Monday, July 24, 2006

Helen - The Life and Times of an H-Bomb

If you have become a fan of the Bollywood films from the 1950's and 1960's, chances are a lot of this may be due to an exuberant spitfire of a dancer simply called Helen. Her appearances in films should be marked with an exclamation point and a sip of a dry martini. With her hypnotic hips making suggestive come ons, a series of outlandish costumes that would make Elton John and Madonna envious, flashing spinning dazzling footwork and a "don't turn your back on me" grin, she came to symbolize everything that made those films so fun, so campy, so fab, so sublime. No one even seems to know how many films she appeared in - somewhere between 500 and one thousand perhaps - occasionally as the heroine, sometimes just as an item dancer to give some quick pizzazz to the film and most often as the vamp who trawls through the bright sparkly cabarets, shady dingy dance halls, gaudy designed hideaways and our imagination. She is a jolt to our pleasure glands. A happy pill.

This book from Jerry Pinto is a hymn to her - a thank you for all the hours he spent watching her in the movie houses and on TV. As he admits upfront, he has little to add to the small amount of knowledge about her personal life - she is a very private person and refused to be interviewed by him. So he relies on common knowledge about her and what he could find in the old gossip magazines - precious little. Her fascinating background is covered quickly in a few chapters and then he spends the remainder of the book writing about her films and her appearances in them - many many films! He approaches it not so much from a chronological perspective, but more from a thematic one - the different types of characters that she played over the years and what she represented to the audiences.

Though early in her career she got to play the heroine, it soon became clear that she much better fitted the role of the social outsider - the vamp, the woman gone wrong, the woman often destined to die for breaking all the polite taboo's of what a woman should do and be in Indian society. Much of this stemmed from her own status as an outsider. Born in the late 1930's, her father was French and her mother Burmese. By the time that WW II had broken out her father had died and her mother had married an Englishman, who then died in the war. When the Japanese invaded Burma, a very young Helen and her mother walked out of Burma into India where they settled down to a life of near poverty. One of her mother's friends was Cuckoo, a well-known female dancer in Bollywood films and the mother convinced her friend to mentor Helen in dancing and to get her work in films. She began as a chorus girl in the films, but got one of her first breaks playing a Chinese woman Chin-Chin-Choo in Howrah Bridge (1958) and the song she danced to became a huge hit - "My name is Chin-Chin-Choo, Hello Mister how do you do".

This was to become her m.o. - playing foreigners or Westernized women adorned with names like Ruby, Kitty or Miss Lily - and dancing in some of the best songs ever written for the screen - often accompanied by the throaty vocals of Asha Bhosle. Pinto conjectures that being a non-Indian allowed her to play the immoral and sexually liberated vamps that she did - the audiences could accept that from her. It certainly stood her well if that was the case - her career zoomed through the 60's into the 70's (Don, Sholay) to finally come to a slow halt in the 1980's (into her 40's at that point and still kicking her heels up better than most) when she became the second wife of script writer Salim Khan (father of Salman Khan). Over these years and still continuing she managed to become an icon, a cult figure, everyone's favorite dancer.

Besides of course detailing many of the films of Helen, the book also allows the reader the opportunity of putting together a wish list of many films that sound great - not the classics we all have read about too often but the B-ish films full of smoke filled rooms, revenge, betrayal, detectives, wanton women and spies - and of course Helen. These are the films that make me keep coming back for more.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Review of "Lola" (HK, 2005)

Curse of Lola

Film review by Lee Alon

Beware the underdog is imperative when looking at Curse of Lola, for despite having received almost no play or promotion in its home markets nor internationally, thus leading to unfortunate anonymity, it is actually a very well-conceived film. Comprising superb visuals and moody atmospherics, Lola defeats the specter of an otherwise unassuming, almost generic plot, en route defying a spoiler ending of gargantuan proportions.

At its core, Curse of Lola is a whodunit, although thanks to having a distinct charm and feel, one has little compulsion to focus on such a trite premise, instead relishing every morsel of production design, a feat flying in the face of the project’s low profile and, likely, miniscule budget. Courtesy of Li Hong and Gordon Chan’s inventive filmmaking, the picture surmounts challenges stemming from a traditional tale, and although it doesn’t put much inventive spin on the issue, its tense, perfectly calculated discourse makes a world of difference.

