What on earth do people do at film festivals? (Cinema Online, 6th of October 2009)

I'm flying off to Pusan this evening for the Pusan Film Festival. Tomorrow I'll be attending the premiere of WOMAN ON FIRE LOOKS FOR WATER, the film I produced and edited. This is an interview I did with Zee of Cinema Online during my last day at the Venice Film Festival.


In this I explained mostly the concept and workings of film festivals, which still remain a somewhat foreign concept to most of my friends in Malaysia (unsurprising, considering that a couple of times, attempts of organizing a film festival in Malaysia were made and failed, and right now, the only big one we have is Kuala Lumpur International Film Festival, which is having its 3rd edition this year, but being such a corporate event, awareness among regular cinemagoer remains rather low)

With Ang Lee after Joe Dante's The Hole screening (Venice Film Festival 2009)
(Ming Jin and I, with Ang Lee)


CO: So Edmund you're at the Venice Film Festival – what's so special about this film fest? Tell us something about it, for the Malaysians back home.

EY: The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world - it's founded in 1932 - so it has an immensely long and rich tradition and history. Many careers were launched here and many important films had their world premieres here. Along with the other two of the 'big three' film festivals Cannes and Berlin, Venice is like the Olympics of film festivals. For me as a filmmaker, to have a film here is like the craziest thing imaginable!

CO: What are you doin right now? Are you eating pasta? Checking out leggy Italian women, maybe?

EY: I'm now hanging out at this 24-hour cafe near my hotel that provides wi-fi service and serves some awesome and authentically Italian gelato! I'm leaving Venice in a couple of hours, so had some photos to upload, tweets to post and Facebook statuses to update.

CO: Did you meet anyone famous while you were there? Taken any pictures with them or spotted any celebs etc?

EY: It's pretty surprising, I ran into a couple of celebrities today. I just met Ang Lee and Takashi Shimizu (director of "Ju-On" and "The Grudge") after a screening, very elated. I also walked past a car this afternoon with actresses Diane Kruger and Sarah Polley in it - didn't realise it was them until much later! There was Jared Leto signing autographs to a plethora of loving Italian fans - all female! (Kruger, Polley and Leto were here for the screening of their film, "Mr Nobody"). And earlier, I met Filipino director and this year's Cannes' Best Director Brillante Mendoza, before the screening of his newest film "Lola". I kind of saw George Clooney and Ewan McGregor but they were surrounded by hordes of reporters and fans, so I couldn't really get a good view. But a big screen nearby showed me that it was the two.

CO: Sounds exciting! Must be pretty normal for a filmmaker like yourself going to film festival but what would a regular movie buff be able to do there? What's there to do at a film fest, anyway?

EY: It's a good chance for a regular moviegoer to catch movies that they might not be able to see anywhere else, or be the first people in the world to see it. Many times, because the filmmakers, cast members and others involved are there to present the film or go through a Q&A session after the screening, it brings filmmakers and audiences closer to one another. Audiences here in Venice are brutally honest, if they hate a film, they will jeer loudly even if the filmmakers were present, but if they really loved a film, which was the case with (eventual Golden Lion winner) "Lebanon", the audiences would give the cast and crew a long standing ovation during the end credits as a sign of appreciation.

CO: So, did you watch any interesting movies there? What were they about? What's the big news this year?

EY: I wasn't able to watch as many movies as I wanted. Aside from the other short films that were in the same programme as I am, I caught "Lebanon" which is a war film set entirely in a tank; "LOLA", which is a story of two grandmothers, one the grandmother of a murderer and the other the grandmother of the murder victim; then just now, I saw Joe Dante's 3D film, "THE HOLE". It was interesting to watch a 3D film in a film festival, but that was also where I bumped into Ang Lee after the screening!

CO: What films of yours are playing at the fest and what are they about? Will these be screened in Malaysia?

EY: Actually, two films i was involved in were playing at the festival. One is a Japanese short film I wrote and directed in Tokyo called "Kingyo", which is about a middle-aged university professor taking a tour with a young woman dressed up as a French maid, and as they walk through the streets of Tokyo at night, their previous relationship is gradually revealed through their conversations, especially a love triangle that still haunts them. Most of my film is done in split screens because I shot it simultaneously with two cameras. Another is a Malaysian feature film I produced and edited called "Woman On Fire Looks For Water". It's written and directed by my regular collaborator Woo Ming Jin - you might remember him as the director of "The Elephant And The Sea" which played at Cathay Cineplexes in 2007. Shot in Kuala Selangor, the film revolves around an elderly fisherman Ah Kan and his son Ah Fei, who are faced with different issues in their love lives. Ah Fei fancies a girl who has a boyfriend while Ah Kan visits an old flame when he knows that he is dying.

"Kingyo" was very enthusiastically received after its screening. Audiences actually clapped twice: Once when the film cut to black and the end credits began, and again after the end credits were over. I was quite taken aback, and actually looked around to see whether it was one of my cast or crew members who started the applause, it wasn't. When I walked out of the hall later, many came to me and congratulated me for making a film they enjoyed, my cast and crew members were very elated about this, definitely.

As for "Woman On Fire Looks For Water", I heard from Ming Jin that there was a warm applause as well, and it definitely sparked a lot of curiosity among the foreign audiences regarding our country, Malaysia.

"Woman On Fire Looks For Water" will be screened in cinemas in the near future, hopefully by next year. As for "Kingyo", being a short film, it's a little more complicated, but I'll see what I can do with it to share with Malaysian audiences.


You can read the rest of the interview, complete with photos, here.