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15 feature films vie for top honours at DIFF’s Muhr AsiaAfrica Awards

Tue Nov 24,2009

The Muhr AsiaAfrica Awards, the Dubai International Film Festival’s initiative to promote filmmaking in Asia and Africa, has selected 15 feature films to compete for the top honours. These entries are drawn from entries from 33 nations, with three Iranian films making it into the final selection.

Nashen Moodley, Director-AsiaAfrica programme, said the team that made the selection for the second edition of the Muhr AsiaAfrica Awards was impressed by the creative richness of the film-making as well as the integration of modern technology.

“The selection proves the vitality of film-making in Asia and Africa. The films are a good blend of narrative brilliance and technical finesse,” he added.

The narratives, largely reflective of contemporary social realities, unravel the predicaments of people caught in unexpected situations. Shirley Adams, directed by Oliver Hermanus, is set in Mitchell’s Plain in Cape Town, and is a harrowing tale of single mother, Shirley Adams, whose son Donovan was paralysed in a shooting. Poverty-stricken Shirley must not only care for her son, but also try to get justice.

Bong Joon-ho’s Korean film Mother, features a devoted mum - played by legendary actress Kim Hye-ja - who sets out on a mission to prove her spoilt son, 27-year-old Do-joon, is innocent in a murder case involving a young girl. Refusing to believe her son is guilty, and distrustful of everyone, Hye-ja channels all her maternal instincts into clearing his name.

A musical comedy from Kazakhstan, My Dear Children, focuses on the relationship between a mother and her five different grown-up children, and particularly Eldon, the youngest. When Eldon announces he has met the love of his life, his mother embarks on a tour of her four other children’s homes in search of money for the wedding. The film is directed by Zhanna Issabayeva.

Ramata, from Congo/Senegal, directed by Léandre-Alain Bake, features an older woman who embarks on a passionate affair with a young criminal, half her age – with unexpected consequences. But as the affair progresses, Ramata is soon having serious doubts about her young lover and grows increasingly unsettled about their relationship which takes a dramatic turn.

At The End Of Daybreak, an entry from Malaysia directed by Ho Yuhang, is a modern-day fable of morality, illicit passion and a desperate mother. When Tuck Chai, a spoilt young man who lives with his mother, embarks on an illicit relationship with an underage schoolgirl, he soon finds himself threatened with the police by the girl’s enraged parents.

Director’s Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Thai film Nymph is a haunting thriller involving May and Nop, two young, successful professionals, apparently enjoying an idyllic marriage in Bangkok. A photography assignment in the jungle leads to a bizarre and scary series of events.

The brutal and protracted civil war in Sri Lanka is the backdrop to director Vimukthi Jayasundara’s film Between Two Worlds, in which a young man appears to fall from the sky and rescues a foreign woman caught up in a violent conflict.

Two films from India are contenders for awards. Director Subramania Shiva’s Yogi, a World Premiere, is about a young man living in the slums of Chennai who descends into a life of petty crime and about how one incident changes his life. The film narrates the story of Yogi, for whom assaults have become a daily routine, so much so that the sight of his latest victim, a heavily injured woman slumped in her car, leaves him untouched. But then he spots her baby on the back seat; he feels threatened and seduced at the same time.

Renowned director Shyam Benegal’s Well Done Abba is a comedic chain of events involving family strife and a stolen well. It features Bollywood stars Boman Irani, Minissha Lamba and Sameer Dattani. In this cheery, upbeat comedy drama, the protagonist, Armaan Ali returns to work after a mysterious three-month break. Asked by his irate boss to explain himself, Ali embarks on a colourful and fantastical tale that takes in his attempts to marry off his wayward daughter, the vexations caused by his irresponsible relatives, and a mysterious tale of a stolen well.

The trio of Iranian films provides an enchanting mix of reality and fantasy. The White Meadows, by Mohammad Rasoulof, is an allegorical and visually sumptuous journey into a magical world in which tears are collected for a purpose kept secret. The film follows Rahmat, who travels from island to island to collect the tears of those who are grieving.  On one of his journeys, a young boy stows away, determined to learn the secret of Rahmat’s activities. Together they encounter the strange and sometimes cruel customs of the islands.

Women Without Men, the first feature film by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, takes the 1953 Iranian coup d’etat as its starting point. As the political turmoil swells in the streets of Tehran, we encounter four women each facing a problem. Each woman is magically liberated from her predicament, finding hope in a beautiful orchard.

The context for love story Heiran, directed by Shalizeh Arefpour, is the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the millions of Afghans who fled into Iran. Forced, like millions others from Afghanistan by the repressive rule of the Taliban, young student Heiran has fled to Iran, where he fetches up in a small village and begins trying to make a life for himself. But it’s not long before he’s bewitched by a 17-year old local girl Mahi, and the pair soon find themselves falling in love. The film stars Mehrdad Sedighian and Baran Kosari.

Directed by Jiang Wenli, Lan, set in China during the Cultural Revolution, stars Jun Yao, Zhu Yinuo and Zhu Xu.  Xiaolan’s parents have been forcibly displaced and she is left with her grandfather, Tang, who goes to elaborate lengths to justify his story that Xiolan’s parents are heroes making a crucial contribution to the country’s progress. The movie is a poignant, reflection on a deeply personal relationship in a turbulent era.

Two grandmothers and two grandsons take the spotlight in Lola from the Philippines.  One grandson has murdered the other – and the grandmothers are fighting their respective corners. The film directed by Brillante Mendoza is a simple tale, yet loaded with emotion and profound moral dilemmas. It tells the story of two elderly ladies and their respective grandsons. One’s lying on a slab in a morgue following a brutal mugging, the other is the guilty party, arraigned in prison awaiting trial. Mendoza also won the Best Director prize at Cannes earlier this year.

The final entry, Japan’s Lost Paradise in Tokyo is a sensitive and unsettling tale of passion, aspiration and family ties in modern-day Tokyo. The film is directed by Kazuya Shiraishi. Following the death of their father, real-estate agent Mikio has assumed responsibility for his elder, mentally-disabled brother Saneo. The pressures of looking after the willful and unpredictable Saneo soon begin to take their toll on taciturn Mikio.

Now in its sixth year, DIFF 2009 is held in association with Dubai Studio City and will be held from December 9 to 16.  Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airline and Madinat Jumeirah are the principal sponsors of DIFF and the event is supported by Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture).

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