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Club Spotlight: Asian Film Club

The Asian Film Club provides an environment of education and exploration as presented through film screenings and an excitedly anticipated film festival on November 13th and 14th.  “I want people to get out of Hollywood or European cinema and try to see some that are not from their culture,” says Asian Film Club co-leader Ayesha Bashir. “You can learn so much about someone’s culture from film.”

Expanding the horizons of movie-goers on campus is Ayesha’s primary goal in creating the club, which she runs with fellow student and friend June Kang. “Like Bong Joon Ho said in his speech, ‘Once you overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’ That is what I want for people that come to our film screenings,” she says. 

Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite was the first Asian film to win major critical and popular acclaim in the United States, and Ayesha believes there is so much more for Bennington students to explore. In addition to bi-monthly screenings, a film festival featuring Asian films and interviews with directors is currently in the works for November 13th and November 14th. 

Organizing efforts for the film festival began in the spring 2020 semester, but were put on hold when June moved back home due to Covid-19. Though the process was unexpectedly decelerated, Ayesha promptly picked up contacting directors, conducting interviews, and putting together a film roster. 

The films she has scheduled for the festival represent a range of categories; “There will be some psychological thrillers, animation, slice-of-life pieces, and experimental video pieces,” she says. “I don’t think people here will know them because, within the Pakistani industry, they’re very indie.” The films themselves are still relatively new, and are still circulating throughout film festivals around the world.

Interviews with directors will discuss their process, how they work, and what advice they have for aspiring filmmakers. In the beginning, reaching out to directors came with its own set of uncertainties. “At first I thought they’d be like, ‘No way this kid in Vermont is screening our films,’ but they usually say yes which is really generous of them,” Ayesha says. “If they’re indie or reachable I’ll reach out and be like, ‘hey, can I work with you and screen these?’”

This will be the first film festival at Bennington College. The lineup for November 13th is Dia, Hamza Bangash; Bas Ek Piyali Chai, Belaal Imran; Rani, Hammad Rizvi; Hairless, Madyha Leghari; and Shehr-e-Tabassum, Arafat Mazhar. A screening of Indus Blues by Jawad Sharif will take place on November 14th, followed by interviews with the directors. Festival events will commence at 7:00 PM and wrap up at 9:00 PM on both days.

Screenings have fallen into a bi-monthly pattern this semester. “We usually screen on Saturdays after dinner-time, and people are already in the weekend mood, so there is not much discussion post-screening. It’s not a class,” Ayesha says. All screenings have been in Tishman, and average attendance has consistently been between 25 and 30 students. 

Ayesha recalls one of the most notable screenings the club has done. “We showed a trilogy from South Korean director Park Chan-wook. It was The Vengeance Trilogy, composed of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance.” The films revolve around common themes of revenge, violence, ethics, and salvation.

However, should things return to an entirely remote setting for students, the film club will be forced to take another pause. “I am not going to show a film on Zoom, so the club will not continue if that happens.”

Ayesha’s interest in South Korean and Japanese film first developed at the age of ten, when her brother began watching horror films and exposed her to a broader scope of East Asian cinema. “It opened some doors for me. If I didn’t have that exposure to East Asian cinema and their directors, I don’t think I would have been that eager about film,” she recalls.

Studying film and co-leading the Asian Film Club has introduced her to a lens of research she had not yet explored. It has helped her reach past old favorites and seek out films from new directors that may have otherwise gone overlooked. “I tend to show a lot of South Korean cinema, and my friends are like, ‘No, this is Asian Film Club, so you need to show Thai and Pakistani and Indian’ and this and that,” she says. “So I end up doing a lot of research, which is good for me because I find a lot of new directors.”

Mark your calendars for the film festival on November 13th and 14th from 7:00 to 9:00 PM, and prepare to expand your cinematic horizons.
For more information, visit the Asian Film Club’s Instagram page @btonasianfilmclub or contact Ayesha Bashir at ayeshabashir@bennington.edu or June Kang at junekang@bennington.edu.

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