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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Films I saw at Dubai International Film Festival 2011 (Part 1)

This is my last night in Dubai. The past week had been a blur. I didn't get to camwhore that much. Just one photo at the red carpet of a red carpet event that I didn't really attend.

At the red carpet of Dubai International Film Fest 2011

I spent most of my childhood and teenage years being reminded of my physical shortcomings (in the looks department). I'm the ugly kid on the left of the photo below. I was 9 then.

Therefore, I cannot help but marvel at how photogenic I am now.

But I'm not that narcissistic, so I will go on with this entry..

Now, being in a film festival can be rather tiring, and it's becoming increasingly unlikely that I could chronicle my daily adventures on this blog like I did before. (The days when I can churn out 2-3 posts a day are long gone.)

In a film festival, aside from hanging out with filmmaker friends (old or new), getting to know other industry people, I care most about catching the films.

After all, what I do primarily involves creativity. Creativity and inspiration are often sparked when watching the works of other people. The motivation to raise my own level of output, and also to know what's going on around me. I'm in the film industry, It'll be silly if I stop caring about films.

I love coming to the Dubai International Film Festival because of the quality of its selection. Aside from films that were played in this year's Cannes, Berlin, Venice Film Festivals, the recent Oscar contenders, I also get to watch little films that I wouldn't be able to see anywhere else. It'll be stupid to pass up such an opportunity.

Hi again, Burj, looking nice during sunrise!

The closing and award ceremony is tomorrow. It is unlikely that I will catch more films. For the sake of refreshing my own memories, or generating any discussions of sort, I will list out all the films that I've seen in this festival during the past week.

I'll list them in order, and include some anecdotes:


1) SEEDIQ BAAL by Wei Te-Sheng

Wei Te-Sheng's SEEDIQ BAAL was the first film of the festival I saw. SEEDIQ BAAL was the Golden Horse (Chinese equivalent of the Oscars) winner for Best Film and Best Supporting Actor. I was at this year's Golden Horse Ceremony, which I realized I didn't write about in this blog at all. Gah!

One day after the Golden Horse, I ended up in the same bus to Taipei with director Wei Te-Sheng, and congratulated him for his victory.

I was surprised to meet him again a week later in Dubai.

With SEEDIQ BAAL and CAPE NO. 7 director Wei Te-Sheng

I even got him to autograph a Seediq Baal flyer.

Autographed SEEDIQ BAAL flyer

2) LE HAVRE by Aki Kaurismaki

After the hardcore brutality of Seediq Baal, I opted for something gentler. So I went to Cannes favourite LE HAVRE by Aki Kaurismaki, a Cannes favourite. I've seen some of his short films, but none of his features. Seeing a Kaurismaki film for the very first time was quite an illuminating experience. His unique dry humour made me (and the rest of the audience) giggle a lot.

I will look out for his previous works.

3) CROSSFIRE by Arnel Mardoquio

Arnel's CROSSFIRE is a Filipino film making its world premiere at the Dubai Film Fest. At the screening, I cannot help but notice how rowdy the Filipino audiences can be. CROSSFIRE is far from what you would consider an accessible cinema, yet the audiences in the hall were just as into the film as locals would be with a crowd-pleasing Hollywood film. Young girls gasped and sighed at the subtle romance in the film, lots of sighs when the main male character takes hold of the female character's hand. It was pretty fun. This film had a lot of nice lyrical moments, especially the magic hour shots. I'm a sucker for that.


3) THE MUPPETS by James Bobin

I think THE MUPPETS were before my time, they never really played a particular big role in my childhood compared to the Ninja Turtles. However, despite the sort of films I make, I'm not really the type who condemns all things Hollywood. I needed something entertaining and less demanding before I plunge into the rest of the other films in the festival, so I chose THE MUPPETS, I really enjoyed it, but would probably enjoyed it more if I were an actual MUPPETS fan.

I like this song a lot though.

4) REALTOR by Adilkan Yerzhanov

I first met Adilkan back in Dubai International Film Fest 2008, his short film "Bakhytzhamal" was in the short films section with my short, "Chicken Rice Mystery". (note, Dubai International Film Fest 2008 was the first ever film fest I attended as a director, with Chicken Rice Mystery being my first ever short film after I finished uni)

Here's a photo of us back in 2008. He's the one in red shirt.

Dinner after the screening

I'm very happy to see him again. 3 years have passed, he had graduated into making his very first feature, REALTOR.

Due to the fact that I missed Madonna's W.E. screening, I decided to watch REALTOR in the video room, not knowing a single thing about it. And how bizarre the experience was!

Having seen a few Kazakhstan films, including the recent, rather brilliant FIRST RAINS OF SPRING by Shinju Sano and Erlan Nurmuhambetov at October's Tokyo International Film Festival. My impression on Kazakhstan cinema is that they're rather... er, miserable, and exotic, and takes place in grand-looking countrysides or within cities with interesting architecture, with the use of cinematic languages rather foreign to me.

