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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Attending the 25th Torino Film Festival!

This is the filmmaker Woo Ming Jin, guest blogging for swifty. I just returned from the Torino Film Festival in Turin, Italy where my film 'THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA' was in the competition lineup, or as the festival calls it the 'Torino 25', since this is the festival's 25th yr, but its first under the Italian director Nanni Moretti, a director whose films i'd watch when i was a film student and who won the Palme d'Or in Cannes some years back.

The Elephant and the Sea, produced under the Greenlight Pictures label, is a drama set in a small fishing town. It stars Berg Lee, the future Matt Damon of Malaysia. There are two controversial sex scenes in the film; you will have to go catch the movie at Cineleisure sometime next year to find out more:)

Back to the festival- ELEPHANT is competing with 14 other films. The films come from all over the world, three from Asia, three from the US, the rest from Europe- i think. Two of the films have already premiered at Cannes this year (Garage and Water Lilies), while others arrive via Berlin (Homesong Stories, with Joan Chen), Sundance (Away From Her, The Savages), Toronto, San Sebastian and Pusan festivals. So this isn't your mama's backyard festival (re: the KL film festival).

I traveled to the festival with BERG, who was nominated for the BEST ACTOR award, and JUNNIE, an old pal. I was eager to try out the local food, and generally, was not disappointed. the pizza was good, the gelati better, and the coffee, OMG, the coffee in Turin was... I don't know how to say it. if all you've had is starbucks' lame excuse for lattes/ cappucinos, then the coffee in Turin is just mind blowing. i am no coffee aficionado, but darn if they didn't make a killer cup. I drank it for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between glasses of wine, beer and other liquors (one of the perks of attending film festivals is the abundance of wine /beer "parties").

Ok, back to the festival - I try to watch at least 2 films a day. After the first 3-4 competition films, I feel pretty good about my chances. Then i watch the Cannes films, and feel less confident. Garage, an Irish film, is about this simpleton man who works in a gas station. Water Lilies is a coming of age pseudo lesbian movie, which my friend Junnie (who visited me from London) says will win on account of its subject matter. Junnie says 'Everyone likes a lesbian movie. Both straight men and gay women will vote for it. You have no chance Ming Jin'. Junnie is a doctor.

Which brings us to the jury members. in each festival, a panel of independent jurors are invited to select the "winners". In this fest, the jurors are some of my favorite filmmakers - ANDRE TECHINE, the French master whose RENDEZVOUS, and MY FAVORITE SEASON were early favorites of mine (I wrote a student paper on My Favorite Season, which stars Catherine Deneuve). Also on the jury- AKI KAURISMAKI, the perennially drunk and entertaining filmmaker whose THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST is somewhat of a modern classic.

One of the highlights of the festival for me was watching Aki sitting in front of the hotel on the sidewalk like a drunk holding a bottle of beer. My friend Junnie mistook him for a homeless person and refused to believe he was a renown director of films. I regret not taking a picture of this encounter, but at that moment thought it to be disrespectful... oh well.

To be honest, while writing THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA, i watched and rewatched THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST. ANDRE TECHINE was also a huge early influence. During the entire production period, while i tried to be "original", i thought of films from Hong Sang Soo, Trauffaut, Kim Ki Duk (whose 3 Iron i liked), Jia Jangke. But in all the reviews/writings of ELEPHANT, one filmmaker is mentioned repeatedly: TSAI MING LIANG. I am of course a big fan of his work (THE RIVER is my fav), and do not mind being compared to him. In fact, I think the comparison has helped me. But the truth is, when i first began making short films in the US as a student, a few people told me "Your film reminds me of Tsai Ming Liang". My response then :"Who is Tsai Ming Liang?" Then i saw WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? and understood. Growing up, films like 400 BLOWS, JULES AND JIM, definitely sharpened my cinematic eye. There is a scene in WHAT TIME IS IT THERE, where Lee Kang Shang pees in a bottle in his room because he was afraid of going out, that scene blew me away! When i was young and afraid of ghosts that was exactly what i did. I peed in a bottle in my room. If there was no bottle, i peed on the floor. Of course I can no longer put that in any of my films now... Tsai Ming Liang is the master and i am not.

So yes, I have to wrap this up. The festival, yes, the festival. We watched films, we partied and drank, we had lunches with other filmmakers, we chatted with programmers, audience members (our Q&A session was unmemorable as it was cut short), and mostly we hung out in Turin. There were a few European star sightings, but none worth mentioning.

By the last day, the award ceremony day, Junnie my pal had already hammered the fact that I was not going to win, since my film had no lesbian scenes. There were only 2 prizes awarded: the BEST FILM award, and the SPECIAL JURY PRIZE, essentially the second place award. there was also an audience choice award, screenwriter award and fipresci award, but those were not determined by the jury but by other panels.

The award ceremony. My thoughts were: if watching Aki's film while writing mine wasn't going to pay off now, nothing will.

To be honest I do not know if Aki liked my film. He may not have. I do not actually know for sure if he actually saw it since i did not have a chance to talk to him.

But, THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA emerged as the winner of the SPECIAL JURY PRIZE, second place, the silver medal. Even though Junnie's mantra was "If you're not first, you're last", i was happy to be second, and i think the winning film GARAGE, deserved its award.

Berg and I went up the stage, i gave my usual lame speech, since i was nervous as hell, and about a dozen photographers took photos. After the ceremony we saw the closing film EASTERN PROMISES by David Cronenberg, which i liked, and then attended the closing party where we had more wine, champagne and weird italian deserts...

BERG however, did not win BEST ACTOR (the award went to a Korean in a weepy melodrama). He blamed me for giving him a role 'with no emotional expression, and little dialogue'. I promise Berg a meatier role the next time around.

The good news is after the award, a couple of people expressed interest in the film, and one Italian distributed sounded very enthusiastic about showing it in Italy (although this does not mean anything-yet). All in all, the response to the film was generally positive. In each screening, while the majority of the audience i suspect found the film tedious, there will always be a small group of people who become passionate fans. they seek us out, corner us in the theaters or party, and try to start a conversation.

And here's the icing: the award comes with a cash prize. Sweet.

The view from my hotel room.