Asian Cinema Digest #41

November’s digest spotlights various films coming from Palestine and Israel that have been made available online and through various in-person film festivals. 

Alongside this we have an obituary for recently deceased Iranian filmmaker Dariush Mehrjui and a spotlight on the career of Indian pioneer Ritwik Ghatak. 

Later in the month there is the 34th edition of the Singapore International Film Festival and we’ve highlighted just a fraction of the exciting films playing at the festival. 



Image still from We No Longer Prefer Mountains (2023, Inas Halabi)

Six Films for Palestine by Other Cinemas 

Other Cinemas, a film programming project set up by Arwa Aburawa and Turab Shah and focused on supporting Black & non-white communities for Palestine with an offering  of six films by Palestinian filmmakers. These include Inas Halabi’s We No Longer Prefer Mountains (2023), Jumana Manna’s Foragers (2022), Saeed Taji Farouky’s Strange Cities Are Familiar (2019), Raed Andoni’s Ghost Hunting (2017), Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours (2012) and Mustafa Abu Ali’s They Do Not Exist (1974). The films are available for viewing until 22 November 2023.


Farha (2021) by Darin J. Sallam

Streaming on Netflix is Darin J. Sallam’s Farha (2021) which follows a Palestinian girl’s coming-of-age experience during the Nakba, the 1948 displacement of Palestinians from their homeland. Equal parts harrowing and heartbreaking, Farha (2021) provides a formally rigorous glimpse into the darkest point in Palestine’s history. 


The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation (2021) by Avi Mograbi

Now available for rent on Dafilms in the US is filmmaker Avi Mograbi’s The First 54 Years: An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation (2021). Through the testimonies of the soldiers who implemented it, director Avi Mograbi provides insights on how a colonialist occupation works and the logic behind those practices. Using the 54-year Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the director draws us a “Manual for Military Occupation”.


Three Films by Rithy Panh on the Criterion Channel

The sole member of his family to survive the Cambodian genocide, documentarian Rithy Panh has devoted himself to exorcising the traumas of his country’s past through the cathartic power of cinema. These profoundly moving works – the Academy Award–nominated The Missing Picture (2013), which recreates the lost images of the genocide through clay figurines; Exile (2016), a poetic rumination on the horrors his family experienced at the hands of the Khmer Rouge; and Irradiated (2020), an unflinching confrontation with the devastation of war across twentieth-century history, which is making its streaming premiere – are harrowing and haunting records of human atrocity and unbelievable resilience.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991) by Lam Nai-choi

Also on Criterion Channel is the new restoration of Lam Nai-Choi’s Hong Kong cult classic gorefest Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991), following the indestructible Ricky Ho (Fan Siu-wong) who has to fight through hordes of enemies in a corrupt private prison. Drawing from the kinetic, hyperstylised spirit of its manga source material, writer-director Lam Nai-choi delivers a blast of pure cinema so outrageously over the top, it’s nearly avant-garde. This version features a new introduction by author Grady Hendrix.


The Perfect Candidate (2019) by Haifaa al-Mansour

Saudi Arabia’s entry for the 92nd Academy Awards and a contender at the 76th Venice Film Festival Golden Lion contender The Perfect Candidate (2019) has arrived on MUBI. Trailblazing director Haifaa al-Mansour, whose debut film Wadjda (2012) marked several milestones for Saudi filmmaking, returns to her homeland for this story of feminine defiance. The Perfect Candidate (2019) is a sensitive political drama that challenges patriarchal norms and finds hope in confrontation.

Midnight Traveler (2019) by Hassan Fazili

Also on MUBI: Hassan Fazili’s Berlin International Film Festival award winning documentary Midnight Traveler (2019). Filmed on three smartphones by Fazili and his wife, Fatima Hussaini, and their two daughters, it chronicles their three-year journey from their home in Afghanistan to Europe, in search of asylum.


The Boy (2023) by Yahav Winner 

Director, Yahav Winner, was murdered in his home in Kibbutz Kfar Gaza on the morning of Saturday, October 7, 2023, in a massacre by Hamas terrorists, who broke the window of the family home. The Boy (2023), streaming on The New Yorker’s Screening Room, is his final film. It unflinchingly captures the dissonance of life along the Israel-Gaza border, as a father and son are unable to ignore the injustices enacted on their Palestinian neighbours.



