Asian World Film Festival

AWFF Team Meeting

Editor’s Note: Picture This Post recently reviewed films showcased at the latest Asian World Film Festival.

The Asian World Film Festival (AWFF) —a Hollywood-based competition and promotion of films submitted across 50 countries in Asia—has recently just finished its sixth annual year. In the aftermath of a year consisting of Director Bong Joon Ho’s record-breaking Academy Award win for his film Parasite (Gisaengchung) 기생충, and rampant racism against Asian Americans, we were intrigued both by the breadth of the films in the AWFF competition and the increasingly prominent cultural role this film festival plays in the context of our times.

Georges Chamchoum, a well-regarded documentarian and the Executive and Program Director of the AWFF believes that his role as a filmmaker, and the role of films in general, can help to educate and entertain.

“I am like a surgeon who looks at the human body to find ‘the cancer’ and try to cure and remove it! In other instances, I am a creative tool, to help open people’s eyes and educate and entertain them, without throwing in artificial gratuities.”

Here, Picture This Post (PTP) speaks with Georges Chamchoum (GC) about the AWFF’s origin, its mission and, his hopes for the film industry.

(PTP) Can you please share with our readers the origin of the AWFF and its goal?

(GC) The Asian World Film Festival was born in 2015 out of frustration and the lack of attention to Asian Cinema. Sadyk Sher-Niyaz, Kyrgyz Filmmaker and former Minister of Culture of Kyrgyzstan, raised an important issue regarding why, in 73 years (up until 2015), only 6 movies from Asia had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film: 1951 Rashomon 羅生門; 1954 Gate of Hell (Jigokumon) 地獄門 Japan; 1955 Samurai I:
Musashi Miyamoto 宮本武蔵 Japan; 2000 Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Wòhǔ Cánglóng) 臥虎藏龍 Taiwan; 2008 Departures (Okuribito) おくりびと Japan; 2012 A Separation (Jodaí-e Nadér az Simín) Iran. In addition, four Honorary Oscars were presented to Akira Kurosawa (1989), Satyajit Ray (1991), Hayao Miyazaki (2014) and, Jackie Chan (2016). I could name at least ten other great Asian movies that were totally ignored by the Academy, but then I will go into a new diatribe!

Therefore, we decided to create a Festival during the Award Season (end of October/early November) to provide Asian films with a free platform to showcase, market and, promote their product.

Six years down the road two miracles of 2017 —The Salesman (Forušande), Iran 2019 Parasite (Gisaengchung) 기생충 South Korea happened!
We can now say... the rest is history, and in all humility, I would like to believe: we at AWFF are a little part of this History!

How are films selected for the AWFF?

The process is very simple, as most movies chosen to be screened officially at AWFF, have been submitted to the Oscars or Golden Globes. I would say 75% of our program consist of these films. For the remainder, we focus on little-known countries, such as Yakutia, Buriatya, Bashkortostan, Nepal, Bhutan, Uzbekistan and, Kyrgyzstan, to help provide the promotion and exposure they deserve.

You would be surprised at the amazing quality of movies that come from these far horizon Republics. For example, when I was the Executive Director of the Monaco Charity Film Festival back in the early 2010s, I was the first-ever person in the West to screen movies from Yakutia, which is called the Republic of Sakha and is part of the Russian Federation. For two successive years, Yakutia won the Snow Leopard Best Movie Award at AWFF.

On another note, we have decided to open up the Festival to the World—we will be screening a few movies from Africa and Europe in the future. This year we screened two such movies— one from Europe and the other the Oscar-Nominated movie from Tunisia The Man Who Sold His Skin!

Why is it a particular goal for the films represented at the AWFF to get
nominations for the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards?

That is a remarkably interesting question – because the birth of AWFF emanates from IT!

But, and I hate to say it, the Members of the Academy love their comfort zone. They see a movie from Denmark, France, UK, or Germany and their antenna reaches the sky, whilst poor Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Georgia, Armenia, and Iraq are relegated to the bottom of the list because these countries do not have enough money for marketing and promotion. As a result, they, unfortunately, go unnoticed, which is both unfair and sad. We believe that each movie should receive an equal amount of attention, regardless of how much money is spent on promotion!

