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APSA names cultural diversity nominees

The Asia-Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) has announced the APSA Cultural Diversity Award under the patronage of UNESCO, to be presented to one of five titles announced late last week. In previous editions, APSA has presented the UNESCO Award.

Under both titles, the award is for “an outstanding contribution to the promotion and preservation of the cultural diversity through film”.

The five titles which will compete this year are Dmitrii Davydov’s The Bonfire (Kostior na vetru), Hussein Hassan’s The Dark Wind, Turkey’s Foreign Language Oscar submission Mustafa Kara’s Cold of Kalandar (Kalandar Soğuğu), Tamer El Said’s Berlinale-premiered In the Last Days of the City (pictured, top) and Wang Xuebo’s Knife in the Clear Water (Qingshui Li De Daozi).

Three of the titles have just played the Busan International Film Festival, which closed on the weekend. Two of the titles (Knife in the Clear Water and The Bonfire) held their world premieres in Busan, Knife leaving with the festival’s New Currents Awards. Some of the titles are by debut and sophomore feature directors and could also qualify at the APSAs for the Young Cinema award, which was announced last week.

It has long seemed odd that APSA has felt the need for such a diversity award. By its nature the event celebrates work hailing from a diverse range cultures across 70 countries, home to well over half the world’s population. Only two of the smallest countries (Australia and NZ) have a population in which white people form a majority. There has been criticism in the past that APSA favours films that more closely reflect European arthouse than Asian sensibilities. Several films selected in recent years have had pretty thin regional credentials. This year’s choice of nominees for the Cultural Diversity Award will do little to counter such criticisms.

The five titles selected are from China, Egypt, Iraq, the Russian Federation, and Turkey. Four out of five are not or not entirely Asian territories, and two have a foot firmly in Europe. The line-up doesn’t seem to fly a cultural flag for much of Asia, and none of the Pacific – not that five films could realistically represent such an area anyway.

That shouldn’t be read as a criticism of the films themselves, either their quality or cultural aspirations and commitment.

The APSAs run 24 November in Brisbane.

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