The Father of the Iranian New Wave: Dariush Mehrjui, 1939-2023

For Filmint, Ali Moosavi writes an obituary for Dariush Mehrjui who, along with his wife, Vahideh, was recently murdered in Tehran. As the director of the first Iranian New Wave film The Cow (1969), Moosavi asserts that Mehrjui was the only Iranian director whose films were universally admired by audiences and critics alike, both pre and post Iranian Revolution. He leaves behind a varied body of work examining the growing discontent of an urban Iran. 

The Abyss: Seeking Permission Through Onscreen Humiliation by Kit Zauhar 

For MUBI Notebook, filmmaker Kit Zauhar, director of Actual People (2021) and This Closeness (2023) explores how for femme triple threats—actors/writers/directors—the subject of humiliation, embarrassment, and debasement is both limiting and empowering.


Nourished by Time: Facing the Future of Cinema with Locarno’s Kevin B. Lee

Also for MUBI Notebook, Arta Barzanji interviews the Locarno Film Festival’s innovative events programmer and acclaimed video essayist, Kevin B. Lee, about cinema’s past, present, and potential futures.


Infernal Affairs Trilogy: Twenty Years Later

For Film Quarterly, Jerrine Tan unpacks the legacy and impact of Andrew Lau Wai-keung and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs (2002), exploring its efforts to revitalise Hong Kong’s film industry and its commentary on Hong Kong’s complex identity following the 1997 handover. 


Image still from Ajantrik (1958, Ritwik Ghatak)

“I am burning, everyone is burning, the universe is burning”: Derek Malcolm on the films of Ritwik Ghatak

For Sight and Sound, Derek Malcolm embarks on a career retrospective of one of India’s unsung directors, Ritwik Ghatak whose career was tragically cut short when he died from chronic alcoholism and tuberculosis at the age of 51. In the work he left behind, he explored trenchant ideas surrounding social reality, partition, and feminism.


Cine wanderer: Daughter of the Nile

Also for Sight and Sound: writer Phuong Le explores Hou Hsiao-hsien’s underrated Daughter of the Nile (1987). One of his first Taipei-set films which offers a fluorescent trip through history and youthful temptation. 


Image still from Rouge (1987, Stanley Kwan)

Phantom Threads: Seven Ways of Looking at the Ghosts of Cinema 

For Film Comment, writer Dennis Lim examines the portrayal of ghosts throughout cinema history, making reference to dozens of films including Japanese golden age classics like Ugetsu (1953), Onibaba (1964), Kwaidan (1964), Stanley Kwan’s Rouge (1987) and Tsai Ming-liang’s Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003).


Image still from The Traveler (1974, Abbas Kiarostami)

Objects of Desire

Also for Film Comment: Imogen Sara Smith covers the film series Iranian Cinema before the Revolution, 1925–1979 currently playing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which features almost 70 features and shorts from filmmakers like Ebrahim Golestan, Forough Farrokhzad, Dariush Mehrjui, Sohrab Shahid Saless, and Masoud Kimiai.


Image still from An Asian Ghost Story (2023, Wang Bo)

In Search of Indie’s Soul: Chinese Independent Cinema Today and Beyond

For Senses of Cinema, Xiang Fan covers the launch of the Chinese Independent Film Archive (CIFA) Film Series: Chinese Independent Cinema Today, and attempts to answer the question:  ‘Is independent cinema in China dead?’


Image still from Hard-Boiled (1992, John Woo)

Great Directors: John Woo

Also for Senses of Cinema, Jeremy Carr writes an extensive biography of famed Hong Kong action director John Woo, in anticipation of his latest film, Silent Night (2023).




Neo Sora on Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus, the Logistics of Recording Live Music, and Sakamoto’s Relationship with Cinema

Director and son of Ryuichi Sakamoto, Neo Sora discusses his film Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus (2023), a gorgeous elegy starring Sakamoto himself in one of his final performances, an intimate, melancholy, and achingly beautiful one-man show recorded in late 2022 at NHK Studio in Tokyo. Sora speaks about the personal nature of the film, the logistics of recording live music, and Sakamoto’s relationship with cinema.



