Despite the economic downturn of early 2009 Silk Screen maintained the momentum. As recommended by foundations and other sponsors the 2009 programming roster was reduced to fit within the means available. The film festival showed only 40 screenings and invited only 8 filmmakers for the festival. Due to the quality of films presented the average attendance per screening increased.
Silk Screen continued to provide year round Asian arts & cultural programming. Events were often presented in collaboration with other Pittsburgh arts organizations such as: Childrenís Museum, Toonseum, Confuscius Institute, Winchester Thurston School, Asian Studies Center- University of Pittsburgh, Net-IP, Confucious Institute, Indian Nationality Room and others.
All Around Us, Japan
Based on Nobel Prize-winning author Rabindranath Tagore’s novel, Chaturanga is the story of Sachish—a man caught between western reformist notions and conservative Hindu beliefs. Set in colonial Bengal at the turn of the twentieth century, the film depicts one man’s struggle between diametrically opposed ideologies, both of which hold truth, logic, and validity for him. Unfortunately, he sees no way to blend the two. Two components of this film--the vacillation between abstract ideals and the powerful influences of two women in Sachish’s life—give it real depth. One of the women is Nanibala, his brother’s abandoned mistress; the other is a beautiful, young Hindu widow named Damini. With Nanibala, Sachish treats her as his rescue project--someone who requires his salvation. With Damini, the relationship is more complicated, as it becomes blatant that real passion exists between the two. Sachish is conflicted and his desire and his morality become mixed up; conversely, the temptestous Damini is absolutely exhausted by the social order and convention that has denied her everything, and she is eager is rebel. His relationship with Damini stirs up a classic id vs. superego battle, and the outcome is worth watching. When asked what inspired the director, Mukhopadhyay replied, “It is a very elegant movie that triggered me to make this film is Tagore’s manifestation of human relations. We find a lot of ideology in Tagore’s writings. All the questions asked by him 100 years ago are still to be resolved, and they are very relevant in today’s contemporary society.”
Children of Invention, USA
CHILDREN OF INVENTION is a timely drama that addresses the popular and now-classic American dream theme, the corresponding immigrant mentality in America, and the influence of parents’ motivations on their children. Director Tze Chun features a young brother and sister--Raymond and Tina-- who grow up in the Boston suburbs and are left to fend for themselves when their mother gets suckered into a pyramid scene and ends up leaving the children behind in her pursuit. Mother Elaine Cheng has been evicted which forces the three of them to realize that times are tougher than ever. Elaine is a single mom who left Boston for a suburban lifestyle, and once evicted, she tries desperately to find work that will support her family. They end up sneaking into a model apartment and squatting there temporarily. Maintaining a normal life is not easy since Elaine is juggling numerous jobs, one of those being a pyramid scheme company. With Elaine gone all the time, Raymond and Tina turn into latch-key children who entertain themselves making up inventions. One night Elaine doesn’t come home; several days pass and Raymond realizes he must start taking care of his little sister. CHILDREN OF INVENTION issues a perfectly-timed warning to be heeded in the post-BernieMadoff era we’re living in, and provides an amazingly in-depth look at how pyramid schemes affect marginalized minorities. Director Chun did not intend on being prophetic. As he simply stated, “When I wrote the film, I was writing…about the world I grew up in – a subculture of Americans trying to get-rich-quick in order to get themselves out of a financial hole. I didn't foresee the current financial crisis. But with the economy tanking now and foreclosures going through the roof, it seems like everyone's living through some version of what the Chengs go through in the film.”
The Equation of Love and Death, China
This action-comedy-romance sees Li Mi as a tough chain-smoking, foul-mouthed cab driver who questions all her patrons in search of her fiance, Fang Wen. It’s been four years since he disappeared, but she’s obsessive about finding him, as she receives random letters from him. When two would-be drug dealers and two crooks enter her cab, their interaction sets off kidnapping, a suicide, amnesia, and mistaken identity.
