Asian film festivals are held year-round and well worth attending.

While American films still hold a spell over much of the world, Bollywood and other key film production locations also hold special power and favour over millions of movie lovers worldwide.

Timing a visit to Asia with one of its many film festivals is a great way to gain a little deeper insight into the cultures you are visiting, while at the same time watching a few marvelous movies that may be gracing silver and computer screens for years to come. If you have a chance to attend any or all of the film events hosted in countries around Asia each year, with or without popcorn, it’s well worth adding them to your bucket list. The experience may well become one of the highlights of your year.

Cambodian Showcase

CamboFest, established in 2007, re-launched in 2010 as CIFF, the Cambodian International Film Festival. The event draws plenty of attention with a series of films made in and about the country that offer a unique celebration of “Cambo culture”.

This year “The Gate,” Francois Bizot’s chilling detailing of his time as a captive of the Khmer Rouge, gripped audiences, while another huge hit was Chinese Director John Woo’s first-half presentation of “The Crossing,” an epic war and romance drama based on the sinking of the “SS Taiping,” which caused the loss of over 1,500 passengers and crew – a tale bearing more than slight resemblance to the story of the Titanic, if only in its tragedy and lost innocence.

Numerous films about Cambodia seen through the eyes of French, German, American and other filmmakers give a wonderful take on this resilient nation, and this is definitely part of the fascination of the festival as it grows. Cambodian-international collaborations dominate the event each year and pull in ever larger numbers of local and global visitors.

Inspiring India

It is no longer possible to dismiss Indian films or festivals as minor stepchildren to Hollywood. Bollywood, the affectionate Mumbai name for India’s multi-billion dollar movie industry, now sees 2.7 billion tickets bought each year.

Just like the sub-continent’s cuisine, which is typically flavored with dozens of vibrant spices, and its fabrics that span the range from conservative to wildly colorful, Indian movies are nothing short of stunning.

Kareena Kapoor, the lead actress and much-swooned over star of 2012’s blockbuster, “Heroine,” wore 130 designer dresses in one single film. What’s more, 42 Indian political parties protested the supposedly sexual innuendo-laden verses in the still popular song Choli Ke Peech – featured in 1993’s “Khalnayak”, a thriller by Subhashi Ghai.

2014’s 45th International Film Festival of India took place in Penaji, Goa, and featured 10 days of incredible films. This viewer’s eyes almost fell out trying to take in as many showings as humanly possible. The Entertainment Society of Goa did a superb job promoting the event, which was packed with films of amazing quality and influence.

Always receiving standing ovations, longtime star Rajinikanth humbly yet very emotionally accepted the Centenary Award for Indian Film Personality of the Year at the opening ceremony this year. Meanwhile, the work of recently deceased English actor and filmmaker Richard Attenborough was also celebrated at the festival, with a special tribute paid to the director of “Gandhi”.

Another treat, especially for those fond of shorts, is the 2015 International Short Film Festival of India, which will run on 27-28 February in Chennai. The event features fiction, documentary and animated short films made by students and independent filmmakers, and often presages the most popular releases of the year, based on audience reactions and reviews.

Moving Malaysia

On February 1, 2015, Tropfest Southeast Asia, the region’s largest short film festival will be presented in George Town, Penang.

This is only the second presentation of this impressive collection of shorts in Malaysia, but the event is already well established in locations such as New Zealand, Australia and Abu Dhabi, where it sets an exciting precedent by showcasing new films created specifically for the festival and not previously screened anywhere else.

In a single year, the Malaysian event has become a springboard for new filmmakers and tickets sell out fast. With a goal of jurying films that tell good stories, it features engaging and creatively inspiring films long on heart and vision, though short on length.

While in Malaysia, you should also check out the Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival (KKIF) 2015, which will run from 5-11 June 2015, and is something of a launch pad for the ASEAN region’s new films. Meanwhile, the Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival in October is an affectionate testament to the country’s natural environment, as well as a warning of the threats posed. The festival emphasizes films highlighting the dangers posed by destruction of the forests, water pollution and the impact of development on the indigenous people of Malaysia.

In 2014, the festival’s emphasis on all things green extended to musical performances, green products and workshops – an inspiration to visitors and locals alike.

Screening China

The Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), which has been running for over 20 years, is becoming a ruby-red gem of a festival to catch in Asia.

It’s not exactly news that the country has become dominant in many areas, but the film industry in China has also grown in leaps and bounds over the last decade. Since “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, Ang Lee and a host of other Chinese directors have made it clear that the country has cinematic talent a-plenty, in front of and behind the camera.

There are several festivals in China that should be included in a pan-Asian spin across the region’s cinema seats. SIFF 2013, for example, showcased an amazing 1,655 films from over 100 countries and featured numerous new awards for talent and production.

Some 300,000 people, myself included, enjoyed the great films there. Although I missed the 2014 event, I’ll be sure to attend the 2015 festival, which will run from 13-21 June and promises to set new records for the sheer number of films shown. A stunning 1,099 films from 102 countries will compete for the coveted Golden Goblet Award, and a total of 385 films will be screened at 35 cinemas.

If you are heading to China before the end of the year, be sure to attend the Hong Kong International Film Festival from 25 December-January 7, 2015. This two-week mash-up of widely varied and wonderful films is hosted by numerous HK venues, including the Cultural Center, Convention and Exhibition Centre, City Hall, Film Archive, Arts Center and The Grande Cinema.


Which Festival?

Just like her visual wonders, exciting foods and always engaging people, Asia’s film festivals offer enough to keep you thoroughly entertained and coming back for more. Start your journey of 1,000 films with just one festival.

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Jim Grubman
Jim Grubman has lived more lives than the average cat, though he's hoping his two Flame-Point Himalayans beat him. He has written and edited many things, including cookbooks (he's a qualified chef), and he has even saved lives as a dialysis technician among a long list of medical and other jobs. For fun, he travels, writes about it, and sails as close to the Southern Seas as a sane man dare try.