Mongolia’s ‘Ze’ Scoops Top Prize at Locarno’s Open Doors

Mongolian filmmaker Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir’s “Ze” won the top prize at the Locarno Film Festival’s Open Doors co-production forum, which featured eight projects from Southeast Asia and Mongolia looking for international partners.

Purev-Ochir’s feature debut tells the story of the budding relationship between a teenage shaman and a young woman, set in the rough-and-tumble yurt district of the Mongolian capital, Ulaanbaatar. “Ze,” which is produced by Mongolia’s Guru Media and co-produced by France’s Aurora Films, will receive 40,000 Swiss francs ($44,000) in production support from the Open Doors initiative in collaboration with the City of Bellinzona and the Swiss production support fund Visions Sud Est, which is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The jury praised “Ze” as “a project so well developed that it’s definitely ready for the next step. A true incoming and fresh author, presenting us a contemporary vision and not stereotypes of her country. The prize goes to a very promising debut of a female filmmaker breaking the cliché in imagining the story of a man.”

“Ze” also won the Open Doors – Moulin d’Andé CECI Award, with the jury calling Purev-Ochir “a young filmmaker who has been able to mobilize people and energy around a project with great and intense conviction. Her new short is a demonstration of her talent and her unusual and personal regard on the world.” The award consists of a three-week screenwriting residency enabling further development of her project.

“Ze” is an exploration of the contradictions of modern-day Mongolia, a country where growing class divisions are thrust against the traditions and beliefs of an older way of life. “There are certain realities that I really want to come across in this film,” Purev-Ochir recently told Variety. “People are really not aware of the type of living and the circumstances in Mongolia in the moment.

“Most importantly, I want the Mongolian audiences to see themselves truly,” she continued. “I’m just not sure that a raw, real depiction [in film] is happening right now in Mongolia. My true hope is that Mongolians actually see themselves on screen. And, of course, the rest of the world gets to know us a little bit better.”

Two other Open Doors grants were awarded for development support. The first went to “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell,” by An Pham Thien (Vietnam/Singapore/France), which the jury heralded as “a unique artistic vision pushing the boundaries of cinema into a new direction. We want to encourage this project for its unusual ambition to bring together different moods and forms of narration.”

The second development grant went to “Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah vs. the Amazonistas of Planet X,” by Avid Liongoren (Philippines/France), which the jury praised as “convincing through its freshness, its craziness, and its very contemporary approach appealing to young people especially. We want to support this project for its ability to bring the Filipino animation cinema to an international landscape.” Both projects were given a development grant in the amount of 14,000 Swiss francs ($15,400).

The development award from France’s Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée (CNC) went to “Fruit Gathering,” by Aung Phyoe (Myanmar/France/Czech Republic). The jury said “the project has a very touching and important topic, which is presented in a very subtle way. We see a clear vision of a filmmaker who is haunted by his project. The development prize will definitely help to concretize his dream.” The award consists of a cash prize of €8,000 ($9,400).

The ARTE Kino International Prize went to “Oasis of Now,” by Chee Sum Chia (Malaysia), which the jury described as “a first feature by a promising young director whose shorts attest already to an undeniable talent. We were touched by the personal dimension of the subject he’s writing on, and fully convinced by his artistic vision. We also believe that the universal and contemporary themes of migration and identity will reach an international audience.” The award consists of a cash prize of €6,000 ($7,100).

The Open Doors – Sørfond Award went to “This City is a Battlefield” by Mouly Surya (Indonesia/Singapore/Philippines). The jury praised it as “a powerful story that portrays a society thrown into collective chaos and confusion, blurring the lines between right and wrong, friend and foe. With a strong visual approach and fascinating characters, this brutal yet thrilling script will shed light on the post-colonial struggle and the birth of the Indonesian nation.” The prize consists of an opportunity for Surya to attend Sørfond’s forthcoming “Pitching from the South” event.

The Open Doors Lab, a training workshop for producers, also announced the Open Doors – Rotterdam Lab Award, which went to producer Uran Sainbileg, of Mongolia’s IFI Production. The jury praised Sainbileg as “someone who’s not only strongly motivated to grow as a producer, but also keen to share and gain knowledge to foster a strong local filmmaking community. She believes strongly in creative freedom, and that local stories by new and established talent deserve a large, international audience.” The award offers Sainbileg an opportunity to take part in the Rotterdam Lab 2021 training workshop, together with a delegation of emerging producers on the international scene, in collaboration with IFFR Pro.

Open Doors is organized in partnership with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA), and with the help of various European and international organizations.

The Open Doors Hub and Lab were held online from Aug. 6 to 11 during this year’s special edition of the Locarno Film Festival. The Open Doors Screenings will continue online throughout the festival and can be watched on demand on the festival’s VOD platform.

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