Monday, March 21, 2011

Tuan Hong and Alex Moscato interview

Tuan Hong and Alex Moscato are two Tokyo based film-makers. They began their career with the short film My Ex-Girlfriend's TV, about a guy struggling to get rid of said household appliance, post-break up. They have just finished Use Your Delusion, which is their first feature length film.

Film in Japan:What is Use Your Delusion about?

Alex Moscato: UYD is a dark comedy about the exploits of four foreigner Karaoke contestants ridden with delusions of grandeur and split personality disorder. The camera documents their trials and absurdities as they participate in the Kings of Karaoke competition held in Tokyo, Japan. The audience is taken behind the scenes, into their video blogs, and right into the heart of the drama where our contestants ultimately learn that the true path to becoming the king is not by destroying one’s opponent, but by defeating oneself.

Tuan Hong: The film mainly follows Lugnut, a guy who is so deep into his delusions that he believes he is Axl Rose as well as a living God. He is defending his title as the reigning karaoke champion. His opposition is Virginia, an ex-childhood star turned lawyer who becomes obsessed trying to expose him for just being a regular guy. The other two contestants are Friggy Fresh, a struggling hip hop artist hoping to build a fan base and Travis McDane, who longs to reunite with his ex-band, Scrotus and win their acceptance. The film deals with themes of celebrity culture, identity crisis, and of course, delusion.

FIJ: Where did you get the idea for UYD?

AM: Believe it or not it was based on a hilarious karaoke performance of Hungry like a Wolf [by Duran Duran]. The performance was so funny we just had to write a script. Little had we known at the time what magnitude and depth the script would take on. It really makes us see how any event in one’s life no matter how insignificant it seems at the time, has the potential to grow into an experience of a lifetime.

TH: From the beginning we wanted larger than life characters battling it out in a karaoke tournament. Outlandish karaoke performances and the eccentricities of popular musicians were the main source of inspiration.

FIJ: The film treads a line between comedy and social commentary, how would you classify UYD?

TH: I think it's pretty difficult to pin down UYD. The film really grew organically and as it did it and we had to continually steer the film back to the original intention and themes of the film.

AM: We wanted to make something with depth that was also entertaining and fun. When you watch tabloid coverage of some celebrity scandal you are only dealing with the entertainment aspect of it. And the typical response to it is a reactive knee jerk judgment on how immoral the celebrity is.

So we wanted to turn this on its head and show that we, the viewer, share more in common with the very celebrities whose downfall we revel in. So we created characters who weren’t famous, but acted as if they were. We gave them all of the same quirks and eccentricities. But when watching normal people act as if they were famous makes the entire thing look quite absurd. The result was a hilarious movie that strives to show the audiences the delusions that we all share in society as a whole.

FIJ: How did you find the actors, and how large a team did you have?

AM: The main actors are our close friends. And what makes this movie so unique was that the actors were an integral part of the creative process. They designed their own wardrobe and were a large part in creating their own character. In fact, an inspired monologue in front of the camera had the potential to take the movie in an entirely different direction never conceived before at the time.
TH: The result is four very unique independent perspectives that were brought together by Alex and myself through the editing process and the graphical and artistic look of the film.

FIJ: UYD pokes fun at ex-pats and their cultural mishaps, does any of your own experience come into the film? Are any of the characters exaggerated incarnations of people you've met in Japan?

TH: Living in Japan we come across a lot of foreign guys who come here, receive a lot of attention and let their egos get out of control often leading to self destruction. Some of the ex-pats out in Tokyo strut around like celebrities and completely change how they dress and behave from how they were back in their home country. Tokyo really gives you that liberty to start again with a clean slate and people’s egos do take over.

AM: We saw the humor and the irony in this. It just seemed so absurd. So yes, this was definitely a big influence on how we developed the characters.

FIJ: The film was made on a small budget. What were the challenges of this and what ways did you find to cut corners?

AM: Like many independent films, people contribute out of the love of creating and being part of a film. And what I think is most important when you ask someone for help is to express your enthusiasm and love of the project. That enthusiasm is contagious. And you’d be surprised how many people would want to help you if you just ask. For example, a friend was kind enough to take us up in a Cessna [an airplane] for free so that we could get aerial shots of Tokyo. Another friend, who is a very high profile producer, agreed to compose the theme songs for the characters for free.
So I don’t think the phrase, cutting corners is appropriate. It wasn’t the type of movie where you had to make the most of whatever money you could scrounge from the investors. The movie was conceived from the beginning as getting people together who wanted to share their talents and express themselves. So I guess there were no corners to cut.

TH: Well, we had to stretch the money we had on mainly the locations for the scripted scenes. The majority of the budget went into a multi-staged studio that happened to have a lot of ready-made sets that were suitable for the film. The main karaoke room for the competition took up most of the rest of the budget, it was filmed in the biggest karaoke room of it’s kind in Japan, or so that’s what they claim.

FIJ: The mockumentary style works really well, why did you decide to take this route?

TH: We’d put the actors in front of the camera and have them talk. We used this to help develop their characters and some of their spontaneous monologues turned out to be so dynamic and entertaining, we realized that this was the best way to bring out the depth of the movie. Also, when we filmed the more rigid scripted scenes, something felt stale about it.

AM: We were filming a movie about eccentric people. And we felt the best way to film their absurd eccentricities was to put them in situations where they were free to act completely unexpectedly. Of course this posed a real challenge to the writing and editing. But the result was well worth it.

FIJ: The film features, in its story and the way it's told, lots of social media, "koktv", Facebook, etc. What significance does this have?

TH: The film took over two years to make and in this time we saw how fast the world around us was changing, especially with the impact of the social media. Due to the organic nature of the making of the film, we felt it was essential to include in the narrative.

AM: Our movie is essentially about identity crisis. And as we witness global recession, war, regime change and social upheaval, one cannot help but see that the world is going through a global identity crisis right now. And with the rise of the internet, even traditional media is going through an identity crisis. People, who are increasingly growing skeptical of TV news are turning to the internet and reading blogs of citizen reporters. People download music and film these days instead of buying DVDs or CDs. So in response to all of this, traditional media is trying to branch out into the internet in order to reclaim its subscribers. And the result is a modern media that doesn’t quite know how to define itself as being either new media or old media. It seems stuck in a form of purgatory between heaven and hell trying to atone for its sins of the past, metaphorically. And this is epitomized in our movie in the character Phil Dutton, a famous music producer, who in reaction to plummeting CD sales decides to air the Kings of Karaoke tournament through streaming video.