Nominally a horror genre cadre, Lola gets its creepiness not from wannabe ghouls but rather clever photography (with close-cropped imagery eluding disclosure of location, hence the lack of establishing shots), coolly-distanced acting from its principal cast and a chilling soundtrack. The latter does sometimes border on the over-dramatic, but gladly this cannot be said of other elements on hand, such as the stark color palette, a vital ingredient usually ignored in the mediocre thriller output we’ve come to expect.

Consequently, we have before us a highly workable piece of suspense cinema, packing the odd red herring to boot. It can’t honestly be said that Lola’s a masterpiece of boundless intellect, but neither is it devoid of trickery. Keeping in mind the short runtime, it becomes apparent production stuck to their capable guns throughout.

Often quirky Francis Ng (in a role reminiscent of his appearance in Shiver) does us proud again as Zhen Yu, a lighting director for an upcoming experimental dance show Lola (listed as Ruola in several posters). He again displays mildly suspect tendencies but never transgresses into open mania, a balancing act for which Ng’s most well-respected. Zhen Yu’s girlfriend, Tian Yuan (seen before in Butterfly, and here apparently playing herself), is an aspiring dancer whose claim to fame remains denied since more darkly attractive Xiao Mei (Sui Junbo) holds on to the eponymous role. That is, until just after the premiere, when she exits life’s ubiquitous stage left under rather gory circumstances.

Police get involved, contributing little to the movie save for a stereotypical chain-smoking inspector, with several suspects considered, including of course Tian Yuan, who usurps the deceased performer. Zhen Yu’s also interrogated by the cops as a possible culprit, but audiences may want to additionally ponder other, less focal characters, such as the troupe’s manager (Wu Yufang) and her gradually-unveiled troubled past.

Much more than this perfunctorily simple setup does Curse of Lola rely on, employing quite intricate symbolism, like a clock observed in several instances, showing times that can be construed as meaningful when iterated in Chinese. There are other occurrences of this, and definitely Curse of Lola would do well in the trivia section everybody loves about IMDB.

It also possesses ample atmosphere, taking place entirely within claustrophobic locales that, even when supposedly outdoors, feel cramped and menacing. This thread is helped along by ominous sound effects and music, but of course buttressed even further via the efficient and memorable acting purveyed by all main characters.

One thing definitely spoils the broth, though. Curse of Lola finishes on a sour note, thanks to a brief, tell-all ending obviously added as a last resort to help appease intelligence-restrained viewers for whom the competent before-last scene (presumably the final shot as intended) is just too much to mulch.

Aside from that one gaffe, Curse of Lola should be enjoyed and appreciated as a viable work of cinematic art, strong on visual, aural and thespian impact more than sheer story.
It’s short, suspenseful and meticulously detailed, indicative of the effort that has gone into its making. Even the titular dance show bears the refinements of a real gig, suspending disbelief beyond what’s usual in many other movies, where such a mere plot device may get treated with disrespect and half-assed amateurism.

Tragically, it has fallen victim to curse of the indie circuit, leaving us guessing as to why there’s such injustice equally as how the hell they got the dressing room scene to look so good on such scant funding.

Do the right thing and watch this one. It has almost nothing to do with the cheapened onslaught of knock-off “horror” flicks emanating from East Asia over the last half-decade or so, and stands miles above their insipid nonsense content. Challenge yourself.

Rating: 8/10

Directed by Li Hong
Starring Francis Ng, Tian Yuan, Sui Junbo, Wu Yufang
2005, Mandarin, 90 minutes

