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Sunday, December 31, 2017

Notes from the 22nd International Film Festival of Kerala

The year is about to end, before it does I want to write about the International Film Festival of Kerala, which happened from Dec 8 to Dec 15, 2017 (I was there from Dec 7 to Dec 16, stayed throughout the duration of the festival). AQÉRAT was having its Indian premiere at the festival, as an opening film of its brand new section, Uprooted: Films on Identity & Space, which are mostly films about refugees, displacement and search for identity.

The last time I ever been to India was 2007, so it took ten years to revisit the country. And Trivandrum, the city where the festival was held, was both familiar (reminds me of certain places in Malaysia) and not (the amazing audiences, the passion people have for cinema, it's one of a kind)

Each screening venue were huge auditoriums or theatres with a capacity of more than 800 people, with some of them seemingly meant for thousand over audiences. And having attended many screenings at the festival, it was amazing to see that the screenings were usually full, whether it was a 9am screening, regardless of the film, be it an arthouse film or a local Bollywood blockbuster, or an indie Malayalam film... or even my film. There would always be a long queue. And during Q and A, audiences would ask highly thoughtful and educated questions about the film. It was said that cinema is embedded within the blood of everyone there, from what I saw, I can't argue with that.

Aside from films, I also had a Tokyo Film Fest reunion with director Semih Kaplanoglu! (His new film "Grain" won the Grand Prix at Tokyo, while his previous film Honey was the Golden Bear winner at the Berlin Film Fest in 2010), having been too busy during the Tokyo Film Fest, it was great to finally catch his film in Kerala.

Aside from reunion with old friends, I also got to make new friends!

I even get to meet Alexander Sokurov, one of my heroes! He was there to pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award. Many thanks to the festival for doing a Sokurov retrospective, and a talk session with him.

List the films I saw in the festival.

1) The Insult (dir: Ziad Doueiri) (opening film)
- This is when I experience the Kerala Film Fest crowd response for the very first time. People cheering, whistling and clapping their hands during moments in the film. Triumphant moments, when protagonists finally choose to do something decent, or a withering one-liner comeback, etc. A film about reconciliation of historical pain.

2) Sweet Country (dir: Warwick Thornton)
- For some reason, as I sat through this film, I was reminded of John Hillcoat's The Proposition, which I saw in 2005 at the Luna Theater in Fremantle. I was still studying in Perth, and naturally I was curious about the state of Australian cinema. I made a point to catch a few films in the cinema, but The Proposition left the deepest impression.

3) Angels Wear White (dir: Vivian Qu)
- I was vacationing in China last month when the film had its theatrical release. Although there were three multiplexes close to my hotel in Xiamen, none of them were showing this film. I'm glad to catch it. Teenage actress Wen Qi is exceptional!

4) Grain (dir: Semih Kaplanoglu)
- Semih's famous Yusuf trilogy consisted of the films, "Egg", "Milk" and "Honey". "Grain", however, has nothing to do with the trilogy, it's a scifi meditation on survival.

5) 120 BPM (dir: Robin Campillo)
- That soundtrack of this film by Arnaud Rebotini!!! Normally when one tells you that they "liked the soundtrack" of your film, most probably they have nothing else to say about the film, so I have to dispel it. I do think the film's great, there were moments in it so awesome in its visual flair. But that music just stayed in my head. Wish I had done the protest scenes in River of Exploding Durians with that much verve and energy.

6) Two Persons (dir: Prem Shankar)
- A Malayalam film in competition. Set in one night, a man meets a woman, a nocturnal journey, they discuss about love, life and things that trouble them.

7) Loveless (dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev)
- Yes, it's amazing. And I'm so glad the film had a theatrical release in Malaysia. There's a scene in AQÉRAT which was actually a homage to Zvyagintsev's previous film Leviathan ;)

8) Call Me By Your Name (dir: Luca Guadagnino)
- Loved Guadagnino's "I Am Love", which I had constantly revisited. This one's actually more restrained and subtle, yet it lingers, like its song.

9) Newton (dir: Amit V Masurkar)
- India's submission to the Oscars. A rousing, crowd-pleasing film, which, again, had audiences cheering and clapping hands during certain moments and lines of the film.

10) Let The Sunshine In (dir: Claire Denis)
- My biggest regret was being too shy to say hello to Claire Denis when I saw her at the Jeonju International Film Festival in 2011.

11) A Fantastic Woman (dir: Sebastian Lelio)
- Caught this on the last day of the festival. It was a morning screening, I woke up, I saw the Oscar's shortlist for Best Foreign Film. Among the 9 films, 2 I saw at the festival (Loveless and The Insult), so I needed to make it 3 instead. It was worth it.