On the other side there are many musicians and artists who felt excluded from the major production companies who are turning to the Internet to promote themselves. And this is depicted in our movie through the character Friggy Fresh who shamelessly promotes himself through social media and his video blog throughout the movie. His character was influenced by the fact that we see how the power of the internet gives rise to individual voices can be a double edged sword. The internet can be used for self-expression or to rage out against wrongs committed by society, which we see as a powerful productive force. But at the same time it promotes narcissism. Everybody is documenting their lives and promoting themselves to their fans. They are embracing the new media, but seem to be manifesting the ideals of the old media. And this works perfectly with the theme of our movie which focuses on normal people who act like celebrities.

FIJ: This being your first feature, how did you find the transition from making shorts? Did you have to adapt your style?

TH: There were a few difficulties we ran into with making a full feature. The first is dealing with the pace and flow of the film. With the shorts, we had to be really concise with our shots and I was more comfortable with that. With the scenes in UYD they really took a life of their own and I found it difficult to regulate the flow of the film. There was also the problem with the information and how it was presented, a lot happens in the film and with so many major characters it was deceiving to us as we were familiar with the plot, we were too immersed in the film and had difficulty seeing it through fresh eyes.

AM: The fact that we hadn’t made a feature before ironically made it possible for us to make one under our current circumstances at the time. We had no money. Just an idea and a small talented crew. We were extremely idealistic.

I think many people get discouraged when they go through the logistical details of what making a movie actually entails. The money, the locations, the equipment, the time, the organization… And it’s a shame. Cause a lot of talented people with dreams and ambitions of creating something never end up taking the chance to just do it.

We didn’t have the resources to make a feature. But eventually we decided to put our fears to the side. We didn’t know how it would all come together. We just knew that somehow it would work out. And I think it was that mentality that allowed us to secure a lot of great talent and a lot of people who wanted to contribute to making a great film.

FIJ: What challenges, or benefits, came from being a foreign film maker working in Japan?

TH: The obvious hindrance is the language problem, it made it difficult for us to find and seal locations and it raised problems with working with the Japanese actors. Due to the language barrier it was difficult to explain script points and to give them exact directions. A major plus would be Tokyo itself. It's such a vibrant place, we really wanted to show the city to the audience. Showing the locals thoughts and feelings and interacting with the characters also fleshed out the feel of the city. However Tokyo is a really noisy place, there are trucks with loudspeakers blaring, Cicadas in the summer buzzing, and masses of people and traffic bustling about. The sound was an absolute nightmare.

AM: Japan is radically different to anything we’ve experienced in western culture. Things that are strange to us are normal to them and vice versa. We come from a culture that glorifies and encourages one to stand out, while in Japan they encourage one to blend into the community. There is a real sense of beauty and dysfunction to both ways of life. And that really comes through in our characters. They are characters who strive to stand out and seek attention. But we don’t take a one sided stance on it, neither demonizing nor glorifying it. We show the absurdity as well as the humanity in it. And we leave the audience to judge. We ask what it means to be normal, and question where that drive comes from to not want to be normal.

And the beauty of shooting a movie about identity crisis in Japan is that it really is a strange and intriguing country to the foreign observer. There is something so alien yet intriguing about Tokyo. And once you get past all of the quirkiness that surrounds you, there is a real sense of humanity beneath it. These are the very qualities we wanted to instill in our characters.

FIJ: Has the reaction varied between the different audiences you've shown it to?

TH: The foreigners living or that have lived in Japan are the ones that can really get all the small cultural differences. Of course the Japanese audience had difficulties as we have yet to subtitle it to Japanese and the humour is mainly dialogue based and is generally aimed at a Western audience. The audience in New York actually felt rather awkward with some of the humour concerning the cultural differences. Overall though the reaction has been really positive and as we have gone on making changes the response to the pacing and plot comprehension has really improved.

AM: As filmmakers it is very hard to distance yourself from what you make. So to be honest, we had no idea how people would react to the movie. It’s also a movie that switches from dry humor, to goofy, to dark. So we had no idea how the audience would take this. First we were wondering if the humor was either too dry, cryptic or absurd. Then we wondered if the darker scenes would put people off. But when we saw that people were laughing all the way through we realized that we made something entertaining. As for the darker scenes in the movie people loved the acting and others debated the character’s mental health. So it was then that we realized we had made something engaging. To connect with the audience on that level gave us such a feeling of satisfaction and galvanized us to promote the film.

On another note, we also noticed that people tend to identify with one of the four characters. I think this is because the four characters are so different from each other. It is a movie that can be understood from different vantage points. And people felt such a liking or an aversion to specific characters that the way they talked about them resembled coworkers gossiping about other coworkers around the office water cooler. Something that made me laugh.

FIJ: What filmmakers do you admire and what has influenced your work?

TH: We watched many mockumentaries, comedies, documentaries and TV shows like American Idol in the process of making the film and I think the main influences for this film would be Best in Show, Anvil, and Hard Core Logo. Best in Show was the basis, Anvil was discovered in the middle of the film and coincidently it had several similarities to our film. I just found out recently that the process Christopher [Guest] took to make Best in Show was rather similar to ours. Apparently, he filmed over 60 hours of footage of the main characters just talking in front of the camera then it took him 6 months to edit it down which is way over the average in Hollywood. We discovered Hard Core Logo towards the end and I think this influenced in bringing out the depth and dark side to the film. Personally, I admire many filmmakers, but the ones who have inspired me with this project would be Christopher Guest, Woody Allen and Darren Aronfsky.

AM: Our first influence was actually the TV show American Idol. We were awed by all of those crazed fans and the desperation of the contestants and the sensationalism of the entire event in it’s graphics, montages and editing. We knew we wanted to spoof this. And as we worked on the movie we watched a lot of mockumentaries. One of the first mockumentaries we saw was Best In Show. Our movie revolves around four characters as does Christopher Guest’s film. So just watching how he wove the interviews of the four pairs of contestants helped us a lot in understanding how to pace a movie with so many characters. Another film we watched was Anvil. Even though this movie was actually a documentary, it could have been a mockumentary. These characters were goofy and over the top, but there was a real humanity to them. And that is what struck us about the movie. Cause at first, we felt that our characters weren’t likable enough. And watching how in Anvil these characters that would be so easy to hate, you just couldn’t help but fall in love with them. So we wanted to really bring out the humanity in our characters in UYD as well. And I’d say that the last film that really influenced us was Hardcore Logo. We loved how it was dark and arty, but didn’t feel like an art film. There was nothing pretentious to it. And actually on one of the last cuts of our film, we explored the darker sides of the characters more and gave it more of an artistic feel in certain parts of the film.

FIJ: Do you have anything new in the pipeline?

