Sun, 23 Mar 2003

Kunang Helmi-Picard Contributor Paris

Indonesian director Riri Riza confirmed his place in the local and international scenes, joining the like of Garin Nugroho, after his film Eliana Eliana gave Jajang Noer and Rachel Maryam Sayidana a Lotus for Best Actress award each for their roles in the much appreciated film at this year's Deauville Asian Film Festival in France.

Riri's success is a repeat of Indonesia's achievement last year, when Dian Sastrowardoyo won the Best Actress Award at the festival for her role in Whispering Sands.

Riri, who was present at the Deauville prize presentation ceremony joked, "The Chinese film Blind Shaft did not have any notable female actresses, otherwise we would not have won anything at all!"

Riri was referring to the fact that the Chinese director of Blind Shaft, Li Yang, had carried off most of the other six prizes known as Lotus awards distributed at this festival. Riri and his Eliana were lucky compared to the other Asian films that did not win anything at all. The exception being the Japanese video film Moon Overflowing by Ryota Sakamaki in that section.

The fifth edition of the Deauville Asian Film Festival was hampered by a last minute take-over of the festival by new management.

Alan Patel who founded the festival is now co-president together with Lionel Chouchan of Publique Systemes, who is now going to run the festival together with Bruno Barde. Slight confusion resulted as the organization has changed considerably, but otherwise the festival ran smoothly despite less films shown this year - and a somewhat lower attendance by film professionals.

However, the public remained enthusiastic and the festival continues to be one of the smaller, but very important venues, for Asian films in Europe.

Indonesian Riri Riza was one of the most sought-after film directors of the festival. He came alone and was only seconded by a young Indonesian student from Caen, Normandy, who translated into French for him. It was his second visit to the festival; he was here previously with co-producer Mira Lesmana in 2000 to present their film Kuldesak.

The main problem faced by the company he co-runs, Miles Films, in Indonesia and Europe, as well as other parts of the world, is film distribution. Indonesia does not have an official support system for films made in Indonesia by Indonesians.

"These could be distributed abroad as well as being helped with the problem of commercial film distribution in Indonesia itself. This difficulty hampers creativity -- and we are not even talking about financing the films themselves, or training the actors and technical staff! Iran is an example where the state promotes both the making and the distribution of Iranian films in and outside of the country."

The young director was full of admiration for the Chinese- German co-production Blind Shaft (Mang Jing) directed by Li Yang. This 92-minute feature film, which garnered five of the seven Lotus awards here, is a tightly directed film realistically portraying the lives of coal miners at the bottom stratum of Chinese society.

Filmed in a documentary-like cinematic style, it portrays a story which could be real in its simplicity and tragic outcome. There is almost no modern equipment and no protection for those working in these mines for a minimal wage: no social security and no medical insurance.

The workers are subjected to corruption by state officials and their lives are disregarded while working under extremely dangerous conditions.

Li Yang declared that in order to make Blind Shaft "my crew and I experienced a lot of difficulties, including having to risk our lives at times. Now the film is finally finished, but to me the dangers are still here. This film will be banned from being released in China, and I will face the unfortunate destiny of being banned from making a film in China. Many friends asked me, why I must risk my life to make a film like this."

The resulting film is proof enough that this director, who was trained in Cologne, Germany, should be allowed to go on to make more films in the future. The jury and audience in Deauville were unanimous in their approval.

Besides the winning Chinese film, a hilarious Korean comedy -- not in the competition -- Saving my Hubby, directed by Hyun Nam- sub with the extraordinary actress Bae Doo-na, came in for much praise for its story-line and superb acting. The Vietnamese film Me Thao (Once upon a time) directed by Viet Linh was another superb example of the best in Asian films: although slow in tempo, it features a strong story-line, excellent acting and superb photography. Famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou's blockbuster Hero with a long list of famous stars like Meggy Cheung, Jet Li and Tony Leung was a magnificent spectacle of kung fu glory and splendid photography depicting ancient China, but failed to capture the rapt attention like Blind Shaft won from the French audience.

The attention that Riri Riza's Eliana, Eliana won from audiences here in Deauville proved that despite the short-comings of video technique on large screens, a well-written script, excellent actors and superb directing can overcome such obstacles.

As veteran Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan remarked: "We are increasingly proud to be Asian actors or filmmakers here in Europe!"

Bachchan was the subject of a special homage at Deauville for his long and fruitful career in Indian films.

Riri Riza told the Indian star: "My parents in Indonesia watched so many Amitabh Bachchan movies that you are also mentioned in my film Eliana, Eliana!"