Flower in the Pocket,Thailand
This comedy focuses on two mischievous Malaysian boys whose father appears more interested in his mannequin-repairing job than fixing the ills of his own family. Without passing judgment, the film shows how the brothers encounter a friend’s nurturing mother, discovering a different set of parenting skills.
Fruit Fly, USA
Half Life, USA
HALF LIFE satirically depicts self-absorbed suburbanites in Northern California whose comfortable lives are disrupted with the same kind of destruction shown on the news. Floods, murders, and global warming parallel this family’s problems. Mother Saura takes a boyfriend and strains relations with daughter Pam. Brother Timothy possesses supernatural powers, showing how hope brings help.
Handle Me with Care, Thailand
“Dodges the obvious to deliver the unexpected” is how Handle Me with Care has been described. Protagonist Kwan (Kerttikamol Lata) was born with three fully functioning arms, and this film takes audiences for a journey on what it would be like to truly be in his shoes, or rather, sleeves. Kwan has always found his predicament to be practical, if anything—he is more adept and skillful at handling things—but his physical oddity has some drawbacks--namely that he’s socially not accepted much of the time. When his uncle, a tailor who has always sewn his shirts for him, dies, Kwan becomes more withdrawn from society. After experiencing repeated rejection in both the arenas of love and work, Kwan decides to road trip to Bangkok, where he knows of a surgeon who will amputate his third arm. With his life savings in tow, Kwan heads to the big city leaving his rural town behind. Along the way, he suffers more setbacks but takes some solace in the company of Na (Supaksorn Chaimongkol), a fellow hitchhiker. Interestingly, she can empathize with him somewhat because she was blessed and cursed with a buxom chest, and while she does not possess a deformity which carries harsher ramifications, she knows exactly what it’s like to be judged on her physical appearance. She points out that while both of them possess more of what they need, she thinks his condition makes him unique and special. The two of them get to know each other more on their travels and as they get closer to their destination, Kwan starts to wonder more about what he’s doing. Na’s perspective of his oddity has made him question his decision to go through with the operation. HANDLE ME WITH CARE focuses a sympathetic lens on a character who would typically be portrayed as a narrative freak. Director Jaturanrasamee doesn’t preach or tell viewers how or what to feel. He shows restraint for a tale which could easily turn fantastical and unbelievable, but instead, delivers storytelling at its finest.
Kabuli Kid, Afghanistan
The title of this film alludes to the discovery of a literal Kabuli kid by a taxi driver. That’s right—a cabbie finds a baby in the backseat. A complex portrayal of the cab driver Khaled’s life, his city, and his culture follow. This drama draws you in and simultaneously exposes you to the quietly disturbing vision of modern Afghanistan. As soon as Khaled surmises that this “drop-off” was premeditated, he panics. After a few failed attempts to turn the baby in to the authorities--an orphanage and a police station-- Khaled reluctantly takes the infant to his own home, only to surprise his wife and four daughters. To his family, it appears that this is Khaled’s desperate attempt to have a male child. Khaled is torn emotionally between keeping and rejecting the child, and a series of adventures ensues. The situational family dynamics reveal a very complex set of rules--perhaps contradictory and hypocritical rules to westerners. However, this film establishes the cultural context so well that Western audiences are shown grey, not the usual black and white. An unexpected disclosure in the story later forces re-evaluation of Khaled’s behaviors. Director Akram subtly depicts the ubiquity of war in Afghanistan, and audiences are constantly exposed to the gritty rubble of the streets and the threatening aspects of curfews—two indicators of an unstable city trying to get back to “normal” after 25 years of strife. Barmak Akram’s debut is informed by his experience as a documentarian, and this is evidenced in his scenes of cabbies jabbering with one another, of pedestrians from all walks of life, of armored cars and American tanks, and of donkeys and random cattle—all of which keep the streets of Kabul a non-stop, chaotic landscape. This action-packed drama, which is often very funny, ultimately is about one man’s decision about how he wants life to be in a city which is only attempting to survive.