And what is most painful is the fact that most movies emerging from the Asian Continent are of an extremely high standard, in particular countries such as Japan and India, and especially South Korea, which reinvented the language of cinema in the early 90s. These movies can compete with the very best from the rest of the world.

What role does the AWFF play in promoting films screened at the festival?

We started with a mission and a goal and we have remained loyal to that mission and goal, which is to give Asia and Asian Cinema its rightful place on the World Stage and most of all in Hollywood! I believe we have succeeded. Just look at the unparalleled success of Parasite, which we screened and promoted at AWFF 2019! If a movie, even if it happens to be the greatest movie of all time, does not have a powerful tool to mount an aggressive marketing campaign, the movie will remain in obscurity! You need at least $50,000 to promote a movie. Studios spend millions of dollars on their submitted movies in an attempt to secure a nomination. So, if a movie comes from a country such as Bangladesh, Lebanon, Indonesia, Nepal, or Kyrgyzstan, where the total budget for the film is under $50,000, how can they possibly find another 50k for marketing and promotion to enable them to have the chance to compete and have their work of art in the sun?!! Therefore, we created AWFF to provide these
movies with the appropriate tools and the platform to promote their movies. In fact, we play the role of a PR organization. For the past couple of years, we have become the extension of many PR Firms which trust us with their movies, and, for us, this is a sign of a Quality Festival, as well as a sigh of relief! We have rightly gained our place in the sun!

Can you please share with our readers your background in film?

I consider myself a citizen of the World. I was born in West Africa, then lived, studied, and worked on and off in Lebanon, France, England, Wales, Germany, Poland, Greece, Benin, Nigeria, China, and Canada, and extensively in the USA! Throw all this into a bowl, shake... and you get ME! I would like to believe that in many of my movies, I am like a surgeon who looks at the human body to find the cancer and try to cure and remove it! In other instances, I am a creative tool, to help open people’s eyes and educate and entertain them, without throwing in artificial gratuities. It is important to produce movies that have substance, without boring the audience with intellectualism, but to make people feel that they got what they paid for.

Given your artistic perspective, what do you define as a good film? What are
your hopes for the film industry in the future?

East, West, North, or South – what makes a good film is the simplest cocktail: Screenplay, Screenplay, and Screenplay! The core function of a movie is to entertain with savviness and intelligence and to educate without pompousness or pure intellectualism. My fear for the future of cinema, especially in Hollywood, is that people are so focused on political correctness that they tend to forget we are here to provide a good piece of Art in every sense of the word, as well as two hours of wonderful escapism! Am I optimistic about the future? A big NO for the near future. However, I am optimistic that a New Generation will eventually arise from all this. I pray sooner rather than later!

In the midst of great success for Asian films, there is also rampant racism against
Asians in the United States, how do you feel this impacts the AWFF and its

For me, on a personal level, any hate crime, whether it be Asians or otherwise, is a Tragedy. I believe in my heart that hate crime burgeons because of a lack of education... education that should start from kindergarten. Hate crime is born through naivety. Hate crime happens because of a lack of compassion and love. Hate crime is triggered by intolerance! All this combined is more lethal than an atomic bomb! AWFF should be, and is, a powerful tool to help us understand – that we Asians are beautiful! What makes AWFF powerful is its Team – all Volunteers starting with me.
We believe! We believe in our Mission and we embrace this Mission with Passion. I want the world to start paying attention and share our passion for all the amazing movies coming out from the 50 plus Asian Countries.

Asia is a deep Well of Talents!
Asia is Magic!!
One of the greatest compliments I have had from our audience over the past six years
is: “Inspiring!

Read how filmmakers make their magic— in their own words. Read “FILMMAKERS SPOTLIGHT— Meet Filmmakers Picture This Post LOVES!” and watch this video for a story preview —

To read a review, click a photo in this mosaic that catches your eye.

Photos provided by Georges Chamchoum

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