34th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF)

The Singapore International Film Festival is returning for its 34th edition from 30 November to 10 December. Amanda Nell Eu’s Tiger Stripes (2023) will be opening the festival and other highlights include a curated series by Cinema Icon Award recipient Fan BingBing, a selection of new films from the international festival circuit such as Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist, various premieres for films around the region and a rare screening of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992).


Image still from Tomorrow’s Freedom (2023, Georgia Scott, Sophia Scott)

London Palestine Film Festival 2023

London Palestine Film Festival returns to the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) for its 24th edition from 18 to 26 November. The films screening include Georgia Scott & Sophia Scott’s Tomorow’s Freedom (2023), Lina Soualem’s Bye Bye Tiberias (2023), Mohanad Yaqubi’s R21 aka Restoring Solidarity (2022), Khaled Jarrar’s Notes on Displacement (2022) and Maya Sanbar, Faga Melo & Gustavo Leal’s Footsteps on the Wind (2021).


Cartoons Underground 2023 (Singapore)

The 12th edition of Cartoons Underground will be at The Projector at Golden Mile on 25 November with a total of 15 films selected from 1,582 entries submitted from 103 different countries, showcasing a unique variety of voices, themes and stories.


Acropolis Cinema: Wang Bing’s YOUTH (SPRING) (2023) (Los Angeles)

Acropolis Cinema will be hosting the Los Angeles premiere of Wang Bing’s Youth (Spring) (2023). An intimate documentary filmed over five years, it takes us through workshops in the town of Zhili, about 95 miles from Shanghai, a centre for the children’s garment industry as we follow the lives of their young workers.


The Narrow Bridge (2022, Esther Takac) follows the journey of four individuals each of whom lost a child or parent due to the conflict in Israel/Palestine and are trying to transform their grief into a bridge for reconciliation. Screening by the Jewish International Film Festival Australia, Oct 23 – Dec 6 2023.

To save the Dead Sea from disappearing due to overconsumption and poor water management, three swimmers–Oded, an Israeli, Munqeth, a Jordanian, and Yusuf, a Palestinian, bring together international swimmers to attempt something that has never been done: swim across the Dead Sea from Jordan to Israel. As they set out to accomplish this extraordinary and dangerous feat in the hopes of gaining media exposure that will drive the region’s countries to act, they also confront the cultural differences and political realities that complicate their friendships. Watch this under Reel Time Film 2024 Series with a virtual Q&A with the filmmakers, by the City of Holland’s International Relations Commission (IRC) and Hope College.



Call for Submissions: Queer East Festival

The 5th edition of London-based Queer East Festival is open for submissions with the early bird deadline ending on 30 November 2023 and the regular deadline on 12 January 2024. The festival is looking for films and artists’ moving image works made by, or that are about, LGBTQ+ people in East or Southeast Asia, or diaspora communities.


Call for Submissions: Taiwan International Documentary Festival (TIDF)

Taiwan International Documentary Festival is now calling for submissions for its 14th edition, which will be held from 10 to 19 May 2024. Films completed after 1 December 2021 are welcome. Find out more about the competition sections here. The deadline is 5 December 2023.


Hong Kong Arthouse Film Festival 

Currently in its 10th year, Hong Kong Arthouse Film Festival is calling for submissions with a deadline of 22 December 2023. It will be held on 11 July 2024.


Busan New Wave Short Film Festival

The Busan New Wave Short Film Festival is returning for its second year on 3 December 2023. Submissions are currently still open until 29 November 2023.


Niigata International Animation Film Festival

The Niigata International Animation Film Festival is calling for submissions with a deadline of 22 December 2023. It will be held from 15 to 20 March 2024. All projects over 40 minutes will be submitted under “Feature Animation”.


Call for Submissions: 2nd Chinese Film Festival Hamburg

The 2nd Chinese Film Festival Hamburg (CFFH) opens its submissions to emerging and established Chinese-language filmmakers worldwide, celebrating contemporary independent Chinese art-house films and video art, encouraging the spirit of experimentation and unique aesthetics. Submit via filmfreeway with the deadline of January 16, 2024. CFFH runs from 9 – 12 May 2024. 


This edition of the Asian Cinema Digest was compiled by Matthew Chan. The Asian Cinema Digest is a monthly compilation of content taking place internationally involving Asian cinema and the moving image. Featured programmes are not representative of AFA’s views and are unaffiliated to the AFA unless otherwise stated.

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