The second edition of AAIFF (All Asian Independent Film Festival) announces its 2021 award-winning films, including its highest honor, “Asia’s Best Independent Film 2021”. Divided into six categories (Dramatic Feature Film, Dramatic Short Film, Documentary Film, Student Film, Experimental Film, and Animated Film), the festival has screened 24 films from 10 different countries online and brought global attention to Asia’s independent filmmakers. Due to the pandemic, yet again, we were unable to continue our festival in person. Still, here at AAIFF, we were determined to continue with the festival, believing in its importance and the joy it brings filmmakers and film-lovers alike. That is why we decided to take AAIFF 2021 online, streaming the festival to our audience at home. The festival has taken place online from the 24th to the 28th November 2021, ending its indie-packed festival with its established final ceremony recognizing eight final award winners.
Launched to support independent filmmakers throughout Asia to display their unique ideas, to share their stories with international audiences, and to connect with other independent filmmakers, distributors, and talent scouts, AAIFF has already become the occasion of an unforgettable film festival experience. The festival is incredibly proud to assist these passionately driven artists who create incredible cinema without the benefits of large production budgets and to show their inspiring stories capable of touching, challenging, and relieving the audience with the power of their creativity and sensitivity. Compelling narratives that permit a solid escape from the pandemic reality and an occasion to reflect on our present and build a new kind of society based on ideals and hope almost forgotten; the films have confirmed the highly innovative and poetic style of Asian cinema.
Asia has always been the largest producer of films worldwide in terms of volume, encompassing different and varied contents and topics that reflect the vastity of the continent. Asian movies portray universal themes such as love, life, revenge, death, and poverty, while also representing slices of Asian culture, flashes of ancient traditions together with the specific stamp of each Asian micro-culture, different in character and quality. The incorporation of Asian values and traits into its films deeply characterizes Asian cinema making it quite diverse and changing, rich in culture and tradition, and the best medium to convey a particular country’s voice, conjugated in a variety of modes, genres, and poetics. For this reason, Asian cinema is crucial for understanding Asian culture: it has become a mirror of the continent’s traditions and beliefs, giving voice and space to its micro-cultures. AAIFF 2021 winners perfectly embody the independent spirit while painting their continent’s complex and multifaceted reality and their culture, beliefs, philosophies, and inspirations.
CIRCULAR RUINS, directed by Zeyu Wang, winner of the prestigious award of Asia’s Best Independent Film 2021, seduced the audience and the jury with the force of its experimental and deeply poetic narrative rendered through outstandingly beautiful photography. A circular exploration in time, in the time and flashes of a broken life, the short engages with trauma and the difficulty of its representation by creating a suspended dramatic tension between different and overlapping moments in time. With his striking cinematography, the director can make the audience visualize, almost feel, and experience trauma and its corrosive and vicious circle. Highly autobiographically, the film offers an occasion of working through, coming to terms with a traumatic past through the medium of art and the infinite possibilities of artistic experimentation.
OTONASHI, directed by Martin Gerigk, Asia’s Best Independent Experimental Film, captures the audience in a hermetic and spiritually introspective exploration of the Buddhist concepts of “silence” and “soundlessness.” Artistic experimentation with collage, the film results from the inspired collaboration between the director and the architect and artist Nikola Gocić: a composition of 11 collages edited and connected to create an abstract narrative. Otonashi stands out for its innovative technique and spiritual exploration converging in a synaesthetic experience that enables the visualization of the sound and sounding, the revelation of the ethereal world.
On the other hand, RELEASE, directed by Jiayi Huang, Asia’s Best Independent Student Film, has impressed the jury with the empathy and attention the young director has used to portray a group of BDSM fans. Through the representation of their communication, daily activities, performances, and mutual discussions, the young director raised the audience’s sympathy. She captured with beautiful photography the contradictory juxtaposition at the core of their experience: how being tied up makes them feel a form of emotional relief.
MY BELOVED, directed by Youshi Xu, Asia’s Best Independent Short Film, struck the jury with its beautiful photography and cinematography, as well as engaging storytelling, able to suspend disbelief and fascinate the audience to the point of making them forget their reality. A bitter portray of the economic crisis and its direct consequences on the life of people and their families, the film depicts a simple but quite wrenching story in a poetic and meditative tone.
UGOKU TOKAI, directed by Lars Ostmann, Asia’s Best Independent Feature Film, has played with an experimental concept in portraying different slices of daily life interweaving and working as occasions of deep reflection on human life. Inspired by Buddhist philosophy and the work and thought of Thoreau, Hegel, Heidegger, and Rilke, the film is a wandering through time and space, through human life and its biggest dilemma while following the journey of a man through his city.
ANTON, directed by Erik Yen Jui Lu, Asia’s Best Independent Animated Film, has the power of impressing the audience for the quality of its universal and touching message, rendered through essential visual elements and shapes. A colorful visual journey, Anton focuses on the universal value of artistic inspiration, portraying with small gestures the longing and difficulties of a young artist to express his creative potential while engaging and comforting the audience with the familiar feeling of the most commonplace moments of daily life.
A WILL TO DREAM, directed by Patrick Alcedo, Asia’s Best Independent Documentary Film, stands out for the challenging and socially engaged inquiry, a celebration almost, of the power of dance in creating a better world, in ending a vicious cycle of misery, poverty, and hunger; and in empowering a population. The documentary, shot over five years, closely follows the dreams and ambitions of the lives of the marginalized youth of Quezon City, exploring their fragilities, vulnerabilities, and vices, together with their teenage dreams and hopes for a better future.
LOW-END POPULATION, directed by Jianjiang Sun, winner of the Special Jury Mention, portrays a very disturbing, almost repugnant story, capturing the audience for its edgy and unpleasant nature. The hard-hitting film presents the spectators with very realistically present, exploring the devastating impact of Covid on the economy and the lives of the people. However, the film’s disturbing nature does not reside in the themes of wealth disparity and survival it portrays, but especially in its vulgar and voyeuristic camerawork, which provokes the audience with both sympathy and disgust.
Eight different stories, eight different results in artistic experimentation, eight different perspectives on our actual society and its most delicate issues. The eight winners, together with all the participants of this 2021 edition of AAIFF, have proved narrative mastery and creative force. These stories addressed universal values, dilemmas, and hurdles while depicting the peculiarities of their own cultures and countries through their challenging narratives. Therefore, sharing and promoting the voices, stories, and perspectives of these incredible young talents from Asia represent an essential key to understanding Asian multifaceted culture, shown to the world through the magnifying lens of a camera. After years of being in the dark, the time of Asian cinema has finally come. Asian films are slowly coming out of their shells to be viewed and appreciated by the whole world, thanks to the incredible work of its talented independent filmmakers and the effort and work of International Festivals like AAIFF in promoting them.