A collection of ‘Blueprints for a Generation’ transcends Asian nations

"Mr. Shanbag's Shop," about the closure of a quirky Bangalore bookshop, was one of the films in the 28th SFIAAFF documentary shorts series "Blueprints for a Generation."

In an introduction by a film festival volunteer prior to its screening, the volunteer mentioned that someone told her that the shorts collection Blueprints for a Generation felt “like going around the world in under 100 minutes.” The five mini-documentaries only encompass five Asian nations/regions, but its stories are rich and captivating, and tell of traditions and cultural signatures that may change, and one or two that may already have, but have caused irreversible damage.

The first film in the series takes viewers to the Taybeh Brewing Company in Palestine. Taste the Revolution takes its title from a tagline on one of the ads for their beers. The only microbrewery in Palestine, it is run by the Khoury family, and the teenagers and young adults express their wishes to continue running the company when its handed to them. Director Buthina Canaan Khoury goes inside the factory to film how the beers are brewed and processed and put into cases to ship off. One of the company’s biggest challenges is documented and that is getting past the border and into Israel to sell the beer there. The 25-minute documentary tells of an interesting subject – one that’s quite revolutionary, in the sense that such a product exists in a region under occupation, allows viewers to acquaint themselves with the subject in great detail, and tells a story about difficulties and also successes in business and international relations.

The 6-minute Ali Shan was the second documentary in the series, following armies of tourists taking a train to climb up top the mountain Ali Shan in Taiwan. They wait in excitement and stare in wonder as the sun rises and illuminates over them. Then the film abruptly ends. It didn’t quite tell a story and unless you read the description in the festival program, the average person wouldn’t have had the slightest clue what the short film was about. But the cinematography (Which felt somewhat of a throwback) and background music was gorgeous.

Vinh, a rural Cambodian boy who suffers from serious illness, lives out his karaoke star dreams in "Born Sweet."

The most visually stunning film was also the one that kept my interest from beginning to end. Furthermore, I’m sure it was the one that brought out the most emotions in every person in the theater. A true human interest story, Cynthia Wade’s Born Sweet captures a beautiful landscape that masks a poison that has affected many. The film is centered on a 15-year-old rural Cambodian boy named Vinh, who suffers from the effects of his village’s arsenic-laced drinking water. He spends his days worrying about his failing health, as well as that of his family, friends, and neighbors. However, a love for karaoke gets his mind off of his worries and in the film, he lives out his singing dreams in an unconventional way. It is difficult to view the depiction of disease in the poor village, but the heartache goes away when we see Vinh and his friends smile. It is moving to see that he and his people don’t give up hope and instead of dwelling on their suffering, they use it to empower each other and move forward with their own lives.

In a more light-hearted documentary, Asha Ghosh takes viewers to mountains and mountains and mountains of books in a well-known Bangalore store in Mr. Shanbag’s Shop. His bookstore, Premier Books, would be the equivalent of Stacey’s or City Lights in San Francisco, except Mr. Shanbag’s books are stacked just one on top of the other without many shelves. It’s amusing to see what he has in his collection (One customer expresses his glee over finding an Alf book) and how well he knows his inventory despite the grand old mess. Alas, the documentary ponders over the store’s forced closure after 35 years and how the city, its customers, and Mr. Shanbag will be affected. That is one sad thing about this film, but overall, it was a joy to watch, and very relevant in terms of dying economies.

The Haenyos of Jeju Island dive to collect abalones and more in Liz Chae's "The Last Mermaids"

The last film in the series was another vision of beauty – Liz Chae’s The Last Mermaids, an ode to female sea-divers known as the Haenyos, who originated from and still live in Jeju Island off of South Korea. This tradition is a reflection of these people’s matriarchal society, as for the past 2000 years, the Haenyos made a living off of diving and catching abalones, conches, octupus, and other marine creatures. The diving was originally done for women to protect themselves from the dangers of war and passed down for generations. However, with a changing society and access to higher education, the current Haenyos lament over the soon-to-be-gone tradition. As the title of the film says, these are the last mermaids and this film was meant to preserve their memories. The cameras go underwater with the Haenyos, exposing the spectacular sea life of South Korea. The footage is a keeper for all generations.

From Palestine to South Korea, and Taiwan, Cambodia, and India too, these stunning and remarkable films captured parts of these countries’ cultures that should not be forgotten, even in an ever-advancing Earth.

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