How Locarno’s Open Doors projects in Southeast Asia tackle taboos
The latest edition of the Locarno Film Festival’s Open House section, which highlights new projects and new voices from Asia, feels like a highlight in more ways than one.
After a completely remote affair last time around, Open Doors takes a hybrid in-person and online approach this time around, welcoming more than half of the filmmakers and producers to the Swiss festival. The section is also entering the final year of its three-year focus on Southeast Asia and Mongolia in particular.
“This one is much more the result of the exploration of the region and the collaboration that we have built with talents over the past two and a half years,” explains Sophie Bourdon, Director of Open Doors. “On the co-production side, these are just first-time feature film directors with one exception, but many of them have screened short films at the festival.”
Bourdon admits the past two years have been tough for Open Doors. In 2019, Bourdon and his team traveled for three months in Southeast Asia and Mongolia, meeting filmmakers and producers and creating a talent scouting network. While this had helped scratch the surface of the region’s up-and-coming filmmakers, in an ideal world, Bumblebee would have returned each year to refresh his contacts and discover even more new voices.
“The biggest challenge this year was that we weren’t able to spot the films, the projects, the talents there,” explains Bourdon. “It was difficult and disappointing not being able to do it. Cinema is an adventure and researching projects remotely through Zoom meetings is not the same. “
Nevertheless, Bourdon is still very excited about the harvest of Open Doors 2021 projects and talents.
Development highlights include the first feature film by Apichatpong collaborator Weerasethakul, Sompot Chidgasornpongse, and the second feature film by emerging Vietnamese director Le Binh Giang. The projects draw an interesting border between arthouse and genre cinema, reflecting a general desire to appeal to a wider audience while maintaining an independent spirit, according to Bourdon.
“We have a diversity ranging from experimental cinema, like ‘The Water Garden’ in Mongolia, to more genre cinema like the Vietnamese entry ‘Who Created Human Beings’. I think there is a wave of new voices in the region, and I think they want to talk about their country as it is, they want to show something different and get away from the same kind of stories. that you’re used to seeing, ”says Bumblebee.
The projects have a clear focus on women’s issues and inclusiveness, one focusing on a young woman struggling with a particularly painful menstrual cycle, and another representing an illegal abortion clinic. Bourdon says almost all of this year’s projects deal with topics that “are still taboo in these countries.”
“There are a lot of stories about the importance of human relationships and inclusiveness in terms of family, gender and even religion,” she says. “These filmmakers are trying to open the eyes of the public and show that life can be different. For some of them, it is important to reach a wider audience at home because they contribute to the development of their contemporary society.
Open Doors co-production selection:
“9 temples to the sky”
Thailand, directed by Sompot Chidgasornpongse
After hearing an alarming prophecy that his mother does not have much time to live, Sakol offers as a solution a deserving day trip to nine temples, from dawn to dusk. Just two weeks before his birthday, the Sakol Authority not only takes the family’s grandmother on this pilgrimage, but asks the whole family to join, nine members in total.
“A useful ghost”
Thailand, directed by Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke
March and Nat are a happily married couple in their mid-thirties with their seven-year-old son Dot. March runs the family vacuum cleaner manufacturing plant. One day Nat died of a respiratory illness caused by air pollution. Saddened by his wife’s death, March fears the same fate will befall his son, who is gradually developing similar symptoms. Concerned about her son’s health, Nat returns as a ghost haunting the vacuum cleaner in the house. While everyone is afraid of her as a possessed vacuum cleaner, only her husband sees the opportunity to reunite the family.
“Don’t cry butterflies”
Vietnam / Singapore, directed by Dieu Linh Duong
Housewife Tan accidentally finds out about her husband’s affair. Instead of confronting him about it, she decides to follow a crook’s cult. She ends up spending a lot of money on voodoo rituals, while also embarking on hilarious attempts to seduce her husband, firmly believing that a little boy will solve their marriage problems. Meanwhile, rebel Ha is fed up with her parents’ deteriorating marriage. While the two women are busy fleeing from reality, the House Spirit has transformed into a monster-like creature that ends up haunting them both.
Indonesia, directed by Luhki Herwanayogi
Faced with family and societal pressures to have children, two couples confide in each other and form close bonds. When a couple’s son contracts dengue and needs a blood transfusion, things get complicated as the four of them realize they have to save his life and his future, while their own homes are in ruins.
Philippines, directed by E Del Mundo
Sam and her boyfriend Adam visit an abandoned mountain village. There, Adam sees his boss Popoy who invites them to participate in a governor’s project. Arriving at a checkpoint, Sam sees a hundred men requisition a convoy of eight vehicles, leaving him to face dire choices and bear the consequences.
“The beer girl in Yangon”
Myanmar / Philippines / Indonesia, directed by Sein Lyan Tun
Lily, a 17-year-old girl, is going through a phase in which she suffers from a painful menstrual cycle accompanied by nightmares, possibly resulting from the psychological trauma of seeing her father being tortured in front of her. She works as a hostess in a shady bar where underage prostitution is a constant temptation. Lily’s relationship with her coworker and working mother begins to complicate as she navigates her life dangerously alone with her own intuition.
“The water garden”
Mongolia, directed by Ikhbayar Urchuud
After the tragic death of his young daughter, Galaa divorced his wife Undarmaa. Galaa escapes drinking and goes out with a prostitute, while Undarmaa tries to start a new life with her only son Itgel. As Undarmaa tries to keep Itgel away from her unstable father, Galaa takes Itgel to their summer home – the place where their daughter died – without Undarmaa’s approval. Itgel tries to kill himself at home. Now is the time for both parents to realize that the trauma is not resolved and can no longer be ignored.
“Who created human beings”
Vietnam / Singapore, directed by Binh Giang Le
Sinh, a policeman, hangs out with his girlfriend Linh when he receives a call at the crime scene. It’s a murder case: a headless body is found with the head of another person in the stomach. The head belongs to Hang, a prostitute, and Sinh identifies two suspects. Meanwhile, Linh is pregnant, but she cannot communicate with Sinh, who is constantly carried away by other events. She pressures Sinh to marry her, but according to unwritten law in Vietnam, the police are not allowed to marry Christians: Sinh should convert to Catholicism. Sinh struggles between resigning and breaking up with Linh.
Selection of the Producers’ Laboratory:
Ines Sothea – independent producer – Cambodia
Gugi Gumilang – Studio Rumah Kedua – Indonesia
Benji Lim – Kinovisuals – Malaysia
Bat-Amgalan Lkhagvajav – Media Crackers LLC – Mongolia
Myo Thar Khin – One But Rat Film – Myanmar
Lin Sun Oo – Tagu Films – Burma
Stelle Laguda – KT House Productions – Philippines
Pom Bunsermvicha – Vertical films – Thailand
Nguyen Thi Xuan Tran – Lagi Limited – Vietnam