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Sunday, November 23, 2014

THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA is devastatingly beautiful

Pirjo Honkasalo's THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA (2004) is one of the few films I caught in CPH:DOX at Copenhagen last week.

I walked into the cinema with high expectations, since the CPH:LAB booklet I was given had recommended us lab people to go to the film, calling it one of the greatest documentaries ever made.

Despite the expectations, I was indeed mesmerized by what I saw, with numerous images haunting me long after I left the theaters. The film reminded me that non-fiction cinema can indeed be made with sheer artistry and poetry. I was reminded of Tarkovskian films of yore, even assuming that it was a film made in that time period. I was surprised that it was done merely a decade ago. Perhaps it was shocking to me, to see such things happening so recently.

THE 3 ROOMS OF MELANCHOLIA is about the Chechen-Russian conflict, and how this war has psychologically affected the children of Chechen and Russia. Divided into 3 parts, or "rooms".

The first room is set in a military academy in Kronstadt (near St. Petersburg), portraying the highly regimented lives of the young cadets, who are being trained for future roles in the Russian army.

There are lessons of military greeting. Which elicited some laughter from the audiences during the screening.

And more of their daily life in the military school.

A boy from the military academy visits his Grandma.

The heartbreaking second "room" can be viewed almost in its entirety on Youtube. This one shows the devastated capital of Chechen, A humanitarian worker is forced to separate a few children from their dying mother.

The Second Room
The haunting third "room" follows an orphanage where more children are profiled. An 11-year-old boy was found in a cardboard box and was brought to the orphanage, he was gang-raped by Russian soldiers. Another boy was brought in after he survived a fall from a ninth-floor apartment; his mother threw him off the balcony after her husband's death in the First Chechen War. A 19-year-old girl who was raped by Russian soldiers when she was 12.

They are called "The children of hate', roaming the streets, playing war games. Waiting for the day when they are old enough to take an active part in the conflict that the generations before them have paved the way for. Hate is indeed inherited.

By then, the melancholy that was in the film title has emerged forefront, seeping into every single scene, every single shot. The absolutely magnificent and mournful score, the gazes of the children, the majestic landscape.

Meanwhile, the sounds of warfare and destruction could still be heard afar.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My photos of Copenhagen during the CPH:LAB and CPH:DOX

Nyhavn at Copenhagen.

The CPH:DOX international documentary film festival, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, is one of the most prestigious and well-known documentary festivals around.

Every year, as part of the festival, the CPH:LAB (formerly known as DOX:LAB) is held where 20 directors around the world are invited to attend workshops and classes. These 20 directors are paired up so that they can make an audiovisual project together, it can be a feature-length film, a short film, a documentary, a video installation etc.

This year, I was one of the 20 directors who was given the opportunity to participate in this. (and I'm paired up with the Croatian director Sonja Tarokic)

A few years ago, in 2010, Ming Jin and Danish director Jeppe Ronde were paired up in the same workshop and ended up making the short film GIRL IN THE WATER (2011), which I helped to produce and edit. We even won a Robert Award for this! (the Danish equivalent of the Oscars)

(Here's a non-color graded version of the short)

From the same year, there was also a film called GLORIOUS ACCIDENTS by filmmakers Mauro Andrizzi and Marcus Lindeen. It won the best Mid-length film at the Orizzonti section of the Venice Film Festival.

RESISTENTE, a short film by Salla Sorri (whom I met at Berlinale Talent Campus 2009 and met again this time at Copenhagen) and Renate Costa, also from the 2010 lab, had their short film premiered in Venice Film Fest 2012 as well.

Resistente Venice teaser search from Salla Sorri on Vimeo.

This time in Copenhagen, I managed to go to the premiere of OLMO AND THE SEAGULL by Lea Glob and Petra Costa (a couple of months ago, I read an article about her debut feature documentary ELENA and had been very curious to check it out).

The film was done in such a polished manner, with its production values and staging, that, at first, I thought it was fiction.

OLMO AND THE SEAGULL competed and won at this year's Nordic:DOX section.

The other LAB projects screening were THE GOLD BUG, which looks funny.