TH: It's been a real journey making the film and for now I would like to focus on getting the film in festivals and on the distribution side of the industry. The writer Haruki Murakami said that writing a novel is very rewarding but it takes a lot out of him and he feels that writing short stories revitalizes him and sparks ideas that could develop into future novels. I feel very much the same way after finishing this film and would love to make some more shorts and music videos before delving again into a full feature. But if the right idea emerges, I'll go with the flow.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Yoshihiro Nishimura Interview

Yoshihiro Nishimura is a director who specializes in all things gory. He began as a special effects artist and is now a director. His films are produced and distributed by Sushi Typhoon a company that specializes in marketing extreme Japanese films to a foreign audience. He is most well know for Tokyo Gore Police. Film in Japan had a chat with him about his newest film Hell Driver.

Translated by Adam Higgins

FIJ - Could you explain a little bit about how Hell Driver please?

N - After making ‘Tokyo Police’ the producer Shiba was keen to make a zombie film. This time Shiba asked me to make a movie involving a high school girl driving a car and wiping out zombies. So, I started thinking of the story. But, that’s basically how it began.

There aren’t many zombie films in Japan. Because, we burn the dead before burial. That was a problem, so I thought it would be better if, all at once, half of Japan became zombies instead. I wanted to have fun with it. For instance, when you cut off a zombies arm it still moves, doesn’t it? Only if you blow off the head will it stop moving. That’s why I had the zombie car and the zombie plane etc.

FIJ - Did you film in Yubari (a place in Hokkaido)?

N - I wanted to, but we didn’t get enough for that. I tried to find places that were similar to Hokkaido. In the end we shot most of in Yamanashi Prefecture, at one point you can see Mt Fuji in the background.

FIJ - How did you get interested in film? Was there one film you saw that you thought “ah”, I want to be a film director?

N - Well, from the beginning I was making independent films myself. At that time I did all of the special make up myself. While doing that I met Shion. He was also making independent films. Around that time I started getting lots of work - enough to make a living. But, as for being a director, despite making films in the past, I didn’t have much determination. I liked films as an elementary school student. I made my first independent film in junior high.

FIJ - How have technological advances affected your film making?

N - A turning point was when Shion at Sea Side Club made a commercial film for the first time. I did all the art and we got paid. We were in a position where we could advance things in the arts department. So, it was a very important turning point.

FIJ - The film makes really inventive use of special effects. I liked the 3 chainsaws and the zombie with the knife and fork. Do you ever have an idea that just turns out to be completely impossible?

N - Yeah loads! In ‘Hell Driver’ there was a zombie car, right? Smashing all the zombies out of the way and the zombies roar chasing after it. But actually I wanted to have the zombies on a zombie kick board then into a zombie bike then into a zombie car - lots more zombies. But that wasn’t possible. There were only two weeks left.

FIJ - You have an idea in your head. You are the writer, costume designer and director. How does it go from your head to the screen? What’s the process?

N - At the Ueno standing bar I drink Hoppy [Japanese beer] in the afternoon. You know it? While drinking I make designs. I go home drink ulong hai and design. Then next morning I don’t drink and I write a clean draft. Right? In the afternoon I design for other films without drinking. After designing a character I think about how they will move. How will the story work? What will happen? It starts to turn into a script. Occasionally I get inspiration from the Ueno bar.

FIJ - It’s an important place!

N - It’s a very important place. Then I’ll get out my red pen and go “no no no” for two weeks until I get a story board in place. ‘Hell Drivers’ story board was 2,500 or 3,000 cuts. It looks like this. (gestures several inches with his hands). The fact is it becomes something completely different from the written version. I make it all up to break it back down - rewrite it.

FIJ - Cool process!

N - Hoppy is an important ingredient.

FIJ - How did you find the actors and actresses? I liked the zombie queen she was very cool and sexy?

N - Do you know Audition? Miike? She’s from Audition. We did an audition, but not like Audition.

FIJ - What horror directors have influenced you or do you appreciate?

N - The fact is I love horror movies, but I also like other movies like Star Wars, Blade Runner. But the most influential director for me would be David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky the director of Holy Mountain were definitely influential, but I find the stories confusing. (laughs). So, I put in something else.

FIJ - So ‘Sushi Typhoon’ the distribution company you use is generally for foreign audiences. When you make a film do you gear it towards foreign audiences? If so how?

N - I don’t think about that too much. I was raised in Asakusa. Do you know it? There are many foreigners there, right? They come to see the temples and things. As a young child I remember the souvenir shops where they would go vividly. It was always easy for me to see foreign reactions, and so I feel that perhaps I am used to many different types of ways to reacting to things.

FIJ - Do Japanese and foreign audiences react differently to your films?

N - Clearly (laughs). Foreign audiences cheer “waah” but Japanese audiences are more like “haa”.

FIJ - So, which is better?

N - I like both. But, I like to be praised so… I like the foreign response.

FIJ -You have done many styles; zombies, vampires. So what’s next?

N - I’m doing a lot now, but I think next I’d like to do something with a bit less blood, like an action comedy. With ‘Hell Driver’ I wanted there to be so much blood that I’d almost exhaust myself for a following blood filled film. Next, will be something different. I love ramen. Eat it almost every day. So, I’d like to do an action comedy involving ramen. Tanpopo action comedy or something.

FIJ - Sounds interesting. I’d like to go see it. Lastly, Yubari isn’t very famous overseas could you talk about it a bit, and give us your thoughts on it?

N - Yubari was a film festival based on the Average Fantastic Film Festival. They wanted to imitate it in the snow on the top of a mountain. Yubari is a small place, people know one another, so they would all gather together as friends and watch films.

Do you know Katsuo Shintaro [Shintaro famously had a cocaine addiction that was a very big scandal in Japan] from Zaitoichi? He made a great comment: “I don’t need drugs I’ll just breathe in the white Yubari snow and watch films!”

Okinawa Film Festival 2011

The Okinawa Film Festival is less a film festival, and more a multi-media extravaganza. Run by the Japanese talent agency Yoshimoto, it features films, of course, but also live music, comedy, dance, and basically a little bit of everything. It is held on the main island of Okinawa on the outskirts of Naha city in the convention center. The center-piece is the beach stage, where visitors are entertained by famous comedians, live musicians and local dance troupes on a nearly permanent rotation. This year the weather wasn't perfect, to say the least, and was overcast for the duration. But, it didn't dampen spirits or distract the crowds too much.

