Back to IndieWire

Don’t Get Your Mooncake Wet: First Taipei Film Festival Celebrates Global Independents Despite Delug

Don't Get Your Mooncake Wet: First Taipei Film Festival Celebrates Global Independents Despite Delug

Don't Get Your Mooncake Wet: First Taipei Film Festival
Celebrates Global Independents Despite Deluge

by Augusta Palmer

After ten days of screenings and parties, the first-ever Taipei Film
Festival closed on Monday October 5 with a packed screening of “Grandma
and Her Ghosts
“, an animated feature directed by Wang Shaudi and made
right here in the Republic of China. In addition to usual slate of
screenings and press conferences, festival director (and Taiwanese
filmmaker) Chen Kuofu planned a host of special events, including a
lively market for movie paraphernalia in Taipei’s Ximending movie
district; a special screening of “The Sandwichman,” one of the films
which started Taiwan’s New Cinema movement and caused a public furor in
the R.O.C. after its 1983 release; a special program celebrating twenty
years of Taiwanese shorts, which included early cinematography by famed
Wong Kar-wai cameraman Christopher Doyle as well as acting by a young
Ang Lee; and even a masquerade party where all the revelers were
required to dress as a favorite film character. As if all that wasn’t
enough, the festival coincided with the autumn holiday season here in
Taiwan. On Monday September 28, Confucius’ Birthday was celebrated with
hours of pomp and circumstance in the driving rain. As the festival
closed on October 5, the Moon Festival (one of three biggest holidays of
the Chinese lunar calendar) was celebrated with sticky-sweet mooncakes
and flashing fireworks.

The high point of this year’s festival was a star-studded awards
ceremony attended by Ang Lee (of “Wedding Banquet” and more recently
“Ice Storm” fame), “Flowers of Shanghai” director Hou Hsiao-hsien as well
as the city’s mayor and a plethora of film personalities. The ceremony
and the prodigious nine course banquet (accompanied by your choice of
wine, beer, whiskey or all three) which followed it were held at
Taipei’s City Hall, causing MTV Taiwan’s general manager, Rose Tsou, to
remark that she should have brought her chop (Chinese official signature
stamp) and some kind of official documents to process. Despite the
location, the awards ceremony was both elegant enough to impress and
casual enough to enable frequent table-hopping and discussion of films.
Seated at my table was Korean director Hur Jin-Ho (“Christmas in
August”), who talked about his admiration of the films of Hou
Hsiao-hsien, which he had difficulty seeing in South Korea. Glancing
over at the next table, we saw screen and real life siblings Adrien and
Marina DeVan who came, along with Lucia Sanchez to promote Francois
Ozon’s shockingly fun send-up of family melodrama, “Sitcom.” Hur remarked
on the difficulty of incest as a theme and on how he had seen elderly
audience members leave French screenings of their film, while others at
the table brought it to his attention that his own film, about a young
photographer who knows he is going to die, also deals with “difficult”
subject matter.

The festival gave out three categories of awards, covering feature films
made in Taiwan, shorts made in Taiwan , and the International
Independent Spirit Awards. Big winners in the first category were Hou
Hsiao-hsien (Best Director) and Tsai Mingliang’s “The Hole” (Grand Jury
Prize).In the International Competition, producer Andres Honorato
accepted the Special Jury Prize for the Chilean film “Football Stories,”
and since he was also seated at my table I got to admire the polished
posterior of the award statuette. The Grand Jury Prize, which carried
with it a purse of almost $10,000 went to Crown Films as the local
distributor for “Secrets of the Heart,” a coming-of-age story set in the
Spain of the 1960s and made with joint funding from Spain, France and
Portugal by Spanish director Montxo Armendariz. Finally, the Grand
Prize, worth a whopping $50,000 in addition to the statuette, went to
the French-Lebanese co-production “West Beyrouth.” This award was
accepted by the intrepid, video camera-carrying Laetitia Masson (at the
festival representing her own film “For Sale”), who said that her
friend, director Ziad Doueiri, would be honored by the award and sad to
have missed all the beautiful Taiwanese actresses present at the awards

Festival programmer Regina Ho scoured the globe for the more
than forty features which were screened at the Taipei Film Festival. Her
choices included films from the U.S., Latin America, Europe, and Asia
made by directors willing to bend both film genres and film form to
their own idiosyncratic cinematic wills. In addition, long after their
European festival premieres; Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Flowers of Shanghai” and
Tsai Mingliang’s “Hole” returned home to premiere as part of the
festival. Most screenings I attended were packed in spite (or was it
because) of the torrential downpour which has relentlessly pummeled the
city of Taipei for the last five days, although screenings scheduled in
the morning drew sparse crowds in this decidedly late-night town.
Audiences at this festival were largely composed of local students and
twenty-somethings with a smattering of expatriates and, of course,
foreign filmmaking guests.

In fact, Taiwan is home to a lively film culture. Although world-wide
blockbusters like “Titanic” consume the lion’s share of the market,
European films and American indies are also popular fare. Audiences at
the festival hungrily embraced a wide range of films, from the Taiwanese
black comedy “Jam” to Marina Zenovich’s “Independent’s Day,” a veritable
who’s who of the American indie world. Diversity was apparent even in
the festival’s hottest pre-sales: the top two films were Nuri Bilge
Ceylan’s “Kasaba” from Turkey and Brian Sloan’s “I Think I Do,” a
romantic comedy of shifting sexual identities starring Alexis Arquette.
Needless to say, no one walked out of “Sitcom” here.

Although, an initial press screening reminded one of the tower of Babel
or the United Nations with almost as many translators as there were
actors and directors, an easy camaraderie soon seemed to develop among
the European and American guests of the festival, who were all billeted
at the swanky Far Eastern Hotel and provided with translators who
accompanied them to press screenings and Q & A sessions following
screenings. Despite the deluge, which Irish director Paddy Breathnach
(“I Went Down”) first claimed made him feel right at home, visiting
actors and directors still managed to go on sight-seeing jaunts to
temples and museums. When I last saw her, Spanish actress Lucia Sanchez
(“Sitcom” and “Un e robe d’ete”) had acquired a Chinese name and was
proudly brandishing a pocket-sized yellow rain slicker, which she
claimed was her new uniform.

Some directors, like the indefatigable Stefan Ruzowitzky (“The
Inheritors”), had to do the festival as a drive-by due to a hectic
promotional schedule, which required Ruzowitzky to be back in New York
before he’d even gotten over his jet lag. Although touring the
international film festival circuit sounds like nice work if you can get
it; it also forces filmmakers to temporarily abandon filmmaking,
sometimes for as much as a year at a time. At a jazz bar after the
awards ceremony, Paddy Breathnach wondered aloud about how to continue
being a film director when one isn’t directing but promoting; while
Ruzowitzky listed the days he’d lost this year to travel and that pesky
international dateline, which he was about to cross for the second time
in three days…

[Augusta Palmer is a freelance film writer and doctoral candidate in Cinema
Studies at New York University whose dissertation will focus on Chinese cinema
in the 1990s.]

Sign Up: Stay on top of the latest breaking film and TV news! Sign up for our Email Newsletters here.

This Article is related to: Festivals and tagged

Get The Latest IndieWire Alerts And Newsletters Delivered Directly To Your Inbox