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  • COURTESY PHOTO
    “Rainbow Troops” focuses on the children of day laborers in Indonesia struggling for an education.

  • The contemporary Malaysian film “Woman on Fire” is part of the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ “Southeast Asia on Screen” film festival, which the academy is hosting in conjunction with a show of Southeast Asian artworks.

  • “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”

  • “Agrarian Utopia”

  • “Drupadi” / “Woman on Fire Looks for Water”

  • “Who Killed Chea Vichea?"

  • “Dear Galileo”
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In connection with its major exhibit, "Four Thousand Years of Southeast Asian Art," the Honolulu Academy of Arts is hosting a monthlong showcase of films from the region.

Southeast Asia on screen

» Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.
» When: Tomorrow through Dec. 30
» Cost: $8.50 general admission ($7.50 seniors, students and military), $5 members; 10-movie pass available for $55 general, $40 members
» Information: 532-8768; www.honolulu academy.org; www.tix.com
» Note: Go to "Theatre & Events" section at www.honolulu academy.org for trailers

The art collection — 150 little-seen works from Thailand and Cambodia — has a deeper historical perspective, but organizers of the "Southeast Asia on Screen" film festival say the movies add a needed contemporary spin to the museum show.

Film curator Gina Caruso and Abigail Algar have assembled a group of shorts and features of various genres, originating from Thailand and Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam.

"The Southeast Asian art collection is a beautiful exhibition," Caruso said, "and we wanted to help not only bring more people into the museum with the festival, but also bring it into the 21st century.

"The festival’s overriding theme, I think, shows how these regions, while so vibrant, are yet so distinct from each other. That’s what’s interesting to both of us. We usually think of the Southeast Asia region as one big blob, and it’s not. The cultures are really distinct, and by watching these films, they compelled me to find out more about each of these regions."

Caruso gives Algar most of the credit for putting the event together, though they screened the films together.

Algar said she looked at lineups for major film festivals around the world, including Toronto, Cannes, Venice and Rotterdam in selecting the films. Most are making their Hawaii premieres.

"There’s a real contemporary edge to these places steeped in history," she said, "and each presents a completely different face to the world."

FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS

Abigail Algar and Gina Caruso, who screened the Southeast Asia on Screen films, share comments on some of their favorites:

» "Dear Galileo" (Thailand): Two pampered Thai girls go on a backpacking journey through London, Paris and Rome, with Galileo’s birthplace in Pisa as their ultimate destination. "This is a film for the whole family," said Caruso. "It’s a very uplifting, community-oriented film. These young, educated people leave their home country for Europe where they find themselves in situations they’re not accustomed to, like being mistaken for … Thai immigrant restaurant workers." Opening night tomorrow, 6 p.m. reception, 7:30 p.m. screening; $12, $10 museum members; also 1 p.m. tomorrow, and 1 and 4 p.m. Sunday at regular admission prices.

» "Who Killed Chea Vichea?" (U.S./Cambodia): Billed as "a documentary about an untrue story," the film covers the arrest of two men after a labor leader is gunned down in 2004, even though the duo seemingly had no connection to the crime. It was a five-year project for American director Bradley Cox, who followed the case and conducted his own investigation. "The film has been banned in Cambodia," Caruso said. "It’s a controversial, but very brave and courageous, documentary." Shown with the Cambodian short "Born Sweet." Wednesday and Thursday at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

» "Drupadi" / "Woman on Fire Looks for Water" (Indonesia/Malaysia): Caruso calls "Drupadi" (pictured) a beautiful-looking film based on the Hindu epic "Mahabharata," specifically the story of a princess married to five brothers and sold in a game of dice. Just as visually arresting is the second film, a contemporary Malaysian offering that offers a tender meditation on yearning and regret in the story of a village father and son attempting to bring a bit of romance into their harsh lives. Dec. 3 to 7 at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 8 at 1 p.m.

» "Agrarian Utopia" (Thailand, pictured): An intimate vision of rural life, as it follows two families that share a plot of land through the cycle of a rice crop season. "The filmmaker is from the region," said Caruso, "and the actors are real people. You think you’re watching a documentary, the film is so true to the subject. You see this beautiful environment that they’re losing due to government instability. … It’s really a majestic film." Dec. 14 and 15 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

» "Rainbow Troops" (Indonesia, pictured at top): Caruso said the country’s preoccupation with emancipation through education is well-illustrated in this heart-tugging drama set in the 1970s. Children of day laborers attempt to better their lot in life by attending a struggling elementary school. Dec. 10 at 1 and 7:30 p.m., Dec. 12 at 1, 4 and 7:30 p.m. 

» "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives" (Thailand): Apitchatpong Weeransethakuls’ film about a terminally ill man who recalls his many past lives on his deathbed, surrounded by the ghost of his deceased wife and a transformed version of his long lost son, won the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and was shown at the 2010 Hawaii International Film Festival. With a discussion led by film scholar Wimal Dissanayake of the University of Hawaii’s Academy for Creative Media. Dec. 17 at 1 and 7:30 p.m.

TAKE THE PULSE

Find a complete screening schedule, film capsules and reviews at www.honolulupulse.

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