In the wake of the recent tragedy in the Tohoku region of Japan it was touch and go as to whether the event would even be held at all. Yoshimoto decided that it would go ahead but turned the festival into a giant fundraiser which drew in a massive 10,949,189 yen in donations for the Japanese Red Cross. All around the event celebrities were shaking donation boxes, and selling charity T-shirts. The incredibly popular girl group AKB48 flew in to perform there latest song and then gave fans the chance to meet them and donate some money. It had queues of desperate fans lining up round the block and was the most attended event of the festival with around 30,000 onlookers. The President of Yoshimoto Mr Osaki, remembering the Kobe earthquake in the '90s explained, "Fifteen years ago in Osaka the Yoshimoto company experienced the earthquake and we struggled to cope. This time I wanted to do everything I could to push forward. I feel every employee, every performer wanted to push forward too."

The festival's original theme, "Laugh and Peace" expanded this year to become, "Yell, Laugh, and Peace". In the hope that the festival can serve as a shout-out of support and sympathy from the Okinawan community, and everyone involved in the film festival. Message boards that allowed people the chance to show their support to the people of Tohoku were a massive success with over 40,000 people putting pen to paper. These, along with personal messages and videos from Japanese entertainers will be sent to the devastated region.

Yoshimoto themselves who will be celebrating their centenary year soon, are the undeniable champion of Japanese comedy. They have a lion's share of around ninety percent of Japanese comics on their roster, and have begun expanding beyond into sports, music, and the arts. They debuted the festival in 2009 and it has really grown in size and scope in a mere three years. Originally just a four day event, it has now been expanded to ten days of films, comedy, and music. In the selected films there is a strong Japanese presence alongside a varied international intake from America, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, India, Sweden, the UK, and Russia. Festival attendance was slightly lower than expected, attributed to the crisis in Tohoku and bad weather, but it was undeniably a successful year.

Awards wise the big winner of the festival was Hankyu Densha, a pleasant if not ground-breaking story of passengers on a train. It took home the peace category prize and the Golden Cesar Award. The Laugh category was won by the Thai film Crazy Little Thing Called Love, that gave an honest shot at emulating the Hollywood teen rom-com. In that category one of the most anticipated films was Omu Raisu, produced by Yoshimito itself, which has a rafter of Japanese comedians in it. Speaking personally, Japanese comedy can be a little hard to get sometimes, but this film with its visual gags is far more accessible to foreign audiences and has a nice sense of surreality to it. The excellent Swedish film Simple Simon about a boy with Aspergers syndrome and his brother struggling to live is a snappy film and reminiscent in spirit to Germany'sGoodbye Lenin in a sort of Euro-blockbuster way. One of the films that was generating the most buzz however, was The Mask of Moonlight a pretty bleak, and pretentious flop, that seemed completely detached from reality.

In the Peace section British writer Tony Hawks brought his amiable film Round Ireland With a Fridge, the slightly fictionalized version of his trip around the country with a small refrigerator. The Taiwanese mega-blockbuster Night Market Hero with Blue Lan and Alice Ko in the lead roles was a light-hearted romp that won over audiences..The festival also ran a series of tributes to the films of Tony Curtis and Leslie Nielsen, the first two Naked Gun's, which have got to be a must-see, and Paris When it Sizzles, and The Bad News Bear Goes to Japan (probably in the for location rather than merit) were screened. In the Naked Gun II and a 1/2 screening I went to though, the celebrity presenters didn't mention the great Nielsen once, and the audience left in droves once they had gone. Not the most fitting tribute.

A new arrival for 2011 was the Local Origination Project, a selection of films made across Japan on a local level, and was one of the most exciting parts of the line-up.The project screened films from all over Japan, Okinawa all the way up to Niigata. The films were selected on the basis that they are made by people from the localities, and offer some display of lifestyles, traditions, and feel of the region. President Osaki's logic behind this is that, " Local films have their own local legends and tales. The locals and our talents can introduce local specialties, local celebrities. Through communication we can make a film. A film that may not be for the big screen, but one to be watched in Japan or Asia, perhaps in a coffee house or a city hall. The goal is to make a network where there wasnt one before. It wont fit in with Hollywood releases, but it should show local traditions and feelings."

The finale of the festival was a fantastic event. It featured a barn-stomping performance, among many, from the famous Okinawan group BEGIN. It had the capacity crowd going wild and really captured the good spirited nature of the festival. The festival went out fittingly with a bang as an elaborate firework display sent the audience home with smiles on their faces. As a film festival it could have done with a stronger line-up of movies but as the multi-faceted crowd-pleaser it is, that didn't seem to matter to the people who turned out. It is quite remarkable to think that a talent agency can put on an event of this size on their own. In the words of President Osaki, "There can't be any other company quite like ours."

Monday, March 14, 2011

2011 Yubari Fantastic Film Festival Round Up

There is no place quite like Yubari. Tucked away in the mountains an hour away from Chitose airport the festival has a local charm that is miles away from the more commercial elements of most major festivals. It feels like literally everyone in the town chips in to make the whole thing work, as the sleepy little village is swamped with visitors who would unlikely ever pass through otherwise. It is a place where smaller independent films can come and find an audience, and get a chance to promote their work on a larger scale.

The first night there, having planned to hit a couple of screenings we were whisked away within moments of arrival to a pole-dancing event in a small room on the 3rd floor of the town community center. It was the hot ticket that night and without wanting to tread out that cliche, it really was one of those "only in Japan" moments. Film makers Yoshihiro Nishimura and Noboru Iguchi were presenting for the night, naked apart from a sumo style cloth wrapped round their nether region. It opened with a bizarre short film with a mish-mash of old TV footage and what can only be described as a very horny platypus paper-mache doll that whilst entertaining, I'm sure was flying miles over my head in the upper reaches of the Japanese humour stratosphere. This was followed by two girls bouncing on stage to do some energetic pole-dancing, and teaching the audience how to do a dance, akin to something you might see in a maid-cafe in Akihabara. What was most surprising was the reaction from an audience with some assorted dignitaries, and elderly Japanese women absolutely loving it.

Spread over three main venues with the central hub being the towns Adele Building. There is a remarkably intimate atmosphere as it seems that the percentage of film-makers, film-lovers, and curious locals are in roughly the same proportions. Everything is within walking distance and you soon begin to bump into familiar faces on the main strip. The chilly temperature is combated with staff handing out Yubari brand ear mufflers and gloves. Local eateries have people cooking food outside beckoning you over for a try.

