Saturday, September 04, 2004

That double-edged sword called "Festivals".

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller.

From:  Linda Blackaby
Date:  Saturday - September 4, 2004, 8:07am
Subject:  Official invitation to San Francisco International Film Festival

Dear Yasmin Ahmad,
 We are pleased to extend this official invitation for your film SEPET to have its North American Premiere at the 48th San Francisco International Film Festival (April 21- May 5, 2005).  It is quite a charming and original work which we think will be very well received by our audiences.  We would also like to invite you as the director of the film to come to San Francisco as our guest with the film.
The San Francisco International Film Festival is the oldest in North and South America and is known for its enthusiastic, intelligent and diverse audiences.  We would be honored to present this film and we look forward to learning of your disposition towards this invitation as soon as possible.
 We have attached a confirmation form which includes information on participation in the Festival.
 Should you accept the invitation, we would appreciate your completion and return of the form as soon as possible. The information and support materials we request (English subtitled VHS cassette, press kit, stills, etc.) are essential in helping us publicize your film in our publications and to the media.  Please let us know when you might have them prepared.
 If you have questions or require additional information please contact us.  

Yours sincerely,
Linda Blackaby
Director of Programming
48th San Francisco International Film Festival
April 21 - May 5,  2005

----- So. There it was. On my computer screen, and staring at me. I kept muttering, "Alhamdulillah!" under my breath, over and over again.

This is a festival which Milos Forman, one of my all-time heroes, went to last year, and received a lifetime achievement award.

A festival which, in 2003, gave a nod to a director much more accomplished than me -- my friend Pen-ek Ratanaruang from Thailand.

For goodness' sake, Hector Babenco, Jim Jarmusch, Kiyoshi Kurosawa and their films were at this festival last year!

This is the festival which did NOT accept my first film RABUN when Roger Garcia submitted it in 2002.

I can't lie to you. Having your film selected for international festivals makes your heart leap to your throat. And because it does, it is very tempting, while you are actually making a film, to try and second-guess what festival directors, curators, and judges like.

In other words, you forget what a movie is for. You forget who it's suppose to please, and who's forking out hard-earned money to pay for tickets at the cinema.

Which was why our cast and crew on SEPET sat around in a circle before commencing shoot earlier this year, and made a solemn vow to each other that we'd make an honest film, from the heart, regardless of how "un-cool" the final product may appear to our peers, the film critics and festival judges.

Not surprisingly, when foreign reviewers and curators like Jan Uhde (I posted his reaction to SEPET below) and Roger Garcia came to town and asked to see our film, some local indies cautioned them that SEPET was merely "mainstream" stuff.

Which, I'm happy to admit, it IS. (I don't understand how anyone can claim that they're about to make an "art film" or a "festival film". To me, you just make a film; it's up to OTHER people to describe your film as "art", or not, as the case may very well be.)

But when folks like Mr Uhde wrote to say how much they enjoyed SEPET, and when Mr Garcia announced that it had been officially selected by the San Francisco International Film Festival, I felt grateful, and more importantly, reassured.

It reminded me that my job or jihad as a filmmaker is firstly to be honest with my true feelings and to what moves me and the people in my country. Whether or not the foreign festival judges will think my film is "cool" or "artistic" or even decent, is not in my hands or theirs, but Allah's.