And STRANDED IN CANTON (which was actually from Ming Jin's year), originally a collaboration between Golden Leopard-winning Chinese director Li Hongqi and Swedish director Mans Mansson, but now, seemingly a sole directorial effort by Mansson. This film was in international competition.

The CPH:LAB itself and rather illuminating. This year, a bit more emphasis was placed on crowdfunding and interactive storytelling.

I also go to play with Lego blocks again in a workshop by Paul Tyler (who was also around during last year's Biennale College).

I was so busy that I realized I didn't actually take any photos of the workshops or classes themselves. Thankfully, Vanja of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre tweeted a photo of me and Sonja at the pitching session, held during the last day of the lab.

Other than that, it was mostly me taking photos of Copenhagen itself. Sadly, only with my phone.

I brought my trusty Canon 7D with me. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my CF Card. Tragicomedy ensued.

Yup, all these photos are all on my (sarcasm) heavily popular Instagram page.

Other than that, I had caught a few documentaries in the festival, and those too, had been very educational. But I'll write about them some other time.

I just got back from Copenhagen yesterday evening. Slept shortly after dinner. And woke up at 2am.

It's 4am now as I am writing this.

In 2 more hours, I will be heading off to a set for a shoot. There is no rest. Even though I'm jetlaggy.

Apparently I get to take a day off before the shoot. Hooray.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

2nd screening of RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS 破裂するドリアンの河の記憶 @ Tokyo International Film Festival

25th of Oct, a day after the RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS world premiere, I had two "free days" before the next screening.

Mom had flown into Tokyo so she could catch the second screening.

There were news reports of the film after the world premiere.

The EXPLODING DURIANS leads Koe Shern and Daphne Low, and I, did an interview with Filmbizasia's Kevin Ma.

It's a very detailed interview about the evolution of Malaysian Cinema. Worth a read!

On the 26th, I decided to bravely catch the screening of Lav Diaz's 5 and half hour film FROM WHAT IS BEFORE. Maiko the Producer (she was the producer of my old short films like KINGYO) had came in from Kyoto to join us! And I got to take a photo with Rei Ayanami too! So happy!! Waiiiii!

FROM WHAT IS BEFORE is a monumental film. I'll write more about it in my next post. At night, Zhu Zhi-Ying and her assistant Strawberry had flown in from Taipei to attend the second half of the Tokyo Film Fest.

27th of October. The second screening of RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS was just as emotional to me. As I walked towards the stage after the screening, I realized, among the faces of the audiences, were people from my memories. Dear friends from different stages of my life, who were the main reasons why I was on stage that day.

Both my parents were there. It was the first time my mom had attended a film festival screening of my film.

So was Kai Fai, my friend since high school, who used to stay over at my place so we could write together a fantasy novel.

Then there was Justin, my dear friend from my Perth days, who introduced to me so many great literary works and authors. Italo Calvino. Yukio Mishima. Salman Rushdie. Yasunari Kawabata.

And then, the cast and crew of KINGYO, my first ever Japanese short film in 2009. Maiko, Linto, Lia, Annu, Qyoko, Luchino. The KINGYO family. We went to Venice Film Festival together, in a beautiful summer half a decade ago.

(The very classy cast and crew of NOVA aka TERBAIK DARI LANGIT, the other Malaysian film in the festival, which was competing at the Asian Future section, were at the screening as well!)

I felt nothing but love for all of them.

When the film ended, we were mobbed by numerous audience members outside the cinema.

It was another unforgettable screening.

At night, we got to go to the legendary Kabukiza Theater to catch a Kabuki performance (and a screening of Charlie Chaplin's CITY LIGHTS). Awesome bento with high-class cuisine included!

We then strolled through the Tokyo Midtown at Roppongi at night.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Video of RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS press conference @ Tokyo International Film Festival

This is the video from the Oct 24 press conference of RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS, just a couple of hours before its world premiere.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS 破裂するドリアンの河の記憶 red carpet and world premiere @ Tokyo International Film Festival

I finally got back from Tokyo.

