Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A dwarf on the shoulder of giants.

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller
Being a member of the jury for the international competition of the 48th Thessaloniki International Film Festival turned out to be a far more enriching experience than I ever imagined.

Heading the panel was Jiri Menzel, a close friend and old film schoolmate of Milos Forman.

Himself an outstandingly accomplished filmmaker, Jiri (pronounced Yirzhi) won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 1966, at the age of 28, for his very first film "Closely Watched Trains".

He subsequently won several Golden Bears at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Also on the panel was the American screen legend Fred Roos. A wholly down-to-earth man, Fred has won more awards than I've had hot breakfasts. He was Executive Producer and Co-Producer on films such as "The Conversation", "The Godfather Part II", "Apocalypse Now", and "Lost In Translation", just to name a few.

Next in line, in terms of seniority, was Nae Caranfil from Romania. Like Jiri, Nae has had a string of awards from all over Europe.

Micheal Fitzgerald, an unnervingly incisive judge of films and human nature, was an independent producer, with award-winning films such as "Wise Blood", "Under The Volcano", and "The Pledge" to his name.

41-year old Lucrecia Martel won awards in Berlin and Sundance for her very first film "La Cienaga". Her second film "La Nina Santa" was nominated for a Cannes Palme d'Or in 2004. (She's had two of her films produced by Pedro Almodovar!)

Then, there was the accomplished poet Olga Broumas. A Poet-in-Residence and Director of Creative Writing at Brandeis University, Olga has had seven books of her poems published in the United States.

Putting a poet on the jury panel was a stroke of genius, I reckon, because I have always felt that cinema at its best is a poetic glimpse into humanity.

And finally, little old ignorant me.

Of course, if you've been following this blog in the last three years or so, you would know that some of the biggest criticism my films and I have received from some local "illuminati" (read: tired old film lecturers, frustrated filmmakers, and pseudo film critics) have been that I don't understand cinematic structures because I never went to film school.

Well, I have some bloody good news for budding filmmakers here.

As we sat around together for 12 days, watching films, having breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and finally choosing the winners, NONE of these distinguished people ever mentioned structures or subtexts or semiotics.

Lucrecia herself has had virtually no film training, apart from a brief stint at an experimental film school which closed down soon after she joined! In her own words, "I watched movies, I read books, I wrote. I was a free mind, because I had to be."

The comments made by the judges about the films in competition were consistently to do with the power of the story, the honesty of the emotions, the human insights that were found in them, and the executional quirks that were considered beautiful, simply because they came from the auteur's totally personal view of human nature and the world around him.

That's all.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Are they copying my ideas again?

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller
Some people have no integrity, let alone dignity.

When word got out that I was about to make "Sepet", a story of interracial love, someone else quickly came out with a film revolving around the same subject.

While we were mulling over the idea of making "Mukhsin", a children's film about a tomboy girl who preferred to play with boys, again someone else went out of their way to make something based on a similar idea, and released it before our film.

But Allah is great. In both instances, our films outdid theirs at the box office, despite being released later than theirs. Alhamdulillah.

Rumour has it that it's happening again. This time with "Talentime".

So keep your eyes peeled and your ears pricked for upcoming film projects where the premise is centred around the idea of young people and music, similar to our idea for "Talentime".

In the meantime, I seek protection from Allah against their mean-spirited intentions.

Look what has happened to the house we used for Orked's family in "Mukhsin".

It's just so sad. This country has no respect for heritage.

For the sake of making a quick buck, we rip apart the things that give our landscape character.

Thank God we got there in time to preserve the memory of this beautiful house in our film.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What's a girl from Muar doing in a Greek film festival?

Originally uploaded by yasmin the storyteller
"This year, the Balkans’ largest film festival is opening its doors to moviemakers and the public from across the region on the 16th November.

Once again, the city’s old docks and central cinemas will play host to some of World cinema’s most important independent filmmakers and stars.

As the winter evenings draw in, the city of Thessaloniki will be hosting premieres, master classes, exhibitions and production events that, for nearly two weeks, transform parts of the city into a haven for film buffs and filmmakers alike.

Part of the attraction of the Thessaloniki festival is the chance to see the latest films from the Balkans together on the big screen.

Focussed on bringing filmmakers from the region into contact with an international audience, this year’s Balkan Survey includes "California Dreaming" (Nesfarsit) by the late Romanian director Cristian Nemescu. The film won the 2007 Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award despite the fact that the 27-year-old director was killed in a car crash before the film was completed in 2006.

The festival also includes amongst others, a tribute to fellow Romanian filmmaker Nae Caranfil, who belongs to the previous generation of Romanian directors but whose work nonetheless acts as a bridge to today’s “new wave” minimalist Romanian productions.

Unable to ignore events that have affected the region and the way in which history and politics have impacted the lives of its citizens, films such as the German-Croatian "Armin" and "Serbian Trap" attempt to tell personal narratives in a chaotic social environment.

Looking further back, Turkish directors Sirri Sureyya Onder and Muharrem Gulmez, use the events of the 1980 coup for their satirical film "International". Opening the Balkan Survey is a German-Turkish co-production "The Edge of Heaven" by director Fatih Akin, who will be attending the festival and DJ’ing at some of the events.

