First Ever Cannes Docs Showcase Dedicated Totally to Human Rights Issues Presented by Docs-by-the-Sea

Newcomer Docs-by-the-Sea, the international documentary Labs and Forum for creative doc projects from Asia, will present its works-in-progress showcase for the first time at the Marché du Film’s Cannes Docs. 

Featuring four films in late production stage, the showcase is highly necessary, argues its curator, Gugi Gumilang, the executive director of In-Docs, the non-profit org behind Docs by the Sea.  

A member of last year’s Docs-in-Progress jury, he says this gave him a chance to see what people are looking for.

“There’s a lack of Asian representation [in documentaries],” he tells Variety, adding: “It’s really tough for documentary filmmakers in Asia, few countries have film funds,” he says, citing Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, the Philippines and, more recently, Hong Kong. “There are few dedicated festivals, the biggest being South Korea’s DMZ. Other international film festivals like Busan, Singapore and Jeonju cater for documentary film, but the competition is tough as they don’t just focus on Asian projects.”

So the Cannes showcase is a unique and welcome opportunity to bring to attention to up-and-coming Asian documentary talent at the world’s biggest film market.

The four projects, which all focus on human rights issues ranging from LGBTQ+ to land ownership rights:

“A Distant Call,” (Andrea Suwito)

The film is set in a remote village in South Sulawesi, where an ancient Indonesian way of life recognizes five genders – men, women, transmen, transwomen and a fifth, gender-neutral category of people called Bissu, who, because of their gender neutrality, occupied higher position in society where they served as the king’s spokesperson or the queen’s confidante.

“I wanted to show the existence of this indigenous way of life because a part of me was enraged with how Indonesia has become intolerant and unaccepting in recent years with regulation that is harmful to marginalized groups, especially the LGBTQ+ community,” she tells Variety. She adds: “There is a universal message in this story: the ache to be accepted. That at some point – without realizing – we all must have conformed in order to be a part of something. And these journeys of either changing who we are, or holding on tightly to what we were, are both terrifyingly lonely.”

“A Distant Call” is produced by Finbar Somers (Umbra Motion Picture Company, UK), Mandy Marahimin (Talamedia, Indonesia), Xavier Rocher (La Fabrica Nocturna Cinéma, France).

“Islands of the Wind,” (Ya-Ting Hsu)

Two decades in the making, the film follows the anti-eviction struggle of the patients of Losheng Sanatorium for lepers, which has become emblematic of the fight for democracy in Taiwan. Over time, says Hsu, “I kept witnessing the violence of the authorities and felt the devastation of a frail democratic system through their failure. 

“I sincerely hope this film will transcend politics and even the tragedy of leprosy. Through documenting our stories, we are writing our own history against oblivion. And that is our voice against the authorities and power against time,” she tells Variety.

The film is produced by Ya-Ting Hsu (Argosy Films and Media Productions, Taiwan), Huang Yin-Yu (Moolin Films, Ltd. & Moolin Production, Co., Ltd, Taiwan & Japan) and Baptiste Brunner (Wide Productions – La Cuisine aux Images, France)

“Tens Across the Border,” (Sze-Wei Chan)

“Tens Across the Border” tells the story of four trailblazers of the underground ballroom scene – an African American and Latino LGBTQ subculture that originated in New York City in the 1970s and ‘80s – who were the first to start this community in Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

“It’s a story of change, of how families are transformed,” Chan tells Variety. “Even today, a lot of kids in Asia are being distanced or even disowned by their families because they are queer. [This community] is your surrogate family that really keeps you going, because family is still so important to us – so we really see that empowerment.”

Produced by Alemberg Ang (Daluyong Studios, Philippines), Tan Si En (Momo Film Co, Singapore), Yasmin Rams (Perennial Lens, Germany/USA), Chan Sze-Wei (Oddpuppy Productions, Singapore), and executive produced by Derren Lawfod and Daniel Karslake (Dare Pictures, U.K.), the film is set for release in early 2024.

“The Tongue of Water,” (Polen Ly)

Shot over six years, the film tells the story of a single mother’s journey of resilience and her struggle to rebuild her life on ancestral land in northeastern Cambodia after her village is flooded by a hydroelectric dam. When this land is taken over by a Chinese rubber company, the villagers face intimidation by industrialists with the collusion of the government.

At the same time, she also faces the erosion of her own family as her growing children’s dreams shift further away from her own traditional way of life. Little by little, the village draws the contours of a heritage on the verge of collapse.

“The Tongue of Water” is produced by Lucas Sénécaut (L’Oeil Vif Productions, France), Cannes veteran and Oscar-nominated writer-director Rithy Panh (Anupheap Productions, Cambodia), and Benjamin Costes (Avant la Nuit, France).

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