Friday, July 14, 2006

NY Asian Film Festival Part 2

None of our fests have made us much if any money - its usually around breakeven which in itself is a minor miracle because we all totally suck at getting sponsors on board. Basically we hate asking for money and then having to bend over backwards to be nice to corporations. All four of us - and Dan who recently joined up (yes - another white guy!) - are dormant anti-establishmentarians who view multinationals with complete suspicion. Sure I worked for JP Morgan for a load of years but never felt very corporate (and I think they would have agreed with that assessment!) - though I gleefully took that paycheck every two weeks! But we survived on ticket sales and keeping our costs down - i.e. no paid for guests, a theater that has character but rarely toilet paper and the use of the facilities and paper supply of our work places! This year though we took a major hit to our wallets - costs - especially those of shipping prints - have skyrocketed and we took a bath on our Ram Gopal Varma sidebar. It added up to a big loss and we are wondering whether we can come back again next year. We sure hope so but none of us can afford to lose this much money and keep smiling - so we may see some changes next year if we are back - like a McDonalds logo tattooed on our collective foreheads - it could not be worse than those commercials of their's we showed - yum yum the Asian salad. This year we actually had some big name sponsors gotten through the friendly devices of our co-presenters The ImaginAsian and people have asked if we are now living the good life - McDonalds, Bud Light, Chevas Regal, Kirin - it sure sounds good until you realize the money we got from them did not even pay for our program book - lets say they bought us cheap like two bit hookers on 10th avenue.

The festival itself - the Varma films apart - was great fun. There is no high better than a full house loving a film that you picked and took a chance on. Or no low like no one showing up to a film you believe in.

Ah, the Varma films. Just a word of advice to future film festival programmers - stay as far and wide from Indian distributors as you can. The sidebar was an enormous headache and a complete fiasco. The Ram Gopal Varma people approached us a few months ago and asked us to put a spotlight on his films and we were happy to do so because we really love his gritty crime films and hoped we could introduce his work to an American audience. But it was a series of broken promises - the director would come - had to cancel - he would be interviewed on radio - never showed up twice - the films would have newly struck prints - didn't happen and they didn't even bother to tell us this - we would get them three weeks before the fest - they arrived late for the first shows and we used dvds - we would get Shiva as a world Premiere - oops the US distributor decided he didn't want to and another promise broken as the print never arrived and they didn't bother to tell us until we frantically emailed them as to the whereabouts of the film. We were burnt before when we tried to show Dil Se in the same way - never again. I hope Indian distributors have their own circle of hell. On top of that sadly, few people were at all interested in these films. I don't know why - they are great movies but it would have been easier getting our NY audience to vote Republican than sitting through an Indian film.

There were some great highlights though beginning with our screening of Always at the Japan Society with director Takashi Yamazaki in attendence to a very enthusiastic sold out audience. It's a very sentimental old fashioned film full of cliches but they are purposeful ones - this was a nostalgic tribute not only to those times (the late 1950's) but also to the films that were being made at that time - if you allow yourself to indulge in the cliches and let them swallow you up it is an incredible almost purifying emotional catharsis and much of the audience came out in tears. I also had the good fortune to spend a fair amount of time with the director for a few days prior to the screening - he also made The Returner which is as different a film from Always as one could imagine and he next hopes to make a samurai film. He is a really nice quiet spoken guy - in his mid-30's and was thrilled to have his film shown in NYC. At the airport when someone from the Japan Society and I picked him up we both realized that we had forgotten to bring a sign with his name on it and my friend only vaguely knew what he looked like - but as soon as we saw him we knew he had to be the director - just that cool casual look that you expect. When I asked him if he was surprised to have won all those awards he laughed it off - "only because the judges are all in their 60's". One night a bunch of us went karaoking - something I usually avoid at all costs - his taste ran to old Japanese love songs, mine to Elvis Costello but we finished the night with a rousing performance of "Linda Linda Linda" that left me able only to croak for the next few days.

The fest started off with a Malaysian film, Gangster. It's a low budget film that is a bit crude in its production values but one that we thought worth showing for the terrific acting of one actor who plays three roles (which I never realized until Grady told me and I still didn't believe him) and for a film that seems to break the mold of at least most Malaysian films I have seen (not a lot admittedly). It explores the sludgy underworld of Kuala Lumpur - illegal race car driving, drugs, prostitution, shady discos and nasty gangsters of course. And the director came on his own dime! I also had a chance to spend some time with him, Bade Haji Azmi, and he too is a young guy who was really nice and unassuming. It turns out that his family is like the Barrymore's of Malaysia - his father was a director, his wife is a well-known singer and actress, 2 of his relatives are in the film, a cousin is a famous actress - and when I told him how much I liked the film Sepet and the actress, he casually mentions that she is his neice! Hey, hook me up!Gangster was a big hit in Malaysia and he seemed worried that now he will have to make Gangster 2 and 3 when all he really wants to make are dramas and love stories! He was very happy to see people come out for his film and most people enjoyed it - though for a few it was just a bit too downscale.

