Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Making of an Asian Film Festival

What makes a perfect film festival? Is there such a thing as a perfect film festival? Well having worked for three years in a row for 2 very different film festivals, I am beginning to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect film festival. There can’t be. While it is a challenge getting films selected, some external factors prevent films from reaching a festival on time and even if they do make it to the festival, technical problems prevent them from being shown.

After two years of working for other organization’s film festivals, I got the chance this year to work on an independent inaugural Asian film festival, a festival that would get the chance to make brave selections, a festival where we would have more control. And how has this experiment gone? It has been enjoyable but no matter how much we can try, we are still at the mercy of the same problems as that other film festival – budget constraints, political selections and the ‘invisible hand’ or external forces. In the end, thankfully we still managed to get a healthy collection of movies. It is surely a great achievement considering the obstacles we had. One of the biggest hurdles being having no budget! How can you ask a film-maker to showcase their movie if you don’t have a budget to fly them over? How can you ask a film-maker to offer their movie at a cut-price? But amazingly, a lot of film-makers were very co-operative and excited at letting us show their movies, some with major discounted fees. For a first time festival, it was an achievement to get a good collection of submissions. This required a lot of film requests sent out to all corners of the world. We got a lot of responses back, and some even from film-makers whose movies were premiering at this year’s Rotterdam and Berlin Festival. One thing was clear, most film-makers want to support new film festivals and are enthusiastic to have their films shown in new cities. Here is a sampling of some films (features and documentaries) previewed and selected:

Red Doors (directed by Georgia Lee)

This charming movie is our opening night film. It is a wonderful movie about the American-Chinese Wong family. The story revolves around the father and his three daughters. If that sounds like Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink, Man, Woman , it is not. Red Doors combines cross cultural issues with everyday relationship and life complications (work, school) and presents them in a very polished manner.

Kiều (directed by Vũ T. Thu Hà)

Our closing night movie is another treat. The movie is a modern day adaptation of the classic 19th century Việtnamese epic poem, The Tale of Kiều. Kiều had a really strong opening at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival and it is easy to see why. It is a very easy flowing movie which moves at a leisurely pace without ever being dull.

Electric Shadows (directed by Jiang Xiao)

As of this moment, we are not sure if we will get this movie or not. This is one of the more polished films I got to see this year. This 2004 movie has been called the Chinese Cinema Paradiso . One can see the similarities but this one stands on its own. The movie shows the power of cinema to reach out to masses and cause a change. The story intersects with the present to the era of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and as the movie progresses, we find that the two stories have a common thread.

China Blue (directed by Micha X. Peled)

Where do your jeans come from? Who makes these jeans? And how much work goes into the making of a perfect pair of jeans? China Blue does more than just answer such questions. It gives an inside look into the blue-jeans factory in China, complete with highlighting the harsh working conditions of the people involved and the constant struggles they have to overcome. The movie offers ample evidence for people who talk about the poor labour conditions in China and other ‘sweat’ factories for the big brand companies.

Bombay Calling (directed by Ben Addelman, Samir Mallal)

Indian people living in North American are victims of countless monthly, weekly, daily and even hourly telemarketing calls from India offering cheap long distance and other services. In fact one of my first blog entries was about one such annoying call -- Calling India . So it was refreshing to see a movie like Bombay Calling which puts a face to these countless Indians making these phone calls and the ruthless Business men responsible for these companies.

Two Documentaries showing Canada’s forgotten past

Continuous Journey and In the Shadow of Gold Mountain are two eye-opening and insightful movies which highlight often forgotten or unmentioned racial incidents in Canadian History. It may seem surprising to hear that in Canada before 1950, Chinese or Indian immigrants were not welcome. Taxes and restrictions were imposed on people from these countries whereas no taxes were imposed on immigrants coming in from Eastern Europe. In fact, Eastern European immigrants were given free land and encouraged to settle down. Even though Chinese immigrants were responsible for constructing the railways that linked the entire country together, they were not considered welcome. Radios in 1920’s and even 30’s played daily songs about only having a ‘white Canada’. It was not until Pierre Elliot Trudeau gave his multiculturalism speech in 1971 speech did things change. Canada has indeed come a long way but it is still interesting to know what lay in that past.


Cinema Journal said...

Programming a festival can be so discouraging...the filmmakers you describe seem so helpless. The producers get them the money to make the movie, then they control where it goes. I wish you the best of luck, and thanks for the synopses on all those movies. They sound great, and I hope they make it to NYC sometime. I'll keep my eye open for them.

Sachin said...

Thanks for your comment.

Sachin said...

hopefully you get to see some of these movies some time in the future