Silk Screen is especially fond of this film’s subject matter, since it centers around the Indian silk industry. Kanichavaram is a town renowned for its luxurious silk saris. The protagonist Vengedam works as a silk weaver there, weaving the saris from the rarest of silks, but knowing that he himself can never afford what he creates. Even though Vengedam is portrayed as the most talented weaver in town, his salary remains meager. He vowed at one time that he would only wed a woman who wore a silk sari, but the reality of his low wages forced him to confront the fact that his vow would never be kept. Nevertheless, that reality does not stop him from dreaming. Vengedam eventually marries and the couple has a baby girl. Tradition dictates that a father must promise his daughter something by whispering into her early. Knowing better, he whispers into her ear that he will marry her off one day in a silk sari. Despite his wife’s skepticism, he thinks that—with patience—he can make this dream a reality. His plan is to provide a silk sari for his daughter by the time she is of a marriageable age. He steals a few strands of beautifully colored precious silk from his workplace every single day. He believes this new project will give shape to his life. Unfortunately, Vengadam’s own grand plan is thwarted when he gives his brother-in-law, who’s gone bankrupt, all his savings in an effort to save his sister’s dignity. The plot is set into motion when Vengadam meets up with a communist writer who promotes the concept of equality. Communism is illegal in 1940s India, when the film takes place, and the writer is killed. Vengadam is put in charge and he demands a pay increase for all weavers. He gets arrested but eventually the workers protest and he is released.. The irony and symbolism woven into this tale makes the ending rich and rewarding.
My Dear Enemy, Korea
MY DEAR ENEMY is a charming romantic film that features two of Korea’s popular and talented actors, Jeon Do-yeon,and Ha Jung-woo, as ex-lovers who reacquaint. (Jeon won the 2007 the Cannes Film Festival best actress award, and Ha debuted in the well-received U.S. film NEVER FOREVER, which showed last year at Silk Screen). However, the scenario does not start out very romantically, considering Hee-soo(Ha) initially sets out to find her ex, Byoung-woon (Jeon), because he owes her cash. They are both single and jobless, but the low-key Byoung-woon is much less concerned. Their opposite attitudes are captured in their opposite reactions to their shared 30-something and broke-with-no-direction status. She’s miserable, bitter, and wears a perpetual sneer. He’s carefree, chatty, with a zest for life and a fan of the ladies; he doesn’t worry about being broke since he knows women who are willing to give him money. When Hee-soo shows up at his door demanding to be repaid immediately, his solution is to embark upon a mini-reunion of sorts, in which he tracks down other ex-girlfriends and asks to borrow money. In other words: “robbing Kim to pay Hee-Soo.” The twist is that Hee-so accompanies him. Their day-long odyssey results in not only collecting money, but also memory. Like LOST IN TRANSLATION or ADRIFT IN TOKYO, MY DEAR ENEMY says so much with so little. The streets of Seoul serve as the perfect backdrop to this meandering love story, and offers a nice parallel to the characters. The city is full of history and memories but remains vibrant, mirroring the microcosm of the two ex-lovers. Director Lee Yoon-ki creates a warm and compassionate film about possibility (with a capital P) and about the never-ending idiosyncrasies of the human heart. MY DEAR ENEMY is a fantastic blend of idealism and realism--a movie not to be missed.
Nonko 36-sai, Japan
Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri makes films about people on the fringe of society. In Nonko 36-sai, Kumakiri’s seventh and sweetest film, his protagonist is no exception; Nonko (Maki Sakai) once worked as a small-screen starlet, but her career never took off. She’s a divorced thirty-something who, lacking ambition, goes back home to her parents to help them maintain a Shinto shrine, mainly doing domestic chores. The Japanese title translates roughly into "Non-ko, 36, household helper," which conveys the essence of how people perceive her now. The title illustrates how she’s moved from rising Tokyo actress to provincial laborer. Only the naïve Masura, a younger man she meets while working, can return a smile to Nonko’s face. This story is an awkward love story, and a highly original one that realistically portrays the complexities of a bitter woman in her 30s who eventually becomes more emotionally and physically responsive. The developing relationship is challenged when her ex (Shingo Tsurumi) shows up tempting her with the offer of stardom again, and she lacks judgment in her dealings with him. Whether you possess an Eastern or a Western sensibility, you’ll still recognize this woman’s character, and while her bad choices are sometimes hard to watch, they are somewhat expected. Watching Sakai’s most human performance is one of the highlights of Nonko. The cinematography is also visually capturing and most memorable is a chase scene, in which a yellow baby bird runs through a field of pink daisies. In general, this film radiates natural warmth, and helps us look forward to tomorrow just a little bit more.