12) Wajib (dir: Annemarie Jacir) (Golden Crow Pheasant Award winning film/ closing film)
- Guy in returns to Nazareth from Rome to help his father hand deliver his sister's wedding invitation. Set entirely in one day, father and son road movie, cultural clashes (Palestinians abroad vs Palestinians at home), very universal.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Video recap of AQERAT at Tokyo International Film Festival

I am now waiting to fly off to India for the Kerala International Film Festival. I haven't been to India for 10 years, so I'm quite excited. I have to say that my previous trip was a memorable one. It was a month, I went to cities like Bangalore, New Delhi, and then going to places like Varanasi, Bodh Gaya etc. to make my pilgrimage. I was traveling with a Tibetan Rinpoche and a lama, I experienced the country in many different ways, from its beauty to its horrors, with images that seared into my mind until now. 10 years ago, I went to India, and after that, to Chile, I was 23. it was 2007. That was the year I met Woo Ming Jin and started a decade of collaboration, that was a year before I continued my studies in 2008. It cannot believe it's already been 10 years even though it did feel like a lifetime ago.

But before India, I would like to share with you all a video recap painstakingly shot by TK Cheng, Aqérat's line producer, assistant director, production designer (yes, he does many things). Throughout the trip in Tokyo Film Fest he had been carrying his camera taking photos, shooting videos, and this then, is a result of his hard work. Just to help us remember. Where would I be 10 years from now if I were to revisit this video again? Just like how I reminisce about my India and Chile trip from 2007? (The Chilean trip, in fact, was written extensively in this blog, it was the first ever film festival I attended as a producer, and it left a deep impression, footages I shot on my DV camcorder during the Indian trip, however, was used to edit a video essay called FLEETING IMAGES.)

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Memorable November

This journal has existed since 2004, witnessing my days as a university student in Perth with dreams of filmmaking to the actual embarkation of my filmmaking journey. And thus it has witnessed many of my adventures and greatest triumphs, from my student short films in Murdoch during 2006 to directing a Japanese short film, KINGYO, that got into Venice Film Festival in 2009 to writing and producing Woo Ming Jin's TIGER FACTORY that got invited to the Director's Fortnight at Cannes Film Fest in 2010, and then winning the Sonje Award for Best Asian Short Film the same year at Busan Film Fest with another short film, INHALATION.

There are a lot of ups and downs, though I'm sure I don't really write the downs that much.

Exactly a month ago, November 3rd 2017, I received an award for Best Director at the Tokyo International Film Festival, for my latest film AQÉRAT (We, The Dead). My lead actress Daphne Low, who had worked with me since 2013 for the short film FLOATING SUN and then RIVER OF EXPLODING DURIANS, she received the festival's inaugural Tokyo Gemstone Award, which was for rising stars. That was her first ever award as an actress too!

Since then, the outpouring of congratulations, media coverage etc had been overwhelming.

As I stood on the stage then, it was difficult not to be emotional, firstly because I am aware of the film festival's history, and in 30 years of its history, many film greats had been recognized by the film festival, like Edward Yang and his Brighter Summer Day winning the Special Jury Award in 1991, while the Best Director award in the festival had won by filmmakers like Alan Parker, Yim Ho, Reza Mirkarimi, Guy Ritchie, Taylor Hackford, Ruben Ostlund, Alejandro Innaritu, Wu Tian-Ming, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the Safdie Brothers... to be mentioned with these greats is unbelievable, especially when I try to remember where I was when I saw the films they won their awards for. (Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris won for 'Little Miss Sunshine', which harkened memories of my Perth days when I would go alone to the Luna Palace Cinemas in Fremantle, which specializes in arthouse films, with 'Little Miss Sunshine' being one of the films I saw then)

Then I thought of everyone who were part of my journey, from past to present, from Perth to Tokyo to back in Malaysia, teachers, mentors, comrades, companions who were involved in all my films, and I realized how fortunate I was that I have always met the right people who had helped me make worthy films that strengthened my belief in what I've been doing (well, there are some not-so-right people too, but they were rare, and they existed only as cautionary tales... or sources of irritation), with friendship that managed to endure. The connection I share with other people through film is one I cherish immensely, since being in love with cinema was such a lonely thing to do while I was growing up.

I remember in 2004 when I had a camcorder and I wanted to make a short film and one person decided to join me in this crazy quest. Here's to you, Justin. For being my best pal in Perth where we talked about films and literature, and for introducing people of J-Lit like Yukio Mishima, Yasunari Kawabata, Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki etc. to me. So glad I got to meet up and celebrate with you a few days after the award ceremony.

So, November ended, and Facebook prompted me to remember what happened in the previous month. (after the Tokyo International Film Festival, I went off to become a surprise jury member at the Digicon6Asia a few days after, a surprise that surprised even myself)

It also reminded me of my 10-year friendship with Lesly the Cinematographer, who had been mentioned quite a few times here, having shot my short films like CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, LOVE SUICIDES, AFTERNOON RIVER, NOW, FLOATING SUN, LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL and finally AQERAT.

I'm afraid of making this post too self-congratulatory. Winning the award makes me grateful, and very humbling, but I still have to remember that I have half of a new film waiting for me to finish! And another new project I'm developing a story for!