I was surprised when REALTOR turned out to be SO DIFFERENT from all the other Kazakhstan films I've seen, in fact, it's a rather surrealistic time-travelling film shot in a somewhat 'trashy' (Adilkan's own word) manner that reminds me of Shinya Tsukamoto's earlier Tetsuo films. Yet this one's pretty redemptive and hopeful. It also reminds me of genre-mixing Hong Kong films of the late 80s to 90s, which is unsurprising, since Adilkan is a fan of Johnnie To's.

I definitely hope that more people would catch his film.


5) THE DESCENDANTS by Alexander Payne

I caught wind of a secret morning press screening of the film, and I went immediately. Alexander Payne is one of my favourite American filmmakers, moments from his last two films ABOUT SCHMIDT and SIDEWAYS still linger. Few years ago, when I was a mere university lad, I felt nothing but blind disdain towards the elitist friends of my friend Sebastian when Sebastian told me that he wouldn't want to watch SIDEWAYS because his friends didn't like it.

THE DESCENDANTS doesn't disappoint, I loved the film. And towards the end, I heard many sniffles in the hall. Frankly, I coulnd't keep my eyes dry either.


Aside from Adilkan, another reunion I had with someone I met at DIFF2008 was documentary filmmaker Yu Guangyi. This is us, 3 years ago. He won the Special Jury prize for his last film, SURVIVAL SONG (which also won awards at the Seoul CINDI Festival and Tokyo Filmex).

<With Yu Guangyi ("Survival Song"), Special Jury Prize winner for AsiaAfrica Documentary, Dubai Film Fest 2008 Closing Ceremony

After we took that photo, he told me that 'my time will come soon', and as we both took the taxi to the airport after the award ceremony. He reiterated his own belief on how our own exposure to literature can influence our filmmaking. I never forget his words. Few weeks after Dubai International Film Festival 2008, I would make KINGYO, and continue my own growth as a filmmaker. So many things had happened to me since then, so many film festivals I had the honour of being invited to, the awards that I was lucky to win, I think meeting Yu Guangyi then was a primary source of why I am where I am now.

Here's us. 3 years later.

With Yu Guangyi at lunch

BACHELOR MOUNTAIN is another documentary by Yu Guangyi which he spent 3 years to shoot in his hometown. It chronicles a middle-aged man living in a mountainous village where most single women are gone. The only single woman in the village owns an inn and the man had been in love with her for ten years. Going to her inn almost every day to help her, seeking to win her love, or maybe he only wanted to use those rare moments with her to take his mind off other aspects of his life. It's pretty heart-wrenching. Unrequited love is something that happened much too often in my own life. It's almost a tragicomedy.

I also got to meet Yu Guangyi's wife and daughter (who is around my age) who were both also in Dubai. It was only now that I knew his filmmaking was a family affair, with his wife serving as producer and his daughter working as both as assistant cameraman and co-editor.

I imagined what would it be like if I ever had a family that joined me in my filmmaking. Perhaps it would be very fun.

Yu Guangyi's a lucky guy.


Jean-Claude Carriere was Luis Bunuel's screenwriting collaborator. This is a travelogue similar to the likes of SANS SOLEIL by Chris Marker, where it follows Carriere's 7 different letters written in 7 different countries that ruminates in all sorts of things about time, space, existence etc. It's like my own short film FLEETING IMAGES too. But, ah, longer, with awesomer images?



The crazy thing about documentaries is that some are projects that lasted for many years. When SHOJI & TAKAO director Yoko Ide told me that her film took 14 years to shoot. I was immediately hooked, and wanted to witness her epic undertaking with my own eyes.

It's a tale of false conviction. She followed two men, Shoji and Takao, who spent nearly 30 years in prison after being falsely accused for a crime they didn't commit, from the day they were released on parole to 14 years later, when they managed to appeal for a retrial and establish their innocence. For nearly 3 hours, the film showed these two men re-adjusting to their lives, retaining a cheerful attitude towards everything, watching how they literally aged on screen, and people coming in and out of their lives, I felt I had known them for many years.

That's the funny thing about documentaries, the finest ones not only educate, but also allow you to immerse yourself completely in another world.

This is Yoko Ide (in white) during the Q and A session.

Yoko Ide during the post-screening Q and A of Shoji & Takao

9, 10, 11) ALL THE LINES FLOW OUT by Charles Lim Li Yong, MO-EDON PAE-MIL-LI (MODERN FAMILY) by Kim Kwang Bin and XIAO TOU (THIEF) by Jay Chern

These three are short films that are in the same program as me. 11th December was the world premiere of my short, LAST FRAGMENTS OF WINTER. I'll leave this for a different entry. But knowing that you're in the same program with a Venice Film Fest award winner, the Golden Horse Best Short Film award winner and a Korean short that competed in this year's Busan Film Fest, I cannot help but notice the high quality of works that Dubai Film Fest had managed to attract nowadays, even in the short film section.