19-10-16 / CHINA (VIDEO COMING SOON)
This was my second visit to planet China, and on this occasion it was for the 1st Jinzhen International Short Film Festival. I was representing the short film Spinosaurus, which I shot & edited for my mate Tessa Hoffe. All in all, a fantastic time was had and new friends were made, albeit with memorable bumps along the way.
The city of Hancheng, population approximately 450,000, dubbed a "village" by some of the Chinese volunteers, was a very different prospect to my previous Chinese experiences in Ningbo and megacity Shanghai. Personally, I loved the place and could easily have stayed longer, for the food, the filming, and the warm-spirited locals. Full of excited curiosity about westerners (especially those with beards), children were struck by giggle-fits and the really young ones would sometimes freak out and start screaming in fear. Locals were constantly aiming their camera phones, sometimes discreetly, sometimes less so, and sometimes from both sides at once. It only became too much while navigating slurpy noodles.
A local lady who eavesdropped on a conversation I attempted to have with a shopkeeper proceeded to follow me around for the next 15 minutes, stopping when I stopped, resuming pace as I did, until I eventually about-turned and walked so fast through the crowds that a ninja would've struggled to keep up. This was the 'real China' I had heard about but didn't really find before, with toddlers walking around in crotchless, toilet-ready trousers and adults staring at you like you're made of vegetables. The public toilet-training is something I could do without, especially when it happens right in front of you while eating.
But this is all jumping ahead. Arrival at the festival hotel saw a glitchy start to proceedings, with shocked (and sleep-deprived) directors being paired up into shared rooms. I was as horrified as everyone else, but one poor guy who was ill found himself pleading to have his own space. I got lucky being paired with very cool French director Clément Courcier. Talented bugger and all, going on to win best experimental film and taking home a generous cash prize. Dude as he was though, it's not ideal for anyone having to sync their timetables with a roommate so as not to disturb them, and jetlag-induced middle-of-the-night writing, for example, was out of the question. After discovering that another filmmaker objected strongly enough to sharing and got her own room, I managed to do the same (with the help of Lynn - thanks again!).
"First world problems" included unreliable (often dead) WiFi, which was a bigger frustration for those who were in the middle of projects requiring Skype calls, thus having to work from the lobby. Similarly absent was coffee, and the chirpy vendor across the street probably never sold so much sweet Nescafe, his face lighting up whenever a filmmaker walked in. More baffling though was an apparent lack of toilet paper, only issued in a single teeny-tiny roll per room at a time. I get it that coffee isn't a staple, but surely everyone needs loo roll (except for me of course - I'm visited by the poo fairy while I sleep).
The festival's glamorous, Oscars-like opening and closing ceremonies wore affluence like a hat. By comparison, the daily exhibition of films was consistently troubled, with seemingly endless technical problems involving bad audio, no audio, no subtitles, Chinese subtitles covering English ones, etc. Such problems seemed to be lessening as the festival went on and I got the feeling that the staff and volunteers were overwhelmed by the amount of work required. I didn't attend many screenings because I'm too easily distracted by the Chinese audience talking loudly through films, checking their phones or, in one case, bringing a flashing balloon into the cinema (!). I remember this from last time and it is simply their way, to discuss everything, at full volume, as it happens. It wasn't their intention to be rude, and the shock on people's faces when asked to be quieter during a screening said it all.
There was a funny moment in a department store when six of us couldn't work out how to pay for anything. What should have been simple through a series of mimes and pointing at cash was actually an almost-impossible mission that lasted twenty minutes. When the store manager finally found us to resolve the situation, it transpired that everyone pays via WeChat on their phones and cash transactions need special approval. It also turned out the prices were more expensive than advertised so we ended up putting most things back anyway.
Excursions kindly arranged by the festival included the ancient Liu village - mostly roofless ruins but with a few still-inhabited homes. Mooching through one particular corner of a crumbling house, I stopped inches shy of receiving a face-full of Joro spider. Described as 'The living fossil of the ancient and traditional foilk community of the Orient', Dangjia ancient village was bigger and utterly heaving with tourists. I was especially pleased to see the Sima Qain temple and do a spot of filming for a new, ongoing short film idea.
Between such trips (and of course the screenings), everyone came to grow fond of the hotel and its nightly, impromptu lobby gatherings, not to mention the hotel's 3rd floor of hi-tech karaoke rooms-for-hire. I'm no fan of karaoke, but a fully-decked out club room with beer, snacks and sofas turned out to be a regular fixture for filmmakers partying into the wee hours (right through until breakfast, in some cases).
A Chinese lady sitting next to me on the flight home really summed things up. Noisily cracking seeds between her teeth from the moment she sat down (a huge red flag to a misophone like myself), she regularly barged my elbows or leaned right over me to look out of the window. Earplugs didn't quite block the sound of splintering seeds and the resultant fight-or-flight panic/rage that usually hijacks me in these situations started to creep in. However, once I offered her my uneaten crackers from the first in-flight meal, she couldn't help sharing at every conceivable opportunity. This lady, who had initially become a huge discomfort to me, went on to offer me her bottle of water, her bun, the egg in her fried rice, and eventually her aforementioned seeds (which she thankfully stopped eating).
Delerium from lack of sleep had me leave my laptop on the final flight out of Helsinki. Amazingly, Finnair traced/called me while I was on the underground from Heathrow to central London, so I returned and got it back. I'm already looking back and smiling at the memories - navigating the insanely busy crossings, the 'no horns' signs ignored by every single bleating car, the cab drivers smoking in their 'no smoking' cabs, the men and women farting noisily in the street, the ice-filled urinals in a posh hotel (our hotel's toilet cubicles didn't even have doors)... the list goes on. This is a culture so vastly unfamiliar in which the only constant is to expect the unexpected. I feel damn privileged to have experienced it and I'd do it again in a heartbeat..
Some film highlights were Makoto Nagahisa's And So We Put the Goldfish in the Pool (Japan), Douwe Dijkstra's Green Screen Gringo (Netherlands), Tessa Pope's The Origin of Trouble (Netherlands), Kamal Parnak's Hasti (Iran), Francis' Ten to the Minus Forty Three Second (France), Maimouna Doucoure's Mother(s) (France), Christophe Switzer's Soury (France), Ronny Trocker's Estate (Belgium), plus some animated films - Giulia Martinelli & Marta Gennari's Merlot (Italy), Anita Kwiatkowska-Naqvi's Locus (Poland), and Henning Thomas' Hallux (Germany).
24-09-16 / EUROPEAN FILM COLLEGE / ENCOUNTERS FILM FESTIVAL
Then it was Encounters Film Festival again, this time representing a film I didn't direct - Tessa Hoffe's short film Spinosaurus, which I shot and edited last year. Right back to old-school guerilla tactics on this one, with only two days, only available light, no funding, first-time young actors and a production crew of just Tess, myself, and sound recordist Peter Brill.
27-07-16 / 'THE HEIST' LAUNCHES ON FACEBOOK
15-06-16 / 'ON RESISTANCE' AT HAMBURG SHORT FILM FESTIVAL
Hamburg Short Film Festival time again, and I made this for their 3 Minute Quickie competition:
27-03-16 / 'WORLD WAR CUP' AWARDED IN POLAND
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