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Thursday, December 07, 2006


Still from 'Dombivli Fast'

Still from 'Omkara'

It's not Sundance, nor does it claim to be. It's a festival that evolved like all good things do - over a cup of coffee and a conversation. And it's all set to grow.

Into its second year, the Asian Festival of First Films opened another window of opportunity for first-time film-makers, producers, actors, writers, cinematographers - and just about everyone involved in the art of film-making. The gamut ranges from alternative, documentary to commercial cinema.

We all learn from our firsts, so did the festival this year. The venue was better, the production slicker. The presenters - the charming MTV twins May and Choy did a fine job of pronouncing the Indian names in addition to providing some live Mandarin to English translation. If anything was lost in the process, I am sure the discerning audience couldn't tell.

The glitz factor was upped. In attendance this year were veteran actors Anthony Wong, Gina McKee (of Notting Hill fame), Cecilia Yip, award-winning scriptwriter of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula', Jim Hart, noted Indian film director Ketan Mehta and German director Volker Langhoff and two time BAFTA winner Michael Yorke.

Adding to the substance, were the excellent speeches by the jury members. Yes, Mahesh Bhatt did a fine job last year, but that's the only one I can remember from that time. This time round Hart, Yorke, Mehta and Langhoff all left you with several points to ponder. Right from the quality of films, to the trials and tribulations of first time film makers.

Speaking of first films, Kunal Kohli (of Fanaa and Hum Tum fame) who had helped in the first round of selections this year had likened it to the 'first kiss' - something you wouldn't forget even if it was bad.

Though what made it the final round looked like award-winning stuff. Some of my favourites were there. Grace Phan's, stunning documentary 'A Hero's Journey', Vishal Bharadwaj's 'Omkara' and Ramakant Gaikwad's 'Dombivli Fast'.

I was a tad disappointed not to see 'A Hero's Journey' make the final cut, but apart from that the jury did a fine job of picking the best from movies that they said didn't even look like first time attempts at film-making.

If you've seen Omkara, you'll find it impossible to believe that this is Taasaduq Hussain's first feature as an independent cameraman. If you've watched Phan's documentary, the results are likely to be same. Ditto for many of the other films that made it to the long and the short lists.

They opened windows to a whole new world. Worlds that Hart pointed out are "connecting through art". In a clear indication that art knows no borders over 200 films all the way from the US, Israel, to New Zealand came together in Singapore. Though in the end, India and China emerged as the clear power-houses.

Beyond the awards, beyond the platform it provides, the Asian Festival of First Films was a clear celebration of the fine craft of film-making in all its forms.

We saw the first rays of hope shine through it last year. After a second successful year the only way forward for Sanjoy and Shweta's vision is forward.

On that note, the winners of the night were:

Best Screenplay
Zhang Jiarui & Daju Yuan for "The Road"(China)

Best Director
Ramakant Gaikwad for "Dombivli Fast" (India) & Lam Nguyen for "Journey from the Fall" (USA)

Best Producer
Ramakant Gaikwad for Dombivli Fast (India) & Lam Nguyen for "Journey from the Fall" (USA)

Best Actor Male
Le Go in "The Road in the Air" (Taiwan)

Best Actor Female
Kangana Ranaut in "Gangster" (India)

Best Cinematographer
Tassaduq Hussain for "Omkara" (India) & Bobby Singh for "Gangster" (India)

Best Documentary
"One Show Less" (India) produced by Nayantara Kotian

Best Director Of Documentary
Roseanne Liang, "Banana in a Nutshell" (New Zealand)

Best Film
"The Road" (China)

Foreign Correspondents Association Choice "Purple Orchid" Award
The Road (China)

Though you'd do better to read more about all the nominees here: