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putting us in the bigger picture

danni zuvela: asia pacific triennial cinema program


Shangoul-o-Mangoul, 1999, Farkhondeh Torabi Shangoul-o-Mangoul, 1999, Farkhondeh Torabi
IN HARUTYUN KHACHATRYAN’S RETURN OF THE POET (2006), WE FOLLOW THE TRANSIT OF A MASSIVE SCULPTURE OF LATE 19TH-CENTURY ARMENIAN POET AND PHILOSOPHER JIVANY FROM YEREVAN, THE CAPITAL OF ARMENIA, TO JAVAKHK, JINVANY’S BIRTHPLACE. IN MANY WAYS, THE FILM’S TRACING OF THIS SLIGHTLY SURREAL JOURNEY, WITH NUMEROUS UNEXPECTED OBSTACLES AND DELIGHTS ALONG THE WAY, SYMBOLISES THE EXPERIENCE OF THE APT6 CINEMA PROGRAM.

The Australian Cinematheque established the expectation that major art shows should be accompanied by film screenings with its maiden outing at the fifth Asia Pacific Triennial in 2006. Now, with nine programs comprising over 100 films, documentaries and animations, the Cinematheque for the sixth incarnation of the APT cements its reputation for insightful, far-ranging programming.

Z32, 2008, Avi Mograbi Z32, 2008, Avi Mograbi
image courtesy Doc&Film International
The sixth broadened this juggernaut’s ambit to include not just Central Asia, but the Middle East as well. This move is reflected strongly in the film program, which essentially eschews the more familiar cinemas of Japan, China, Korea and Hong Kong for those further west with two major programs, Promised Lands and The Cypress and the Crow: 50 Years of Iranian Animation. South-East Asian arthouse cinema isn’t entirely absent; three auteurs are profiled with retrospective seasons during the exhibition of APT6. Of these, Takeshi Kitano (Japan) and Ang Lee (Taiwan/USA) are unusually well-exposed choices for such an adventurous program but the third, Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, offers a challenging counterbalance. Panh, whose work includes documentary and dramatic filmmaking, as well as cultural conservation endeavours in Phnom Penh, deserves this sustained attention and the Cinematheque congratulations for bringing him to light.
Un barrage contre le pacifique (the sea wall), 2008, Rithy Panh Un barrage contre le pacifique (the sea wall), 2008, Rithy Panh
Threaded throughout the APT6 season, The Cypress and the Crow program highlights the richly textured history of animation practice in Iran. The vast cultural achievements of Iran’s Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (known as Kanoon) include well-known alumni such as Abbas Kiarostami, but its animation work has until now escaped wider attention. The Cypress and the Crow flings open the door prised ajar by 2007’s Persepolis (included in this program), leading audiences on an exhaustive journey through the Iranian animated tradition. Revered veteran director Noureddin Zarrinkelk is well represented, with a choice selection of gorgeous 1970s and 80s animations, as well as a more recent work, 1998’s Persian Carpet.

Iran’s history of textile design recurs in various forms across the program. It is however most evident in the four-screens installation in the gallery on Level 1, in the main APT artists’ section with the works by Farkhondeh Torabi and Morteza Ahadi. A striking still image from one of these, Ahadi’s exquisite, self-reflexive 35mm animation, The Sparrow and the Boll (2007), emblazons the print program, though it’s a shame it was only screened once in its proper black-box glory, amidst all the colourful chaos of the opening weekend celebrations. On the other hand, the installation of these gorgeous hand-made works amongst all the other artworks confers numerous benefits, not least the multiplication of eyeballs in the form of the thousands of visitors who visit over the APT’s four months.

Promised Lands is divided thematically and geographically into five autonomous curatorial categories, including Cinema of Partition, which examines Bangladesh, India, Kashmir and Pakistan, and The Tree of Life, looking at Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Kurdistan, both of which run concurrently throughout the APT6 season.
Yadon Ilaheyya (Divine Intervention), 2002, Ella Suleiman Yadon Ilaheyya (Divine Intervention), 2002, Ella Suleiman
Though the slimmest, the Sri Lankan set, The Road to Jaffna (Feb 4-14), is among the most vital of the programs, offering a rare glimpse of the conditions of civil war on the island. Two other shorter programs, Return of the Poet, focused on the cinema of Armenia and Turkey, and Eating my Heart, looking at Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, contain some of the most lyrical and moving work of the entire program. Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman cuts a Keaton-esque figure with his deadpan appearances in front of the lens, repetition of bizarre sight gags and a pervasively wistful sensibility. Suleiman’s “occupied imagination” comes powerfully to the fore in 2009’s The Time That Remains, and especially 2002’s Divine Intervention, where the comic and the tragic, the humiliating and the absurd, and the fantastic and the banal uncomfortably co-exist.

In Lebanese artist Akram Zaatari’s How I Love You (2001), gay men talk about their feelings to do with their own and other men’s bodies. However, speaking from a place where homosexuality is punishable with a jail sentence, Zaaatari’s subjects’ faces are over-exposed, or blurred by a filmy white veil. As they discuss, among other things, gender roles in relationships, the viewer gains access to a host of complex sexual and personal realities normally totally hidden from view. Many of Parvez Sharma’s interviewees in A Jihad For Love (2007) are also veiled, for obvious reasons: through a series of sophisticated interviews, the film explores whether or not the idea of spiritual struggle can be reclaimed to reflect the internal struggle of those who find themselves gay in a near universally hostile world. The documentary urge also runs through the memorable Armenian program. As well as Harutyun Khachatryan, the series also offered a rare chance to experience the work of the incredible filmmaker and theorist Artavazd Pelechian, whose idea of “spiritual” or “intuitive” montage has contributed to his international cult-director status, and whose shorts program mobilised a small army of art/film lovers at APT6.
Meng (We), 1969, Artavazd Pelechian Meng (We), 1969, Artavazd Pelechian
Coming on the heels of the program immediately prior to the APT6, the View From Elsewhere (2009), which also examined Western and Central Asia and the Middle East, Promised Lands and the Cypress and the Crow develop our cinematic understanding of these regions of the globe in thoughtful selections reflecting the Cinematheque’s sensitive and intuitive approach to programming. Mapping, as it does, cinematic expression across some of the world’s most fractious, troubled zones, it is perhaps not surprising that some of this fragmentation and volatility has crept into the print program advising audiences of what they will encounter at the Cinematheque: the absence of a single day-by-day calendar was felt. This notwithstanding, the APT6 cinema program provided an enormous wealth of ideas, as well as viewing pleasure, for an increasingly grateful Brisbane audience. It is through exposure to these ideas, sounds, images and experiences that we reach greater understandings of our place in the region, and the world, and of those we share it with; in Pelechian’s words, that we are “a ‘we’ that is just a piece of the larger ‘We’.”


APT6 Cinema Program, curators Kathryn Weir, Jose da Silva, Australian Cinematheque, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane Dec 5, 2009-April 5, 2010

http://qag.qld.gov.au/cinematheque/current_programs/apt6_cinema/promised_lands

http://qag.qld.gov.au/cinematheque/current_programs/apt6_cinema/the_cypress_and_the_crow_50_years_of_iranian_animation

RealTime issue #95 Feb-March 2010 pg.

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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