film diplomacy

It had been years since a crowd this big gathered for an event like this. Hundreds filled Khartoum International Community School's amphitheatre, a posh school for children of the city's elite, some even crammed on its stairways. A white screen slowly descended and after short introductions, a film began rolling.

Films from Asia are the clear winners at the 2014 Berlinale film festival in the German capital. Chinese thriller “Black Coal, Thin Ice”, scooped the top Golden Bear prize, while Liao Fan, who played the lead role in the film, won the Silver Bear for Best Actor. Told through flashbacks, the story is about a former policeman investigating gruesome murders in 1990s northern China.


Media Works, the film production company founded by Hoyu Yamamoto, specializes in producing Yakuza movies, almost all of which are based on true events. They produce dozens of movies a year, making up 80 percent of all Yakuza films put out each year. Unfortunately for them, gang expulsion laws were passed two years ago in an effort to prevent Japanese entities from working with the Yakuza.

In prosperous Hong Kong, arts and culture are commodities, with institutions increasingly blurring the lines between retail spaces and galleries. Yet despite being the third largest auction market in the world, the city is lambasted, often and loudly, for its lack of sophistication and cultural vacuity. Therein lies the cultural paradox: its focus on big hits and big profits doesn't always create fertile ground for homegrown talent.

A film adaptation of a memoir about the oldest son of a founding member of Hamas who spied on the militant group for Israel will be one of four Israeli films competing in this year's Sundance Film Festival. A fifth film, directed by an Israeli filmmaker but produced abroad, will also be competing.

Vision First, an NGO dealing with refugee issues, presents daunting statistics: of the 12,409 people who sought asylum in Hong Kong in the past 21 years, just four succeeded. Despite such enormous odds, about 800 people still flock to the city seeking refuge each year - and that's excluding 1,200 others who claim to have been tortured in their home countries.

It was a dinner conversation that got me thinking about elephants. I was speaking with Rachel Dwyer, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, and she was telling me about her research. She studies elephants in Bollywood movies. “The definitive film for elephants in Indian cinema has to be ‘Haathi Mere Saathi,’ made in 1971” she says. “It was the biggest [Bollywood] hit up to that point.”

New Zealand's national airline unveiled a giant image Monday of the dragon Smaug on one of its planes to celebrate the premiere of the second movie in the Hobbit trilogy. Air New Zealand showed the 54-meter (177-foot) image that's featured on both sides of a Boeing 777-300 aircraft. The plane is scheduled to fly to Los Angeles in time for the premiere of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," which screens Monday, Pacific Standard Time at the Dolby Theatre.