Saving the Asia-Pacific region's film academy

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Asia Pacific Screen Academy (APSA), described as "one of the most prestigious award-giving bodies in the Asia-Pacific region" based in Brisbane, Australia, officially closed shop on January 31 due to funding problems.

"There had been a change of government in the state of Queensland and there was concern... (about) a large debt from the previous administration," Des Power, APSA's founder and chair, told the Inquirer in an e-mail interview. "Cuts are being made in many areas, including the arts."

The academy's annual Asia Pacific Screen Awards has honored a slew of film artists over its seven-year history and, quite expectedly, an online campaign was started to work for its survival.

"Over a hundred leading filmmakers and organizations have voiced out their support for APSA," Power said. "This is greatly encouraging and demonstrates the academy's value and the esteem in which it is held."

Filipino supporters

Lending their voices to the cause are Filipino filmmakers Brillante Ma. Mendoza and Sheron Dayoc.

Mendoza said APSA counts as members "artists from some 70 countries that produce half of the world's film output."

Although APSA has folded up, organizers are still hoping to secure another source of funding-the federal government.

"We face our future optimistically," Power said. "APSA is well-regarded by the federal government. It is undoubtedly the more logical source of funds in Australia. Discussion is underway... at a very high level."

In the meantime, it's "business as usual" in the academy, Power asserted. He said grant-recipients will continue to receive support and organizers are preparing for the 2013 awards "to be held later in the year."

Butch Jimenez' company, 4 Boys Films, is the sole financial supporter of the APSA Children's Film Fund. Academy members can continue to tap the fund for script-development support every year.

Jimenez became a member of APSA after Sockie Fernandez's "Gulong" was nominated for best children's film in 2007.

(Nominees and winners are automatically inducted as members of the academy.)

Power feels it is vital to continue APSA's work. Apart from handing out awards, the academy extends grants as well. Established in 2008, the academy aims to "encourage dialogue, collaboration and business opportunities" for the region's filmmakers.

He explained that APSA was created after a series of meetings with film industry stakeholders. "The region clearly wanted an internationally recognized award and academy of its own."

Leaving a mark

After only seven years, APSA has left its mark in the international scene.

The Motion Picture Association-APSA Academy Film Fund has awarded eight development grants in two years. One of the beneficiaries was Oscar best foreign language film winner "A Separation" from Iran.

"Winning an APSA now means something... just as winning in Berlin, Cannes, or Los Angeles," Power said.

When Kazakhstan's "Tulpan" won an APSA best feature film in 2008, it attracted an Australian distributor, he recounted. "Australia is a relatively small market, with local films securing only five percent of box-office grosses which is dominated by Hollywood. Director Sergey Dvortsevoy was delighted because his film wouldn't normally have had commercial screenings outside his country."

Philippine honorees

Mendoza's "Thy Womb" received two APSA awards last November: best director for Mendoza and best actress for Nora Aunor.

Dayoc, who received the APSA's Netpac Development Prize for "Halaw" in 2011, called the awards "a celebration of the best of Asia-Pacific cinema... it's our showcase for the rest of the world."

Apart from Mendoza and Dayoc, Filipino Marlon Rivera also received the APSA Netpac Development Prize for "Ang Babae sa Septic Tank" last November.

Power pointed out: "We should never underestimate the quality of filmmaking in the region: the creativity and the amazing range and depth of stories."

"It is a better world when audiences are provided with a diversity of films from different cultures," he said. "The idea of the 'Asian century' is a good one because it reflects a shift in global economic strength from West to East, a shift that is stimulating creative economies, too."

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