TIFF focuses beyond entertainment

Monzurul Huq
Thursday, November 9th, 2017

Malaysian director Edmund Yeo and lead actress Daphne Low answering questions of audience after the show of “We the Dead”


When we plunge ourselves deep within the thrilling world of movies coming out of Hollywood or Bollywood production lines, we often forget that films can also play important role beyond the one of providing us brief entertainment in our hectic daily life. As stock of moving images these days are inundated by those of the fantasy world, we hardly have time or scope to think about the social role that films can play. The thirtieth edition of Tokyo International Film Festival that concluded last Friday with the announcement of winning entries in different categories reminded us once again the important role of films for not only entertaining us, but also for enriching our mind. This particular aspect of cellular images has recently been increasingly sidelined with the influx of extremely expensive commercial productions, whose sole aim is to turn the box office into a money making machine for producers so that the amount invested can return with dividends many times over.


What role films can exactly play in raising our awareness about violence and injustice that many around the world routinely face is an issue being debated for very long. During the dark days of cold war rivalry, a mere suggestion from one camp that films should focus beyond entertainment was enough to draw suspicion from the other. As in the case of pure literature, the heated debate over the question of art for art sake included the film world too. With the change of world situation the old adversaries are now happily engaged in a competition to make films for profit and the mainstream cinema has long been derailed from the concept of social commitment of film making. Fortunately the idea did not disappear altogether and the just concluded festival in Tokyo came as a refreshing reminder that not all has been given over to the business world of making money.


Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) has long been seen as an annual gathering of film personalities where a healthy blend of commercialism and broader social commitment is not only encouraged, but also patronized. Commercial film production is essential for the industry to survive and expand. However, it is also important to support the parallel existence of films that focus on our common aspiration to make the world somewhat a better place so that we all can share the fruits of progress more or less equally. This is where TIFF shines and differs from many other film festivals around the world and this year once again it has proved its firm commitment of supporting films that speak about problems that we encounter by rewarding productions that talk more beyond just providing us with the time for pure enjoyment.


Social relevance of films, the idea that TIFF always held dearly, has once again been reflected prominently in the selection of winning entries for this year’s festival. The Grand Prix winning entry, the Turkish production with financial support from Germany, Sweden, France and Qatar, is a quasi-science fiction with a deep touch of disturbing realities of our present day world. Made by the well-known Turkish director Semith Kaplanoglu, “Grain” is a film that talks about the broader issue of human survival amid destructions caused by war and environmental damages and also by the chaotic response to control the influx of displaced population. At the center of the film’s focus is what role genetically modified seeds are to play in solving the problem of a looming food shortage. This beautifully made film not only tells us of the challenges that we face these days, but also underlines the importance of human bondage.


If Semith Kapalanoglu’s “Grain” is an attempt to find out the depth of problems that vaguely loom in a world more of our fantasy, “Aqerat” or “We the Dead” made by the promising young Malaysian director Edmund Yeo, is a poetic description of sufferings of a minority on the verge of being uprooted from the land they had been living for generations. It is a film centering on the sufferings of Rohingya refugees of Myanmar, who are routinely being persecuted by a brutal regime. Forced to flee from home for saving their life, these hopeless people also become easy prey of human traffickers in Thailand and Malaysia. Edmund Yeo looks at their suffering from the position of an unwilling human trafficker who had been lured into the illegal business incidentally. The members of the festival jury have picked up Edmund Yeo as their choice for the Best Director award and the choice tells a lot about what they think the role films need to play. The film also had a second laurel as the best actress award went to Daphne Low for playing the role of an unwilling young human trafficker.


Another film focusing on the refugee issue of Myanmar from a different dimension also received best Asian Future award and the Spirit of Asia award. Japanese director Akio Fujimoto’s “Passage of life” is a story of a Burmese refugee family living in Japan. It’s a film about the dilemma that displaced families encounter while living an exile life.


Among other winners of this year’s festival are best Japanese film “Of Love and Law” by Hikaru Toda, special jury award winning Italian film “Crater”, and the Chinese film “the Looming Storm” for best artistic contribution. The festival came to an end with the screening of former US Vice President Al Gore’s latest climate change documentary “An inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”. Gore himself attended the closing ceremony as the special guest and shared his views of environmental issues on the stage with the Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike. So, in dropping the curtain too, TIFF had shown the festival’s sincere commitment to uphold the idea of social commitment that films need to focus on.


(Tokyo, November 5, 2017)

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