Russia? In the Asia-Pacific? Well yes actually…

“But look – Vladivostok! We’ve flown seven hours and we’re still in Russia. It’s amazing. This is still Europe!”

I was going to say, Europe? But I thought: no, this is too good to interrupt.

 Paul Theroux listening to a drunken Englishman in Vladivostok in his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star

In the run-up to the establishment of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards there was of course a lot of discussion about what countries would be included.

“Asian” festivals often focus on the prolific cinemas of far east asia, Korea, Japan, Thailand etc (Udine even being a smart enough festival to incorporate it into their name). Given the sheer volume of films in India that often consumes a festival that covers that region. In both directions discussions become more intricate. Apart from the dilemma about Australia being part of Asia (no more far-fetched than being part of England really), it is the Asia PACIFIC Screen Awards. In the other direction, countries were a considered a problem. In 2005, Klaus Eder was visiting the Brisbane International Film Festival and he, fellow Nominations Council member, Anne Demy-Geroe, former Sydney Film Festival director, David Stratton, APSA Chairman Des Power, former APSA Executive Director, Jane Hickey and myself were discussing the matter over dinner. Klaus (possibly grumpy because of the limitations on smoking in Brisbane) was willing to accept Iraq but balked at the inclusion of Turkey. Turkey was regarded by the rest of us as essential and so therefore discussions with FIPRESCI came to an amicable end.

But the country that makes most people balk is Russia. My first response is to ask people to look at a map, but like a person who sees blue when you see green, often all they see is Eastern Europe and doggedly refuse to acknowledge the rest of the country that is the right head of the country’s two-headed eagle facing all the way out to the Pacific.

If ever a festival was designed to counter the naysayers, the Vladivostok International Film Festival is it. With a focus on the Pacific Meridian (which constitutes part of its name), this is a festival that is clear in its intent to embrace Asia. As a festival on the pacific port city (Vladivostok is a name that conjurs mystery rather than images, because unless you’ve been there it is just a name on the map) it is in some ways more Pacific than say Melbourne will ever be. A relatively short ferry ride from Japan or South Korea and sharing boundaries with North Korea and China the Russia of Vladivostok is arguably just as Asian. Of course the issue of film production coming out of Moscow brings up other issues, but VIFF is firm in its desire to address that by putting a spotlight on film-makers from or around the port city. While some people will never be convinced by such arguments, to my mind given the prominence of VIFF it would have been ludicrous to exclude Russia from APSA’s embrace.

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