The Locarno International Film Festival's Open Doors initiative is designed to discover and support emerging voices from regions where independent filmmaking is vulnerable. Comprised of the Open Doors Hub, Lab, and Screenings for selected projects, the 2016-2018 edition of the program focuses on new talents in Southeast Asia.
During the month of August and in collaboration with the Locarno International Film Festival, Filmatique presents five films that have participated in Open Doors— Highway, Under Construction, The Monk, The Forsaken Land, and 28.
Deepak Rauniyar's debut feature, Highway, offers a kaleidoscope lens into Nepali society by chronicling the lives of passengers aboard a bus from Darjeeling to Kathmandu. Controversial Bangladeshi filmmaker Rubaiyat Hossain confronts religious fundamentalism and the vicissitudes of patriarchy in her second feature, Under Construction, while Burmese filmmaker Maw Naing's The Monk examines a young man's crisis of faith deep in the countryside of Myanmar. Two disparate portraits of contemporary Sri Lanka— Prasanna Jayakody's 28 and Vimukthi Jayasundara's The Forsaken Land— reflect upon the nature of violence and the fractured identity of a war-torn nation. 28 chronicles one man's poetic journey through sublime landscapes as he comes into communion with his dead wife, while The Forsaken Land portrays two military men tasked with performing a duty whose purpose they've forgotten. The Forsaken Land won Cannes' coveted Camera d'Or for Best First Film.
Ultimately, these films paint a picture of life inside several hermetic South Asian nations, serving moreover as testaments to cinema as balm for collective experiences of hardship, violence, poverty, corruption and war.
Highway by Deepak Rauniyar / Nepal, 2012
The lives of several Nepali citizens, young and old, intersect aboard a bus snaking through the Himalayas from Darjeeling to Kathmandu. One is returning to the city after seeking help from a miracle healer in the mountains of eastern Nepal; another is on his way to console a friend who lost his transgender partner; yet another is en route to the man she will marry. Though the travelers all seem to be in a hurry, the bus is constantly halted by bandhs, or protests, which prove common on the streets.
An unflinching portrait of life inside contemporary Nepal, Highway screened at MoMA's ContemporAsian series and was the first Nepali film ever to be selected for a major international film festival, premiering at Berlin where it was nominated for Best First Feature.
Roya ostensibly has it good compared with other Bangladeshi women— she lives in Dhaka where she has a successful career as an actress and a modern apartment that she shares with her businessman husband and Moyna, her maid. Yet tensions lurk beneath the polished veneer of Roya's life: both her mother and her husband expect her to have a baby, while Roya remains frustrated by the fact that she's played the same role in the theatre play Red Oleanders for twelve years. Moyna meanwhile yearns to have a child while Roya's mother, abandoned by her own husband, has found solace in religious fundamentalism.
Deconstructing subtle hints of masculine hegemony in contemporary Bangladeshi society, Rubaiyat Hossain's second feature film premiered at the Berlin Feminist Film Festival, Bogotá, Seattle, São Paulo and Vesoul, where it won the Jury Prize; Dhaka, where it won the Audience Award for Best Film; and the Asian American International Film Festival, where Hossain won the Emerging Director Award.
The Monk, Maw Naing (2014)
The Monk by Maw Naing / Myanmar, 2014
Rescued from the streets of Yangon as a boy, Zawana is now an adolescent living in a rural monastery in Myanmar. Though his abbot U Dahma has become ill and the monastery, like the surrounding community, has fallen victim to poverty and hardship, Zawana is in the midst of a crisis of faith— he remains unsure whether the path of the monk is right for him. Temptation arrives in the form of a local girl and modern conveniences like a borrowed MP3 player. Meanwhile Zawana becomes responsible for taking the man who rescued him back to the bright lights of contemporary Yangon.
The Monk is a naturalistic meditation on identity, existence and faith inside the rarely-seen, hermetic world of Myanmar, shown through the eyes of a young man on the brink of adulthood. The first independent feature from Myanmar in 50 years, Maw Naing's feature film debut premiered at Karlovy Vary, Jihlava, Sakhalin and Singapore.
The Forsaken Land, Vimukthi Jayasundara (2005)
The Forsaken Land by Vimukthi Jayasundara / Sri Lanka, 2005
Two soldiers rotate between shifts guarding an empty, barren landscape. While Anura is a family-man, and Piyarsiri a much older alcoholic, both their faces communicate a distant, weary sadness formed in their duty's absent meaning, the howling of wind. A sense of quiet desperation extends to the lives of Sri Lanka's women— Anura's wife dresses each morning and boards the bus to a job that remains unspecified; her sister yearns to leave and become a teacher; her daughter, Batti, seems to best understand that the monotony will not cease.
An evocative, stylistically-accomplished portrait of ennui inside war-torn Sri Lanka, Vimukthi Jayasundara's feature film debut The Forsaken Land won the Prince Claus Fund Film Grant at Rotterdam and premiered in Un Certain Regard at Cannes, where it won the Camera d'Or for best debut film.
28, Prasanna Jayakody (2014)
28, Prasanna Jayakody / Sri Lanka, 2014
Middle-aged Abasiri and his young friend Mani are summoned from the countryside of Sri Lanka to the city in order to identify a deceased woman— Abasiri's wife, who left him many years ago. Armed with the task of transporting his wife's body to her resting place, along with the knowledge of the violence that befell her and the rumors that have already begin to swell in the village, Abasiri enters into a strange communion with his wife: one that could only be formed in her absence.
A poetic travelogue through the sublime landscapes, 28 examines the relationship between masculinity, violence and immateriality in contemporary Sri Lanka. Prasanna Jayakody's third feature film premiered at Hamburg, Singapore and Rotterdam, where it won the NETPAC Prize for Best Asian Film.
Curation by Ursula Grisham
Head Curator of Filmatique