.
Also, both Flashback Memories 3D and Kings of the Wind & Electric Queens are really vibrant, sensual experiences that need to be seen on a big screen, so I’m incredibly excited about seeing these.
Asia House Film Festival 2015 runs from 27-31 March 2015.