All the fun of the FEFF
Reflections on life at a boutique Asian film festival on the other side of the world
In film, the fleeting moments are what we invariably remember the most. Vignettes briefly projected on screen, but otherwise frozen in time. At this year’s Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, it is the way the light catches Eric Tsang as he peers out of a bus window in Mad World; a longing gaze between Sosuke Ikematsu and Shinobu Terajima in The City of Betrayal; the upbeat notes of a cheesy pop song wafting through a 1990s karaoke bar in Duckweed; the clack of wooden chopsticks at an otherwise silent dinner of steaming sweet and sour fish in Someone To Talk To. Blink and you might miss it; blink and the film is never the same again.
And what about the moments transitioning between real to reel? The tactile memory of watching the incandescent lights slowly dim in the dark Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine that hosts FEFF as the first commercial rolls. The ritual of downing double espresso shots between film screenings. The wave of emotion on Chinese director Song Haolin’s face when he receives a standing ovation for Mr Zhu’s Summer.
Making a mad dash from the Teatro Nuovo to the Visionario to catch The Grandmaster. The venerable Feng Xiaogang candidly picking his ear in a one-on-one interview. On another evening the infectiously vivacious Lao director Mattie Do swears on stage before the premiere of Dearest Sister.
A confluence of understanding
Some of us remain lost in translation among a beguiling mixture of Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Cantonese. But when it comes to film, we fall back on its transcendence; like us, popular Asian cinema has crossed time zones and oceans to make it to a tiny province in the heart of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. At the Far East Film Festival, you can straddle two worlds – East and West – ever so disparate but yet similar in ways unspoken, both colliding to meet at a confluence of understanding.
Where else would you get to share a couch with Hong Kong legend Eric Tsang – close enough to see the skin around his eyes crinkle when he laughs? We tend to forget that veteran or rookie directors, producers and actors are just like us, ordinary people with hopes, dreams and visions.
Some grapple with the disappointment of their films at the domestic box office, while others are still trying to overcome the limitations of their fledgling film industries. There is a certain gratification in seeing these individuals receive their just dues as the theater booms with rapturous applause. Director Choi Kook-hee’s film Split performed below expectations in Korea, ending its run with relatively low fanfare; here, the bowling-action-drama takes second place in the audience choice award.
The city is buzzing. Even at the witching hour the lobby of the theater is still teeming with an ebullient stream of cinephiles; outside others lay hunched in coats, languidly smoking in the cold, crisp air and grasping a glass of wine. The pubs and bars pulsate.
But all good things come to an end. And by Sunday, the city of Udine falls back into usual laid-back rhythm. In the early morning there is not a soul in sight at the theater; only half-stripped posters and the vague waft of spilled wine from last night’s closing party. An occasional car roars past, breaking the silence. It is as if the past nine days never happened. But we know they did, and they meant something different to every person who stepped into the theater to teleport themselves to another world. We bid farewell to the heady days of an Udinese spring, and can hardly wait for another round of cinematic magic to roll around again next year.
As Sofia Coppola once said: “It’s about moments in life that are great but don’t last. They don’t go on, but you always have the memory and they have an effect on you.”
Check out the video made by our FEFF Campus candidates on their journey during the film festival:
Paige Lim was was part of the FEFF Campus program for young journalists, which was sponsored by Asia Times