The Festival has always acted as a showcase for Greek cinema and this year, amongst others, it includes a new and innovative film shot in one 81 minute take in Colombia: PVC-1 by Spiros Stathopoulos, a 29-year-old native of Thessaloniki, examines the explosive PVC neck-bands used as tools for extorting ransom in the country’s narco wars forcing the viewer up close to the events.

The Festival will also be showing a retrospective of cult director Nikos Nikolaidis work. Nikolaidis, who died in September this year, was a director who focussed on the outcasts and rebels of Greek society and as such the opportunity to see all his works dating back to the 1960’s offers an important alternative vision to Greek mainstream narratives.

In parallel, the festival will be screening “In a Dark Passage: Film Noir in Greek Cinema” a series of 12 features and 2 shorts that trace the interpretation of this genre of anti-heroes and femme-fatales in urban Greek cinema from 1958 to 2004 through the lenses of some of the county’s most important directors.

The 48th Thessaloniki Film Festival will also include three ‘tributes’ to important filmmakers or genres it is showcasing this year.

The American independent filmmaker John Sayles will conduct a Master Class and receive an honorary award. His presence together with a complete retrospective of his works, starting in the late 1970’s offers viewers a great chance to get to know one of the America’s most important independent voices whose commitment to independent film during the age of the Hollywood blockbuster is unquestioned.

Across the Atlantic, the tribute to New Spanish Cinema includes 18 films made since 2003, showing “the new wave of Spanish filmmaking. This new generation of filmmakers represents the direct continuation of a long and weighty cinematic tradition that has translated into a booming and creative film industry in the 21st century,” according to Festival director Despina Mouzaki.

The Festival will also showcase the 10 works by the Japanese auteur Mikio Naruse whose 87 films between 1930 and1967 have greatly influenced Japanese filmmakers since. Little known outside Japan, his works are marked by ‘a diversity of cinematic styles, complex characterisation and an unfaltering pessimism towards the human condition.’

Other featured artists include Yasmin Ahmad who was born in 1958 in Malaysia and shot her debut feature, "Rabun", in 2002. She has been the director and scriptwriter in her films and belongs to a new generation of Malaysian filmmakers who attempt, through their work, to restore the image of their country and remove its prevailing image of multi-cultural exoticism, and to openly challenge ethnic stereotypes and taboo subjects. For the films "Sepet" (2004), "Gubra" (2005) and "Mukshin" (2006), Ahmad uses the character of young Orked, a girl who goes against her country’s archetypes, as the vehicle for her narratives and social commentary. The character of Orked embodies Ahmad’s worldview, as she is, in the words of the director, “optimistic, emotional…thankful for everyday things, such as breathing, loving, laughing, eating”.

Born in Korea in 1954, Lee Chang-dong is originally a novelist who first got involved with cinema in 1993, as scriptwriter and assistant director in "To the Starry Island", directed by Park Kuang-su. The first film Lee directed was "Green Fish" in 1996, an idiosyncratic film noir that took Korean audiences by surprise with its realistic depiction of the underworld and its people.

In his next film, "Peppermint Candy", Lee succeeded in creating a portrait of his country and the changes it underwent over twenty years.

In 2002, he made "Oasis", a study of true love and friendship that won the FIPRESCI Prize Competition and the Director's Award at the Venice Film Festival. All his films, including his latest, "Secret Sunshine", a balancing act between the comic and tragic sides of life, will be shown at the Festival.

Other featured artists of the Festival include the ‘Mumblecore’ young American independent filmmakers such as Joe Swanberg, Craig Zobel, Alex Holdridge and Laura Dunn who’s DIY low-budget style, digital cinematography and naturalistic narration have a produced a number of interesting films in recent years.

Tracing a parallel story, the Festival will screen a mini tribute to punk film that began with the No-Wave 1975 Blank Generation by filmmaker Amos Poe (who will be in Thessaloniki for the Festival) and includes films such as artist Julian Schnabel’s "Lou Reed: Berlin" amongst others.

A small section of films following New Voices from Argentina showing three films from that country that move beyond the country’s recent economic collapse adds to the polyphonic output of this year’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival."

- Leonidas Liambey (30/10/2007)

Love won!

On the night of Friday the 2nd, 2007, while I was in Osaka attending a film festival, here at home something wonderful happened. A television commercial I made, which laid no claims whatsoever about any product or brand, was given two Gold awards at the annual Malaysian advertising award show.

One for Best Television Commercial, and the other for Best Film Direction.

Entitled "Tan Hong Ming In Love", the English version of this commercial ended with the lines "Our children are colour blind. Shouldn't we keep them that way?"

At a time when ads try too hard to be clever and fancy, it was heartwarming to see a simple little film, where a six year old Chinese boy expressed his secret love for a Malay girl, turn out to be the most highly-awarded television commercial of the year.

I feel so blessed to have been given the chance by Petronas to write the concept and direct this spot myself, of course, but truth beknown, it was little Tan Hong Ming and Ummi Qazrina who deserved all the applause that night, just for being their charming, lovable selves.

Praise the Lord!