Winner of Best New Talent and Audience Favorite Film at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2008 It’s Mother’s Day in Taipei and what starts off as Chen Mo’s simple desire to buy a cake for his wife turns into one incredibly long and tumultuous night. Chen’s marriage has been on the rocks and his hope is that a dinner date, complete with dessert, will set things right,. While Chen is inside trying to buy a cake, a car double parks next to his, thus blocking his exit. From this point forward, Taiwanese director Mong-Hong Chung unfolds his dark, surreal, at times funny, and complicated story. Chen’s single goal becomes finding the owner of the blasted double-parked vehicle. While searching the nearest apartment building floor by floor, he discovers a cast of characters: a barbershop owner with one arm whose activity that night is cooking fish head soup, a prostitute from the Chinese mainland who’s trying to flee from her pimp, and a Hong Kong tailor captured by his debtors, among other unsavory but likeable types. Chang tackles the lead role with cool, and Kao and To definitely add depth. The encounters are surreal, the conversations immediately bizarre, too intimate, and lead to one misunderstanding after another. And while PARKING takes place exclusively on the same city block, the movie is given movement via flashbacks that give insight into the characters’ backgrounds. The tones and the dialogues of each scene switch quickly, and viewers will have to adjust to the abrupt shifts. In fact, the scenes play much like Ho Ping’s “The Rules of the Game,” with which American audiences are more likely to be familiar. While the motif of dawn offering a new day is completely obvious, it works since not just Chen, but all the characters are looking for the sun to rise on their collective dilemmas. After half a day spent looking for a simple solution to a simple urban annoyance, Chen is left thinking “What a long, strange trip it’s been."
Sita Sings The Blues, USA
Sita is a goddess separated from her beloved Lord and husband Rama. Nina is an animator whose husband moves to India, then dumps her by email. Three hilarious shadow puppets narrate both ancient tragedy and modern comedy in this beautifully animated interpretation of the Indian epic Ramayana. Set to the 1920's jazz vocals of Annette Hanshaw, Sita Sings the Blues earns its tagline as 'The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told.'
Bohemian with a touch of noir, SPARROW succeeds as a subtle, yet poignant love story. Director Johnny To deftly blends the very disparate worlds of romance and survival. If you like watching how a chain of spontaneous events lead to love, this film may steal your heart. The film’s title derives its name from the Hong Kong street slang for “pickpocket”. Just like this eponymous, unassuming little bird, a thief of this caliber is known for gracefully swooping down on a wallet and “flying away” undetected. Kei (Simon Yam) is one such “sparrow”. He and his friends subsist by robbing clueless pedestrians. Kei’s laissez-faire lifestyle allows him to pursue other interests, and he loves to ride his bicycle around town equipped only with his vintage Rolleiflex camera, capturing whatever image catches his fancy. One day, he looks through his viewfinder and spots the stunning Chun Lei (Kelly Lin). The sparrow is intrigued, and of course, pursues. Armed with the timeless feminine duo--beauty and charm--Lei convinces Kei and his associates to steal something very valuable to her. They know her proposed job is risky, but their knowledge does nothing to lessen their intrigue. Kelly Lin soars in the character of “mystery woman.” At one point in the film she disappears altogether. Her portrayal of a frail, helpless woman who is determined to find resolution for her dilemma is as entertaining to watch as Simon Yam’s performance. In addition to the compelling acting, the cinematography of Hong Kong--renowned for its expansive skyline and natural setting--is superb. To takes delight in capturing the iconic images of this historic region of China, and Sparrow’s majestic views transform the congested metropolis into a city of earthly and lovely delights. The cinematography combined with a killer soundtrack set a definite mood, providing the perfect backdrop for the plot of intrigue.
