A touching documentary from China wins the NETPAC award
Of all the festivals held every year, the Rotterdam event has a reputation for offering the widest spread of international films from both master filmmakers and young filmmakers. It also shines the spotlight on Asia, presenting a plethora of films from the region.
I’ve attended the Rotterdam festival many times and was delighted when this year the organisers invited me to be a member of the jury for the NETPAC Award, which aims to promote Asian cinema by spotlighting and rewarding exceptional films. One such film rewarded by Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema, was Nonzee Nimibutr’s “Nang Nak”.
My fellow jury members, Elena Larionova from Eurasia International Film Festival in Kazakhstan and Ming Jung-Kuo from the Taipei Film Festival, and I watched 11 Asian films over the space of a week. Among the films eligible for the award, we eventually decided to recognise “Children are not Afraid of Death, Children are Afraid of Ghosts”, an independent Chinese documentary by Rong Guang Rong, who is based in Beijing,
Himself a father, Rong Guang Rong became interested in the 2015 suicide of four siblings in the small village of Bijie in Guizhou, who died by drinking pesticide. Wanting to investigate this matter, he travelled to the village, only to be arrested by the police, who seized his footage.
The film is a compilation of the footage he managed to retain from his trip to Bijie, which, after dark, is a creepy place that could create fear. The scene in which he was questioned by the local police officers was recreated using a doll manipulated by his son.
“Children are not Afraid of Death, Children are Afraid of Ghosts” is a personal film that documents the director’s trip and feelings towards what is going on in modern-day China, where children are neglected until they are no longer fear of death, as it may take them to somewhere better. The impact of the film was so strong that the jury was unanimous in its decision to give it the NETPAC Award in Rotterdam.
There are other titles that deserve mention. The Hivos Tiger Award winner “Sexy Durga” by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan is a powerful independent film that combines the exotic ritual of Durga worshipping with the journey of a woman called Durga and her lover who try to reach the train station in the middle of the night, when danger is all around.
Jung Yun-Sook’s latest documentary “Bamseon Pirates Seoul Inferno” is an energetic documentary that follows the controversial Bamseon-Pirates band who use their music to challenge the society and government.
“People Power Bombshell: The Diary of Vietnam Rose” from John Torres makes use of an unfinished film directed by Celso Advento Castillo. Discovered under the bed of Liz Alindogan, the lead actress of the film, Torres digitalised the negative and recreated the film with newly shot footage, resulting in an unusual piece that miraculously brings the forgotten past back to life.
Of course, not all films can win the award, but they will travel to other festivals and represent the new voices of Asian cinema.