Film-wise there were some gems in the schedule; Pink Subaru by Kazuya Ogawa was a warm, engaging film set on the Israel/Palestine border, Ashamed a Korean film about a failed romance between two girls, Shinda Gaijin (dead foreigner) a cracking short that was perfectly gauged and superbly shot by a very bright young director, Kong Pahurak from Waseda university. Of the bigger films on show there were I Saw The Devil, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, Of Gods and Men, and the Japanese premiere of Tangled. Some of the post-screening Q and A sessions were a bit flat. The questions fielded generally weren't coming from the audience, but a presenter on stage and were by and large pretty benign. One in particular with three Korean actresses that should have been a vivid lively discussion descended into tedious flattery without any insight on film. Still, this is a small aside in a largely successful event.

By far one of the best attended screenings was for Nishimura's Hell-Driver who has a sizable cult following both in Yubari, and abroad. It's a zombie film with a Japanese school-girl for a heroine, naturally. Not what I usually go for, but it was hard to not be impressed by the sheer imagination Nishimura presented; zombies with knifes and forks coming out of their face, sawed off hands attacking people, and a zombie car. The zombies have a little melon stalk popping out of their heads as a symbol for Yubari (the town is renown for its melon, probably even more so than for the festival). Nishimura really is the face of Yubari he seemed to be involved in almost everything, popping up everywhere.

The stove parties held every night outside the Adele building as the snow falls typify what Yubari is all about. Six or so furiously burning stoves warm up the revelers as people mix and mingle. Some really top notch Hokkaido food and drink is in ample supply, and free of charge. Flitting between the hubs of the stoves you can find yourself talking to some very interesting people. The openness is really refreshing, the notion of VIP status would seem like an alien concept here.

On the Sunday the closing film A Honeymoon in Hell: Mr and Mrs Oki's Fabulous Trip was unfortunately pretty awful. An interminably long, muddled mess about a trip to hell, where a pair of newly-weds smooth out some of their relationship problems. There were a few nice touches but it was unremarkable, and certainly undeserving of its climactic position on the schedule. The audience on the other hand did not seem to share my opinion on the whole, and the packed Adele auditorium did reverberate with laughter sporadically, usually coinciding with a Japanese TV celebrity cameo. However, the elder members of the screening did doze off and proceed to snore quite loudly. This was made all the more embarrassing by the fact that just a handful of seats away from the director one man's nasal passage was particularly audible.

The awards followed shortly after, and were appropriately distributed. Kazuya Ogawa's Pink Subaru deservedly took home two, the Shinega and Jury prize, both being rewarded with the sponsor Epsom's cinema projector. Violence PM received a cash prize with the Hokkaido governor award. The Gran Prix this year went to Invasion of the Alien Bikini, an inventive ambitious Korean film with a b-movie vibe, it probably won't get the biggest release but is an excellent film and I implore you to search it out. As with any Japanese ceremony it doesn't end without at least a few speeches. Unlike other notable film awards the speakers were safe in the knowledge that their addresses would not be cut short by a time-keeping orchestra, and many took full advantage of this. The festival ends in an absolutely fitting way though, as with tradition all those involved in the festival, film-makers, guests, staff, the jury and so on take to the stage for the curtain call. They are armed with an array of multi-coloured plastic balls, which they have jotted down some messages on, and after a count-down toss them into the eagerly awaiting outstretched arms of the audience.

Yubari is a strikingly unique film festival. It has a genuinely inviting and friendly atmosphere, pushing film-lovers and film-makers together. The small town, with movie posters everywhere, has masses of charm and is well worth the visit. The films are almost secondary to the sense of camaraderie it fosters in the short few days it runs. Make the trip, and bring your ski stuff as the towns Mt Racey resort has a few nice runs, and plenty of the powder that makes Hokkaido such a draw for snow-lovers.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Yves Montmayeur Interview

Yves Montmayeur is a French documentary filmmaker and film critic. His work has covered a wide-range of subjects within film. His current project is on the rise and fall of the Japanese Pink Film industry (a type of softcore pornography) that was popular from the mid-60s to the mid-80s, and he is also making documentary about the legendary Austrian film director Michael Haneke. He managed to find some time in his busy schedule at the Yubari Fantastic Film Festival for a quick chat. Yves talks about his experience while working in Hong Kong, his thoughts on documentary filmmaking and the future of Hong Kong cinema.

FIJ -What is your impression of Yubari Film Festival? It’s quite different to most festivals isn’t it?.

YM - It is. This is the second time I have come here. The first time was in 2004. They invited me because I did a film documentary on Miike Takashi. The film was called Electric Yakuza Go to Hell. And the movie was screened here with Miike Takashi. Big deal [laughs]. And at the same time they invited me as a member of the jury too. It was quite convenient because I was there, so they asked “Ah, maybe you could be a member of the Jury”. So it was an incredible experience. I loved it so much the time I spent there. After that they invited me again two years ago because I did another documentary this time on Korean cinema. It was called “The Angry Men of Korean Cinema”. But at the time I wasn’t in Japan so it was impossible to go. This time they invited me again. And this time I was making a documentary in Japan on Pink Eiga so I said Ok. I managed my time in Tokyo and came to Yubari with my documentary which you saw. But I love this festival!

FIJ -It is called “Johnnie Got his Gun”. Could you tell us a little bit about that, and what the circumstances were around making it?

YM -In fact I’ve been very concerned with Asian cinema for years. With some friends I was a critic and with a circle of film critics in France and at that time we were writing about Hong Kong Cinema. It was the early 90s and we suddenly saw that brand new generation of Hong Kong directors, with Wong Kar Wai, John Woo. I would always blast about them. And at that time I was quite focused on that brand new cinema from Hong Kong. And after some years of course the films of Johnnie To emerged. So I had the opportunity to see the Mission. I was like Wow! What is this? And I have to confess I am a big fan of Film Noir. And one of my favorite directors is Jean-Pierre Melville, the French from the 60s. . And when I saw the movie by Johnnie To. Wow! This it’s like Jean-Pierre Melville in Hong Kong you know? So I became totally interested in his movies. And after that I was in HK in 2003 I think and I had the opportunity to come on the set of Breaking News. They were so nice because they didn’t know me and they said come on the set and you could have an opportunity to have an interview. So everything started with shooting on the set of Breaking News.

FIJ -How did that opportunity come about?

YM -Yes I don’t actually remember how, but I met the first assistant for Johnnie To who was in charge of International Affairs or Sales. A very nice guy, we are still in touch. And he said, Ah okay I could arrange something on the set. So I came. Of course I didn’t have any idea I would be making a documentary on Johnnie To. I came to Hong Kong with the intention of doing many interviews with other people. And each time I was there I would try and shoot something interesting. I was quite lucky by the way because every time I came to Hong Kong there was always something to shoot. This is Johnnie, you know, he was always doing something. You know his way of working; his filming five movies at the same time and even if there was no chance to see him, then there was always an actor that I could have an interview with. So it was like a puzzle. I had many pieces; parts of interviews and images of the sets. And I thought let’s unite all these different pieces. Because I thought that I had a documentary, so let’s achieve it. I didn’t have a big budget to make this film. And as I explained to audience [after the film was shown] I am a thief. This is my way of working. [laughs]

FIJ -So how long were you working in Hong Kong for on and off?

