Where is Global Cinema Going?

L-R: Yiman Wang, UC Santa Cruz, Jasmina Bojic, UNAFF, Alesia Weston, Sundance Institute and Santhosh Daniel, The Global Film Initiative. Photo courtesy of PAIFF/Francesca Garbagnati (GFI intern and volunteer photographer for the Festival!)

PAIFF Speaker Series:  Global Cinema Tomorrow

On September 30th, Director of Programs Santhosh Daniel sat down with Sundance Institute’s Alesia Weston and Jasmina Bojic of the United Nations Association Film Festival at the Palo Alto International Film Festival to talk about the changing face of world cinema.

The Global Film Initiative co-presented THE LIGHT THIEF (Global Lens 2011) at PAIFF, and Santhosh also served as moderator of the panel “Ditching the Divide” at PAIFF.  For a full recap of the Global Cinema Tomorrow panel, click here, and see below for an in-depth interview with Santhosh about THE LIGHT THIEF and trends in global cinema.




PAIFF Speaker Series: Interview with Santhosh Daniel about THE LIGHT THIEF and Trends in Global Cinema

Interview and introduction by Anita Felicelli, General Counsel and Director of Publications, Palo Alto International Film Festival (PAIFF); originally posted September 15th on the PAIFF website

Santhosh Daniel is the Director of the Global Film Initiative, a leading organization in the effort to promote cross-cultural understanding through cinema. At PAIFF 2011, The Global Film Initiative will co-present The Light Thief, a Kyrgyz film about a kind electrician whose dream of using wind power to provide cheaper energy to his impoverished village is complicated when he strikes a bargain with a greedy tycoon. The Global Film Initiative selected The Light Thief to be part of its Global Lens 2011 film series. The Light Thief will play at PAIFF at the Aquarius Theater on Sunday 10/2, at 1:00 p.m.

Palo Alto International Film Festival logoOn Friday 9/30, at 5:30 p.m. at Talenthouse, Daniel will bring his expertise to the PAIFF Speaker Series on the panel Global Cinema Tomorrow. The panel addresses the effects of globalization on film. Daniel will also moderate the panel Ditching the Divide—Merging Technology to Manufacture Cinema, which is devoted to understanding and exploring some of the new image-makers in the contemporary landscape of digital technology and filmmaking. A writer himself, Daniel is uniquely situated to speak about storytelling in Kyrgyzstan and film trends in developing nations in general.

Are you seeing a change in how much of the works of underrepresented artists are reaching Western audiences?

Yes. Changes in digital technology are making film production much more portable and affordable, and a number of nations are also receiving funding for film from their government as a type of cultural investment (and thereby, national “product”). As a result, there are many growing industries across the world, in places that were once limited by funds and technology–and many of those films are making their way to the 200+ festivals in the States. Granted, similar to the U.S. market, not all films are of the highest quality. But the ability to actually make a film in, say, Kyrgyzstan, is important, as it contributes to a critical action+mass that eventually draws attention, builds an industry and maybe changes perception of the world and what constitutes ‘art’.

How did you find The Light Thief?

This is always an interesting question: ‘How did you find this film?’ Since our founding, we’ve focused significant attention on films from Central Asia, particularly nations part of the former Soviet republic; our aim, as with all regions we support, is to help build a solid foundation for this particular industry to grow. So when our friends at Volya Film and Oy Art (with whom we’ve previously worked via our Granting Program) said they had a new project for us, we paid attention, tracked the film and after previewing it, had no question it had to be in our Global Lens series.

As a writer, what most intrigued you about The Light Thief?

I’m very drawn to filmmakers who use landscape to tell a story, and this is one characteristic of this film (and script) that really appealed to me–the land says as much as the actual dialogue, and the director uses this to great effect, especially to enunciate the overarching theme of technology’s impact on a ‘pristine environment.’ Also, to be honest, writer-actor-directors–of which Aktan Arym Kubat is one–are always an unusual study. I rarely inhabit the characters I create and doing so–it’s just a very different creative process, to feel yourself living a story, at all stages and from all angles.

How much did you know about Kyrgyzstan when you first saw the film?

Actually, more than one might expect… One of the first films I previewed after coming to the Global Film Initiative was a work from Kyrgyzstan about bride-stealing entitled “Pure Coolness.” We supported the film with a grant and when we received the final cut, the producers asked what we thought about distributing the film. So in order to make an informed decision, I had to pull a crash-course on bride-stealing and how that fit into Kyrgyz culture (or at least one director’s vision of the culture). But, that’s an unusual circumstance and although we have a film discussion guide for The Light Thief, I don’t think most people know much about the nation, or region.

