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Asian film festival in France honours two women film personalities from Iran and Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan actress Swarna Mallawarachchi (L) and Iranian director Rakshan Bani-Etemad at the Vesoul film festival
Sri Lankan actress Swarna Mallawarachchi (L) and Iranian director Rakshan Bani-Etemad at the Vesoul film festival RFI/Rosslyn Hyams

Ninety feature films from 20 countries across the full breadth of the Asian continent, from Turkey to Japan via the Caucuses, are on the line-up for this year's International Festival of Asian Film (FICA) in France, which opened on Tuesday. The festival, in its 23rd year, is the longest-running pan-Asian film festival in Europe.

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Although most of the prizes at this year's International Festival of Asian Film (FICA) will come at the end of the festival on 14 February 2017, two were awarded to remarkable women in front of a packed theatre at Tuesday's opening ceremony in Vesoul, France.

Iranian film director Rakshan Bani-Etemad received an award for her life’s work in Iran. Her film Tales, made in 2014, won best screenplay at the Venice Mostra. She is also heading the international jury at Vesoul this year.

Sri Lankan actress Swarna Mallawarachchi was awarded a lifetime achievement award for her 50 or so years of experience and her thought-provoking roles in carefully chosen scripts. She has won 26 awards since the 1960s, most of them at the Sri Lankan equivalent of the Oscars.

Swarna will be seen on screen in Vesoul in several films which is part of the Masters of Sri Lankan cinema focus at this year's festival. The Hunt, 1983, directed by Vasantha Obesekere, at the time broke new ground socially as for the first time the film showed a woman pursuing a man who had abused her. She also appears in experimental film The Seven Seas of 1967, directed by writer Siri Gunasinghe. It was her first role, and she said she was chosen for her profile. "I just wanted to meet the director because I loved his books, and they hired me!"

Described by FICA as the Catherine Deneuve of Sri Lankan cinema, and an actress who is as active off-screen in helping disadvantaged people, especially women through her own foundation, Swarna dedicated her award to women who "strive to survive with dignity".

Georgia and Japan in the spotlight

As well as the Sri Lankan masters, the two other country-focus sections at Vesoul this year are Georgia, and Japanese films with a particular food or cooking interest in their scripts.

Kore-eda Hiro-kazu’s After the Storm, which was a world première in Cannes’ "Un certain regard" section in 2016, opened this year's FICA. An enthusiastic crowd turned out in the small town of Vesoul ahead of its general release in cinemas in France.

Bastian Meiersonne is one of the festival organisers, along with founders Jean-Marc and Martine Thérouanne. He watched close to a thousand films from Japan which all had a food thread or feature. He says Japanese films are full of food because, like After the Storm, “the action is often linked to family life where meals are almost inevitable.” It holds true even for yakuza-mafia films.

Another highlight of the festival are 12 Georgian films from the country’s cinema heyday in the 1960s in Soviet times up till today. Well-known on the French arthouse circuit, three of Otar Iosselliani’s films from the 1960s and 1976 are part of this focus. Three younger film makers from Georgia are attending the festival; Rusudan Chikonia with Keep Smiling (2012), and Teona and Thierry Grenade, whose Our Childhood in Tblissi was made in 2013.

FICA in Vesoul closes on 14th February 2017 with the Fica’s Cyclo d’or, or Golden Cycle-Rickshaw prize, which will be awarded to one of the following nine films in competition:

• 500M800M by Yao Tian, China
• Baby Beside Me by Son Tae-gyum, South Korea
• Hotel Salvation by Shuabhashish Bhutani, India
• Emma (Mother) by Riri Riza, Indonesia
• Being Born By Mohsen Abdolhvahab, Iran
• The Dark Wind by Hussein Hassan, Iraq
• Her Mother by Sato Yoshinori, Japan
• Going the Distance by Harumoto Yujiro, Japan
• Lost Daughter by Chen Yu-jie, Taiwan
 

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