YM -I think it was something like 8 years.

FIJ -What is your impression of Hong Kong from a filmmaker’s point of view?

YM -You know what, as a film director I have to fall in love with the city. Especially in Film Noir for example, the main character is the city. If you go back through the history of cinema: whether it is American cinema of the 70s or French cinema of the 60s and so on. It could be New York, it could be London, Paris, Hong Kong - the city is the main character. All these directors tried to catch an atmosphere or mood of the city. And it creates this unique atmosphere of Film Noir. Very good directors of Film Noir are very connected to their city. Johnnie, you can see that he is very connected to Hong Kong, like you saw in the documentary. Hong Kong is a part of his films. Immediately when you come to Hong Kong for the first time you say “wow”. The city is amazing, it is so vivid. Hong Kong reminds me, even now, of the New York from the 70s. But unfortunately this New York from the 70s doesn’t exist anymore. That’s why the American cinema of the 70s doesn’t exist anymore, because now you can’t find this atmosphere of the streets that we could find in Scorsese, Coppola, and de Palma. Now it’s a very light city. And even when they shoot in the street it looks like it’s from a studio. It’s quite artificial. But it’s not the case with Hong Kong. You can still catch an impression of the street, like many directors have done in their movies. Hong Kong is key to my work. It is because I fell in love with it that I did this documentary.

FIJ -The influential kinetic HK cinema of the '90s has been borrowed and imitated internationally since the early 2000s, making it more accessible and mainstream. Furthermore, in recent years HK has undergone a degree of political alignment with mainland China. In your opinion, how will this effect the HK film industry and what do you think this means for the future?

YM -It is very difficult to talk about the future. But there is a big crisis with the HK industry. If you make a comparison, 250 movies were being produced in the ‘80s every year. Now its maybe 30 new movies or something like that. So, you know it’s going down. Let’s not forget this was the Golden Age of HK Cinema. It was the ‘80s – so many new directors and actors. Then again, on the other hand if you consider the quality of the productions, yes there are fewer movies now but they are much more stylized. If you go into the past, all these movies were only made for a kind of choreography; just for martial arts or just for the big stars. This was nice because there were some great moments. But there were not so many interesting stories. Now it is the opposite. They are working so much on the screenplay now, sometimes maybe it is too much. You know all these brand new movies, the scripts can be too complicated sometimes [laughs]. But anyway now the story is more important than the past and of course the image is very stylized too. So that is the point that HK cinema is in crisis but the movies are stronger now. Still there are those kind of blockbusters that I am not so interested in, like in every other part of the world. But around the main industry there are many little companies who are very focused on er…we can’t say ‘auteur movies’, but much more involved in cinema, like what Milkyway Image (Johnnie To’s production company) are doing. There are some labels out there like Milkyway in Hong Kong there is hope.

FIJ -So there are some independent production companies who may be able to preserve some of the artistry and style of yesteryear?

YM -Exactly. Absolutely true. Even if they don’t have a big budget it’s not such a problem because they have much more freedom and they can sell their movies abroad. If they were to make movies just for Hong Kong it will be a problem, even for Johnnie To because there is not much of an audience for that kind of movie. But if you have a niche in France, or if you have a niche in the US and you put all these niche markets to together, you could have a real audience. This lets you finance your movie. But this is still a kind of a gamble. It works because they know that they can sell their movies to foreign audiences. Especially in mainland China, because even if there are not so many people who are interested in Johnnie To films, not so many people means [laughs] hundreds of thousands of people.

FIJ -In your film Johnnie To makes a point of saying that filmmaking in the US during the 80s began a steady decline in quality, the ‘90s are not worth talking about and that films nowadays while technically superior still have nothing to say. What are your views on American cinema?

YM -This is absolutely right. US films are very formatted, there is a formula for most films. They have no liberties. It is like you are watching the same movie. They have a sense of image but again they have nothing new to say. Sometimes if you’re going back even to the 90s, when then were some very interesting movies – we are talking about action movies – that inspired by HK and Asian movies. You know this is Hollywood. This is a big vampire, always watching the rest of the world for new ideas, a new way of making movies and remaking them. Of course they have some exceptions in the many independent directors who are doing good things. But I mean if you judge the main cinema industry in the US, its not so convincing [laughs].

FIJ -What is that you like about Johnnie To’s style?

YM -In Johnnie To’s films what I like is that kind of abstract way of filming. I love the architecture, again we are back to this idea of filming a city. It’s like between painting and architecture, it’s so visual; the idea that you don’t have to film in a frontal way. It’s always with filters, images captured in a semi-abstract way, which in the end is very stylish.

FIJ -So not a literal style?

YM -Exactly. That’s what I was talking about in my documentary; he had a great influence from Chinese painting, which was very interesting. I don’t so much like directors who shot an open space. It’s that very classical way of filming – very frontal, demonstrating. With Johnnie sometimes it’s just a character [picking at the air], some background, he catches a little detail and something happens. That’s what I love in his movies.

FIJ -And is it quite different to John Woo?

YM -Yes, John Woo is much more about fantasy. With Johnnie To it’s much more realistic. But these were two different times. When John Woo did movies, we didn’t care at that time about the realism. A character of John Woo could shoot ten bullets, maybe twenty bullets without reloading. We didn’t care at that time because it’s like a musical. A work of fantasy, and it works, it was wonderful. But at this time, with Johnnie, the audience is much more concentrated on reality. They don’t accept someone who is not motivated by something or is just shooting twenty bullets without reloading. Now the audience says ‘oh it’s impossible’. This could be a problem to get involved in the film and the narrative. So I love them both. But again it’s about different times.

FIJ -What is the key to a successful documentary for you?

YM -What I can say is, and I am referring to myself, to always keep a distance between you and your subject matter. You have to have in mind as a spectator that you have to forget about the journalist or director who is behind the camera. You have to forget that. That’s the reason why I don’t use any voiceover, any comments or whatever. Sometimes it can be quite difficult because you need to have all the information without adding some voiceover from the director. But my idea is to forget about the person who makes the documentary, forget about the idea of the documentary; you just have to jump into the world of your subject. So you have to be very anonymous. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t print your own shooting style. But it could be very subtle in your way of shooting. But again this is my advice. Try to keep a distance from your subject matter, don’t be too imprisoned. I don’t like when you see documentaries where the director is more important than his subject. [laughs] You know what I mean?