Speed of Life, USA
Speed of Life, originally named “Superheroes,” takes place in present-day New York City and revolves around Sammy, a pensive, 13-year-old redheaded kid from Brooklyn who goes by the name of Sammer. Sammer frequently rides the subway into Manhattan with friends in order to steal video cameras, cameras and other media equipment from naïve tourists. He lives with his partially blind foster mother and his father, with whom he is estranged, has reputedly moved to Alaska. Sammer poses a plan to leave the city as soon as he is able. His idea is to save money, get out of probation, help his foster mother regain her sight, and then travel to exotic destinations, inspired by the content of the stolen videotapes, which he watches religiously. Sammer, who’s a quirky teenager and prone to fantasy in the first place, is extremely influenced by the people and the places he watches on video and the footage found on other people’s home videos. He becomes a consummate outsider, with the stolen films only aiding in his daydreams of getting out of the working class neighborhood he’s in. Ultimately, he uses these images he’s stolen to assemble his own collection of narratives. Director Radtke employs various camera techniques, plus he incorporates totally different types of cameras (16mm, super-8, etc.) to create a unique film aesthetic. The filmmaker either inadvertently or purposefully self-references, since the film’s characters are watching life through lenses and viewfinders in much of the film’s time (exactly like a director does). Ultimately, Speed of Life is the story of ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. The “play within a play” concept, or in this case, “the movie within the movie within the movie” [the stolen tapes are the first layer, Sammer’s viewing of them a second, and then audiences watching Sammer watch them the third] adds a very philosophical dimension to the average film watching experience. Watching life through someone else’s vision (what audiences do each and every time they go see a film) somewhat blurs the line between being real and being film-real, the latter category however, being the only one in which you can rewind, fast-forward or replay. Or is it? This movie questions these very philosophical distinctions.
White on Rice, USA
The quirky appeal of White On Rice is hinted at immediately, via its odd title. It sounds more like the name of someone’s college band, not a feature film. Director Dave Boyle’s off-beat sense of humor pervades the entire 85 minutes of this movie, and the main vehicle for delivering the amusement is its protagonist, Hajime, a.k.a. Jimmy (Hiroshi Watanabe). For this type of comedy to work--one with a Dumb and Dumber sensibility, that is—the film must rely on a main character who is 100% idiotic and ignorant in all social settings, who is physically awkward and who has absolutely no clue when it comes to romance (One has to wonder how he got married in the first place). Boyle scores with Jimmy--a Japanese emigre whose basic English language skills are the least of his shortcomings--whose lingual, light-hearted gaffes score laughs right and left. Forty years old and single, Jimmy works odd jobs as a bit-part actor (a preview is hilariously replayed in a mock samurai commercial). He left Japan and moved to the states when his ex-wife simply stopped taking care of him in Tokyo. He moves in with his beyond-patient and hyper-tolerant sister Aiko and his supersmart nephew Bob, with whom he shares a bunk bed. Jimmy’s freeloading becomes unbearable, and in one scene becomes a health hazardto his brother-in-law, Tak. Tactless, immature, and devoid of both ambition and talent, Jimmy is oblivious to his own cluelessness, and never is this funnier than when he attempts to woo his attractive cousin Ramona. He thinks the answer to all his problems is remarriage, and so he starts a misguided courtship that ends up disastrously funny. In addition to being funny, WHITE ON RICE succeeds in portraying a Japanese family who must confront—like all families--the complexities of romance, parenting and middle age. Although Jimmy's naïveté might not solve all the answers, he does open a little door to happiness. It’s a heartwarming story that the whole family will laugh at and enjoy.