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POSTED: Monday, October 26, 2009

After 10 years of development, Asia Pacific Films is a novel way to see the world through award-winning films.

The online film festival, as it's dubbed, launched last week, offering unlimited access to movies from the Pacific and Asia—broadly categorized to include films from Azerbaijan, Fiji, Indonesia, Iran, Lebanon, Malaysia, Turkey and the former Soviet Union, in addition to China, the Philippines and Japan—for $8.99 per month. The library contains 156 films, but the organization has already obtained licenses for 500, including 72 classics from India.

The films, curated by experts in that genre or country, are just the beginning. Every month, a new festival and city will be featured. There are 10 minidocumentaries online, featuring different locations, as well as subtitled interviews with experts in the culture and/or cinema of the particular area. Podcasts with authors of a book about contemporary Chinese cinema, for instance, will supplement the selection.

“;This is resource rich with original materials,”; said Asia Pacific Films President and founder Jeannette Hereniko, who demonstrated the site's versatility with excerpts from the Jeonju Film Festival at a recent presentation.

“;We thought that in this economy, not everyone can go all over the world to see film festivals; we really want to make viewers feel like they're traveling to these cities.”;

But even more important reasons for the site exist.

“;A lot of Asian cinema is poorly archived,”; said Philip Cheah, a film critic and editor in Singapore, and a curator for AsiaPacificFilms.com. Only two or three active archives exist, and those are underfunded, he explained. Furthermore, it's nearly impossible to locate the film you want and rent a theater in which to show it. This effort represents both an online library and archive.

“;It's very important to keep classic films in circulation, because a lot of real stories aren't being told in the media anymore, and a lot of people still trust filmmakers to tell the story as it is,”; Cheah continued. “;So it's even more urgent to bring film more quickly to an audience.”;

Upon entering AsiaPacificFilms.com, viewers can insert the name of a country, a movie title or a filmmaker's name into the site's search engine, yielding a catalogue of films with synopses.

“;If you're interested in Iran, we have 57 films from Iran,”; said Hereniko.

Asia Pacific Films' business model, which differs for individuals and large organizations such as universities, is off to a good start with $30,000 worth of subscriptions from educational institutions that plan to use the site in their curriculum.

Hereniko and her colleagues also have arranged a profit-sharing agreement with filmmakers who participate in the site, enabling them to tap into a research and development fund that could spark their next project.

To protect filmmakers' rights, nobody will be able to download the movies.

While Hereniko acknowledged that a few “;glitches”; are bound to occur as the site finds its footing, she expressed determination to acquire 1,000 films by the end of next year.

Hereniko brings to the project an extensive background in film from Asia and the Pacific—foremost as the founder of the Hawaii International Film Festival in 1981. She's also produced television programs, films, theatrical works and Web sites. In 1994 she started NETPAC/USA, a network for the promotion of Asian films that produced screenings and symposiums at various venues, and from 1996 to 2005 she served as director of the Asia Pacific Media Center at the University of Southern California's Annenberg Center of Communications.

But her ultimate position—and challenge—has arrived with the leadership of Asia Pacific Films, a collection that is sure to entertain and educate, and expand the horizons of viewers while they sit in the comfort of their own homes.

Sign up at AsiaPacificFilms.com for a free trial through Nov. 1.