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Surviving With Nothing Man-Made? Try a Film Festival

By ELAINE ARADILLAS

Published: July 24, 2004

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After Yasuaki Nakajima spent a year in Tokyo making a 12-minute film, he decided to go backpacking in Australia to clear his head. Little did he know that his six-month trek would inspire his first feature-length movie.

His "emotional journey," as he described it, had nothing to do with finding himself or the meaning of life but was about communication. Growing up in Japan, he had not learned English, and he realized he needed to ask for basic necessities to survive. "We do a lot of communication without talking," said the 32-year-old filmmaker, who lives in Queens. "We tend to forget that because we talk too much."

His film, "After the Apocalypse," will have an encore showing at 12:30 p.m. today at the theater at the Asia Society (725 Park Avenue, at 70th Street) as part of the Asian American International Film Festival. This 27th annual festival ends tonight, but some films will be shown in a mini-festival starting on Friday in Huntington on Long Island.

When he made his first feature movie, he eliminated dialogue. It wasn't a gimmick, he said, but a quest to see how people would endure if everything man-made were taken away, including speech.

His film begins after World War III has destroyed everything but four men, a woman and nature. Mr. Nakajima is a cast member. He said he had himself in mind as the audience, but that is not to say that he thought of the film as Japanese. The story is universal, he said.

Curators and programmers for the festival said its primary goal was showcasing talented but unknown artists. Roger Garcia, the festival's guest programmer, said many filmmakers were exhilarated when they were selected. Many come from villages in countries where many people do not understand the interest of filmmaking, he said. It can be discouraging for many of them.

"I know for a fact that showing a film by an unknown filmmaker in Asia in a film festival in New York is a real encouragement to that guy at home," he said. "In many cases these guys are totally unsupported, struggling along, trying to make the best films."

Mr. Garcia is responsible for bringing films from China, Malaysia and the Philippines, among other countries. He said many of these movies had not been shown despite the increased number of festivals around the world. For example, an eight-hour movie from the Philippines called "Ebolusyon" had its world premiere at the festival. It is a work in progress; the final version is to be 11 hours long.

"A film festival like ours, I think, should take risks," he said. "We should have the courage to show eight-hour films."

More than 120 films were shown at the nine-day festival, including a 13-minute short from Esther Hagedorn-Woo, a 13-year-old Manhattan girl, and the premiere of "Slow Jam King" by a New York University graduate, Steve Mallorca.

As a Filipino-American born in Chicago, Mr. Mallorca said that the festival was important to Asian-American filmmakers but that the work was intended for everyone.

"Just because there aren't white faces up there on the screen, you're still going to care about these characters in the same way," he said.

Tonight's final event is an over-the-top, larger-than-life presentation of a popular Bollywood movie called "Tomorrow May Never Come" by a first-time director, Nikhil Advani. It is sold out, but the film will be shown at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington next weekend. The schedule is at www.asiancinevision.org.

Mr. Advani's goal was to temper the melodrama for which Bollywood films are known, he said in a telephone interview from his office in Mumbai, India. The city, formerly known as Bombay, is the center of the Indian film industry.

His film was a box-office success in India and won eight Filmfare Awards, the country's Oscars. Bollywood is slowly breaking through in Western cinema, partly because of film festivals, he said.

Festivals have always been more accepting of foreign films, he said, adding, "Film festivals help to break new ground."

As the Asian American film festival continues to seek new styles of filmmaking, the programmers are also hoping to stumble across the next great filmmaker. Mr. Garcia said the next Wayne Wang or Ang Lee was only a festival away.

"In a way these are the filmmakers of the future," he said. "These are talented people, and they are the Asian filmmakers who do not get a lot of exposure on the international film circuit. These guys are often ignored in the mainstream system of American cinema."


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