In what ways do you feel The Light Thief fits or expands the definition of “art” as we think of it in the Western world?

At the heart of any art is a story, and how that’s expressed is what makes it unique. Film is no exception to this rule, and for years, the “unique” storytelling that dominated film came from American and European directors. And so, by definition, cinematic storytelling as an art form was somewhat limited. But recently, as global film industries have grown, influences from Asia to Latin America have changed how Americans see and tell stories through cinema. Certainly, Satyajit Ray affected understanding of how silence can be a more penetrating dialogue than words [which, years ago, recontextualized film as an "art" for American and European industries moving away from the silent film tradition].

If you think about film from emerging nations, the use of nonprofessional actors to successfully convey realism–as opposed to writing a script to construct realism–is really changing how independent filmmakers conceive and cast films everywhere. And, when you watch The Light Thief, consider that what you may find amusing, is actually not intended to be humorous…

The storytelling in THE LIGHT THIEF seems to me to have strong similarities to a number of film classics. What elements specific to Kyrgyz cultural traditions can we see in the film?

Well, I’m tempted to just tell audiences to watch the film–and discover the answer to this question. That said, it is helpful to know that the film is set roughly after overthrow of the government about six years ago (the Tulip Revolution); from that comes the context of rapid industrialization that is the backdrop of the film, and the classic theme of an underdog (especially one fighting oppressive, moneyed tycoons looking to exploit people and resources). On a completely alternate note, it’s good to notice that this film in many ways is about an entrepreneur, a man in a village who works in an underground economy, but is sitting on a startup-concept and looking for investors. Of course, that’s not so much “cultural” as it is universal, and so if there’s anything truly “Kyrgyz” to highlight, I really suggest that audiences just listen to the film, as there is a beautiful, harmonious mixture of language and folk music that sets a tone throughout the picture.

Which developing countries are seeing the most changes in filmmaking right now (and what are the changes)?

It’s a good question––and to pinpoint any few nations as representative of change is almost impossible, as I can think of at least 20 or 30 that are making some kind of mark on the world. However, to give some examples: India is really undergoing a metamorphosis at the hands of independent filmmakers bucking the Bollywood phenomenon (and, some say returning to the artistic roots of the Indian film industry)… South Africa has bloomed, which is compelling, considering that the “industry” has a strong multi-racial makeup and apartheid ended less than twenty years ago… The Balkans. Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia–where does one start. The ability to translate history, culture and war–and Cold War legacies–via film is amazing and almost indescribable as a social phenomenon… There are more, and I could go on. But looking forward, I’d say keep an eye on sub-Saharan Africa.

Can you tell me a few of the changes you’re seeing in sub-Suharan Africa?

Nigeria, or “Nollywood,” is of course what many people know as the booming capitol for African film production, largely due to new technology, especially in digital editing and production (in fact, I believe the national film and video output is ahead of that of the U.S.). There is also quite a bit of activity in Uganda and Kenya, and Burkina Faso–which hosts FESPACO, the largest festival on the continent. As mentioned, South Africa is also growing, and that’s led to growth of the Durban film festival, which gives African filmmakers an exhibition point in one of the continent’s most active industries.

It also might surprise people to know that [via our Granting Program], we’re seeing a rise in film projects from East Africa, especially Ethiopia and Somalia–some of which can be attributed to focused investment by grant-making and funding agencies from Europe. There is also a surge of American filmmakers shooting “African” stories in the Sub-Saharan region. Really, if you think about it, Africa is one of the most filmed and photographed continents in the world, and so filmmaking is hardly a foreign or distant concept, and it’s not unusual that Africans are now getting behind the camera…

For a Speaker Series pass to listen to Santhosh Daniel and other bright lights of the worldwide movement to expand our understanding of film, visit: http://paiff2011.eventbrite.com/.

To purchase a ticket to The Light Thief, which plays on Sunday, October 02, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. at http://www.eventbrite.com/event/2039481143.

Festival passes are a great way to see all of PAIFF’s international selections, which include Three, Submarino and Delhi in a Day, as well as to attend PAIFF’s Bollywood party: http://paiff2011.eventbrite.com/?.

THE LIGHT THIEF is currently touring throughout the U.S. and Canada as part of Global Lens 2011. To find a screening near you, visit: http://globalfilm.org/calendar.php.

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