FIJ -I can think of a few. You actually went into filmmaking after being a film critic for a number of years. How did that come about and how did you get into that new world?

YM -I still love to write about cinema. I have to confess it is the most difficult thing. It is always the same nightmare, you know? Staring in front of a blank page and thinking I have to write as a critic. But I was always frustrated about one thing: How can you translate your feeling about the images of a movie with words? Of course you can write about something, but I was thinking about translating my feeling in images, from images to images. That is my way of working in documentary. I’m sure you noticed that in my film at some points. I use some images of Hong Kong and try to approach, not in a pretentious way, the style or the ideas of the director I’m working on. And maybe sometimes the audience catches a real idea of how the director works with those kind of images, more than comments or even interviews. So I love to do that. So that’s the reason why I decided to do documentaries to be closer to the filmmaker’s style; using other tools for expression my idea of the work.

FIJ -You have expressed you’re love of Johnnie To films as well as Asian cinema. As a French film-maker are you interested in European cinema?

YM -Of course many genres, many movies but I have to confess I didn’t do so much work about French cinema which is always quite paradoxical because people think ‘ah you are French so you have to be concerned about French cinema’. French cinema is very important as well. My belief is that it was important, not so much now. There are many movies but it doesn’t mean they are all interesting because that cinema was very bourgeois at that time. It would try like American cinema, try to imitate other cinemas especially Hollywood.

I told you of course that I very much like Asian cinema just because it is the most exciting nowadays; Hong Kong, Japan, even Thailand, Korea. But I am interested too in some European cinema, Australian cinema, Spanish cinema. I am always trying to be on the lookout for new things that are emerging. For example, I did a documentary on the brand new Spanish horror movies, about the brand new wave of Spanish directors; it’s called Viva La Muerte [laughs]. Just because,”wow” something suddenly happened in Spain with a real identity, something that we didn’t really know before in that kind of genre of horror movies. A little bit similar to Korean genre movies by the way. There are some little similarities between Spain and Korea. Right now I am working on a documentary on Michael Haneke, who made The White Ribbon and won the Palme d’Or at Cannes two years ago. So Michael Haneke is so different from Johnnie To. But anyway there’s a universe there, a mise en scene, ideas expressed that I am very interested in.

FIJ -A different style of filmmaking to explore?

YM -Exactly, you have to always be curious. You always have to be passionate. I can’t imagine doing a documentary on something I don’t care about, you know? Because the audience will see that too. And I am not so interested on doing something on directors who are very renown, who have so many previous documentaries made about them. So why do another one, you know?

FIJ -You aim to look at the unknown?

YM -Yes. I think it is much more exciting. And why is it exciting? Because sometimes you are discovering things while doing them; much more than when you know your subject perfectly so that there is a certain mechanism for making your documentary. You know the answers in advance. So it’s not stimulating. You have to sometimes be lost in it because you are much more focused on this brand new matter.

It’s the reason why sometimes – I don’t want to be pretentious about this – but you know you are not in a classical narrative when you are doing a documentary. You are between documentary and feature. And in features sometimes even you don’t know where you are going. You have your way of shooting and through that it brings something new.

FIJ -Talking about features, what is your take on fiction? Would you ever consider making a feature film?

YM -[laughs] You know, it’s funny because I have any friends in France who are directing feature films. Maybe you know Pascal Logiers, he did Martyrs. And another one is Christophe Gantz. The problem is, I saw all these guys because they are my friends and it is such a complicated thing to make a movie. So I said ‘Wow, they spent so much time, maybe five years on making a movie’. Maybe that’s the problem, in that I was so close to them and I saw so many problems when trying to make a feature film. Woah, woah, I prefer to do maybe five documentaries in the same time it takes them to make one feature [laughs].

FIJ -Nearly one a year.

YM -Yes, and at the same time I’m working on a TV program, doing extras for DVDs, that kind of thing. I’m a filming machine. [laughs] But now I’m getting older so it’s so tough to do a feature. Sometimes people in audience ask me afterwards ‘When will you do a real movie?’ A REAL movie? Does that mean documentaries are not real? Anyway I love documentaries so much. Mainly because you have the opportunity to meet people, not only your subject or your directors, but even common people. There are so many exchanges with people. It’s very rich. It’s very…I love that, I love that kind of exchange you can have in documentary.

Shot simultaneously while the director was making a documentary on Hong Kong-based cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Johnnie To Got His Gun, provides a comprehensive view of the working methods of Hong Kong director. It takes us behind the scenes of a number of To’s films, giving us interviews with his charismatic collaborators as well as plenty of insightful thoughts from the man himself. Some ‘making of’ scenes are later compared with how they appear in the film, allowing us to appreciate the talents of its maker. An excellent documentary, that explores the practices of one of Hong Kong’s great contemporary filmmakers.

Interview by Kenjo McCurtain

Friday, March 4, 2011

Hong Kong International Film Festival 2011 - March 20th - April 4th

The 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival rolls in to town for over a fortnight jam-packed with top-quality films. With screens all over the city, it’s going to be a good couple of weeks for Hong Kong cinephiles. The line-up is as exciting as it is varied, and really is the definition of international, with entrants from just about everywhere. The pick of the crop from this year’s festival circuit is on display, along with a wealth of local produce. Fittingly, it opens with the world premiere of Jonnie To's rom-com Don't Go Breaking My Heart and the HKIFF funded Quattro Hong Kong 2. In amongst the cutting edge of contemporary cinema there are some enticing retrospectives to indulge with, and a chance to catch up on some of the Asian Film Awards nominations before their announcement on the 21st of March. Whatever interests you, there is plenty to look forward to.

The festival began in 1977 and ran until 2001 as a government operation, until it was passed over to the Hong Kong Arts Development council for a brief stint in the early noughties. Now, in its fourth decade it is run independently by the charitable, non-profit organization the HKIFF Society. The mission is to draw the spotlight onto Hong Kong, and Chinese Film. In a burst of activity in March and April the group holds three major film events; HKIFF, The Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum, a chance for film-makers to drum up the required cash for their next projects, and The Asian Film Awards, the continent’s lavish Oscars-like award show, which is beamed into over three hundred million houses. With attendance fluttering around the 600,000 mark and a record number of films submitted (1248 to be precise), the event is going from strength to strength, and like any good festival HKIFF makes the city a central part of the event. With over 330 films being shown, there are 11 major venues to fit it all in, ranging from City Hall to the Space Museum.