The Tokyo International Film Festival in the past 10 days had been absolutely emotional, and inspiring. I will now take the time to update the blog with Facebook posts (not just mine, but others too) of the wondrous journey RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS had taken during its world premiere in this grand, prestigious festival. It all felt like a dream.

We all arrived at 22nd night, just in time to walk the red carpet on the 23rd.

I was there with dad (executive producer), Ming Jin (producer), Kong (cinematographer) and our three leads, Koe Shern, Joey Leong and Daphne Low.

After the red carpet event, I was whisked off to do a radio interview.

Alas, I had to miss the opening film BIG HERO 6.

24th of October, RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS had its world premiere. We were the competition film to premiere in the festival. There was a press conference in the afternoon before the film.

This is the video of the press conference.

This was what I said at the press conference:

“I do feel strongly about history. A lot of the historical events portrayed in the film are unspoken history that’s not officially in textbooks. They’re not spoken about due to political reasons. So for me personally, I believe a lot in the power of cinema. To some people, movies just might be for entertainment. But for me, I believe that we use cinema to remember the world. So I always believe that cinema is forever. So if I can put all these historical events that are not spoken aloud in this film of mine, would people remember? So this is my intention – to help people remember all these events.”

“For me, I basically wanted to ask questions in my film. I didn’t want to openly complain or condemn things – because I feel that people have been doing that a lot – on facebook. For me it’s real tiring, going online everyday – and you know, it’s just people complaining about the government or people complaining about the opposition. I just want to ask questions. I think it’s a very Malaysian thing that we always complain about things. I think it’s very stupid. I think we should be thinking more. So, I just want to ask questions so we can contemplate. And the reason why I wanted to bring historical events from the past, like the Thai incident, the Filipino incident, is because they were in our neighboring countries and there are some parallels between what happened then and some stuff that happened to us. So, my question is; if we continue doing what we are doing, is history going to repeat itself or should we try something different so we can be more hopeful?”

After that, we visited the film festival staff members and volunteers.

As evening was about to come, we started preparing for the world premiere of the film. Ming Jin the producer, me, the 3 lead actors of the film Koe Shern, Joey and Daphne, along with Kong the Cinematographer, all went on stage to greet the audiences.

Everything we had been working towards since January 2, 2014, it finally led to this moment. The world premiere, the one moment when the film would be shown on the big screen, in a huge hall with a 700-ppl capacity.

When it ended, I was too overwhelmed with emotions.

I wrote this the day after the screening:

Last night's world premiere of River of Exploding Durians felt like a dream. Realizing that it was the very first public screening of my very first feature film at the gigantic Screen 7 of Roppingi Hills, I was really quite choked up with emotions when I was invited back on stage for the Q and A session. But when I was brushing my hand across my eyes a few times at the beginning of the session, I was really just brushing off sweat, nothing else. The light was... too strong.

All the hard work that the "Durians family" had put in the film can finally be seen on the big screen. The wonderful cast and crew, those who were in Tokyo with me, Woo Ming Jin, Kong Pahurak, TK Cheng, Koe Shern, Joey Leong, Daphne Low, Eric Yeo, and those who weren't.

When it ended, I could only think of them.

We are just a group of crazy, passionate people making a low-budget film.

I was so happy that Kohei Ando-sensei and Mrs Ando were part of the screening, with Miyako Kobayashi and Naoki Motomura senseis. Waseda University was my home when I was in Tokyo. What a beautiful way to come back home. And the audiences, their kind words, their applause, I tried to look and remember the moment, but my eyes were a little too blurry when the film ended. Probably the sweat again.
(even my cousin Cheryl Choong, who was visiting Tokyo, was at the screening, with Jones Khoo. I hope both of you enjoyed my wedding gift )

And thank you so much, Iwai Shunji, for coming to the screening too. Without your films and your influences, which had stayed with me from my teens ("Love Letter") to my university days in Perth ("All About Lily-Chou Chou", "Hana and Alice") to the beginning of my film career, I would never have been able to make RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS too. Being visited by my hero on the very first screening of my very first feature film, that is an unexplainable feeling.

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