Hong Kong film has a big presence at the festival. The afore-mentioned Quattro Hong Kong 2 is a segmented look at Hong Kong by four great Asian directors: Philippine Brilliante Mendoza, who made the gritty Lola, Malaysia’s Ho Yu-Huang, Thailand’s Apichatpong Weerasethakul, last years Cannes Palme D’Or winner, and Hong Kong’s very own Stanley Kwan. As well as his new film, Jonnie To and fellow HK director Wai Ka-fai will have their work shown throughout the festival, Running on Karma, Too Many Ways to Be No. 1, Mad Detective, and Help amongst others. Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together features in a celebration of Dutch Fortissimo Films twentieth anniversary, a classic back on the big screen.

Roger Garcia, the festival executive director, joked that the HKIFF is very good at picking winners, and with a glance at the line-up it’s hard to deny. The 2011 Berlin Golden Bear winner Nader and Simin, A Separation looks fantastic. It tells the story of a couple who plane to leave Iran, until the husband has a change of mind. The latest film from Bela Tarr, The Turin Horse, took home the Silver Bear, and focuses on a rural horse-owner and his daughter. It is the story behind the story of when Nietzsche fatefully intervened, he would descend into mental illness directly after, in the whipping of a horse in the streets of Turin. Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, of Darat fame, arrives with A Screaming Man, about an ex-swimmer about to lose his job, set to the background of a civil war and intense military recruitment. It won the jury prize at Cannes last year. The Sundance winner, Australian film, Animal Kingdom, which features a terrifying performance from Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce at his best, is a taut gripping thriller about a family of criminals and the youngest member being dragged down with them.

There are some great documentaries, too. Inside Job that rips into those that brought the world to the brink of financial meltdown. Its clinical approach is more Enron: Smartest People in the Room than Michael Moore’s populism. It took home the Oscar this year, and who wouldn’t want to see some bankers getting their comeuppance right now? Sundance documentary award winner, Wasteland, is a moving piece about the people that work and forage in the world’s biggest landfill site in Rio Di Janeiro. Lucy Walker’s camera follows photographer Vik Muniz as he dives right into to this sub-culture of people subsisting of the waste of others. He uses garbage to create art, which will eventually be sold in auctions around the world, promising to return any profits to his subjects. The Two Escobars, examining the unrelated, but not unlinked, drug-lord Pablo, and Columbian national soccer-player Andres, also looks very interesting.

The breaking of boundaries between audience and film-maker is one of the best things about film festivals and there are plenty of opportunities to do so at HKIFF events this year. A sizable portion of the films will be conducting question and answer sessions after the screenings, an invaluable to chance to pick the creators' brains. There are many free events, available on a first come first serve basis, throughout the festival: Wai Ka-fai will be having a Face to Face discussion on film, art, and creativity, Jia Zhangke is holding a Master Class on film-making, and there will be a series of small group discussions of films shown with leading film critics; to register for any of these have a look at the festival homepage. There are a handful of awards to be handed out as well, of which the centerpiece is the Signis award that looks at films with social and humanitarian themes. Twelve films are in contention for it, Winter’s Bone, Bleak Night, A Screaming Man, and Majority to name a few.

Award-winners aside there are intriguing films all over the schedule hitting Hong Kong screens. Submarine, is the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, known for his role in Brit-comedy the IT Crowd. It is about a fifteen year-old boy who is struggling to lose his virginity by sixteen, and keep his parents together. Winning plaudits all over, it is definitely worth making time for. Kaboom is the slickly directed new comedy from Mysterious Skin director Gregg Araki on a gay man and his seemingly straight room-mate. Tom Tykwer, who has calmed down a lot since he caught the world's attention with Run Lola Run, has Three, a smooth romantic comedy about a straight couple who, separately, become involved with the same man. Also Carlos, a TV movie in classification only, is the nearly six hour long mini-series about Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. It is a big commitment, but Edgar Ramirez in the lead role makes it a valid one. Kim Jee-Woon’s I Saw the Devil is everything we have come to expect from modern Korean cinema. Blisteringly violent and brilliantly directed, it unites the two powerhouses of Lee Byung-Hun and Choi Min-Sik, who give unbelievably physical performances, in this gripping revenge film.

The alluring retrospectives are one of this year’s big draws. Iranian director Abbas Kirostami's new film Certified Copy that garnered Juliette Binoche a best actress award at Cannes last year, will be the centre-point of a collection of his works, spanning over forty years that look at the boundaries of fiction, reality, and cinema itself. One of the highlights of the program is the experimental work Ten. It focuses on the ten journeys of a group of women in Tehran. Largely improvised and filmed entirely within the confines of a car the results are profoundly powerful. If this sounds right up your street, then Ten On Ten is a series of lectures on his ideas on film, given by the man himself, in the same style and taking in the scenery of another of his movies, A Taste of Cherry. Close Up, perhaps his masterpiece, with some semi-auto biographical elements, is another, though, everything in the selection is fantastic.

Elsewhere there is the recently restored collection of the late, great post-war Japanese director Shibuya Minoru that has done the rounds at Berlin and Cannes. A stalwart of the Shochiku studio, where he worked in the illustrious company of Yasujiro Ozu, he may not be a household name like other Japanese directors from the era are, but his impressive output with the studio (over 40 films in under 30 years) is well represented here. Among them are: Modern People, the story of a civil servant is a critical look at the judicial system, The Days of Evil Women, the wife and daughter of a successful businessman plot his murder in a bid to steal his wealth, and Drunkard’s Paradise the story of heavy drinking father who, after his son’s death, is left with his fiancée.

Animation makes up a big part of the roster and there is chance to see the brilliant The Illusionist, from the makers of Belle-Ville Rendezvous. Additionally, Kooky, by Czech Jan Sverak, Little Ghostly Adventures of the Tofu Boy, which looks thrillingly bizarre, A Cat in Paris, getting its Asian premiere, and Piercing I, from Chinese film-maker Liu Jian, a cutting look at China circa the 2008 economic crisis, all stand out. Stop-motion puppeteer Kawamoto Kichachiro, who died last year, has a selection of films showcasing his unique ability that took influences from Japanese Bunraku, Noh and Kabuki theatre. Additionally, there are the World Animation series I and II which offer a mish-mash from all over the globe. Not an animation, admittedly, but if you are looking for something to take the kids to then the French, Oceans, in the vein of BBC’s Earth might be a good option.

There is so much going on and, recommendations aside, uncovering hidden gems is the highlight of any festival experience. Get yourself a copy of the schedule and start finding time, because there is a lot to cram in.