The thing is we can't only show Japanese and Korean films which are the ones that really sell well. We show a lot of them but this being an Asian film festival we sort of feel like we need a few films from elsewhere - but the audience we have developed over these five years and the mailing list we have created is very much one of people who are into Japanese and Korean films and who don't have a lot of interest in films from other parts of Asia - definitely not Indian as we discovered! But any film from Southeast Asia has been a tough sell for us over the years. It still saddens me to this day that only about 70 people came out to see the Thai film Baytong a few years ago - a wonderfully powerful film that very much speaks to the world we live in of terrorism and religious intolerance.

Art of the Devil 2 from Thailand did reasonably well but I was expecting much better since everytime we played the trailer before other films the audience's went into shrieking delight and actually applauded the trailer! A first for us. But horror films have been less popular the last two years than during the big J-Horror craze - I think people have had enough of them but AOD2 is an enjoyable grotty little piece of messed up entertainment and people came out with mad grins that made me believe they were about to go dismember something. One lovely young woman who I had warned before going in came out a bit dissatisfied though - why I asked - I expected more gore - more open boils - more burnt skin - who is this woman I wondered, the reincarnation of Jack the Ripper - no, it turns out she is a medical student who spends her days dissecting bodies. Hard to beat that. Next time we will have her do that before the show on the stage.

Small films are a tough sell too. I guess I understand if I put myself in the place of a ticket buyer - we are showing 27 films - most people only have the time and money to see a handful - so which ones do you choose - the big films of course - so would I. Or the ones that have some hype circling around them. But so much of this is still a mystery to me - assuming most people don't spend a lot of time reading about Asian films on the internet where exactly does this hype come from I wonder? But as expected - Bittersweet Life, Great Yokai War, Shinobi, Duelist, Umizaru 2, Always did real well audience wise - but the big fat surprise of the fest was the adoration from many for Funky Forest - both showings sold out easily and we added a third screening. I think it may be in some ways one of the simply coolest films I have ever seen - but its impossible to say exactly why. A series of oddball skits that are only slightly connected by their wierdness - someone said it was similar to cable surfing at 4 am in Tokyo - it is fascinating and impossible to turn away from. Even during the skits that don't click you still feel oddly compelled to watch and be charmed. I've never seen anything quite like it and it is the start of a new cult that dances on command - do the Funky Forest!

Two films that didn't sell out but are personal favorites of mine hit a nice chord with the audience - Magicians and Feather in the Wind (GIT) both from Song Il-gon. I didn't expect great audiences for either of these very small low budget films but didn't care - we wanted to show them - or at least I did! Magicians had a smallish audience but many of them were really stunned by its simple but heartfelt message of friendship, love and remembering those no longer with us. Two people came up to me afterwards who were absolutely devastated. It's a bit stodgy in style due to its no edit/cut structure and it takes a while to get going but by the final song it is truly powerful. GIT on the other hand had a real solid audience. One of my favorite films from last year I worried that its very subtle arty sloooow moving almost plotless narrative would test the patience of some but this quiet romance won them over completely. While watching it the audience was so quiet that I thought they were hating it but was happy to see the Audience Vote results - 70% Excellent, 29% Good.

Linda Linda Linda had the highest number of tickets sold - not really to my surprise since any of our films featuring Japanese school girls always do well - but still I was happy to see folks enjoy this so much. It hits all my pleasure zones as it laicsadaisically follows 4 school girls around for a few days as they practice their songs for the school festival and simply interact. Not really funny nor dramatic - but its near haiku simplicity is what makes it so special for me. There was a US distributor there who told us that she hated every minute of it - and I began to understand that if people like her were picking the Asian films the US public gets to see then we need to keep doing this festival.

Then there is Welcome to Dongmakgol. The films we show are decided by a simple majority vote of the five of us - once a film gets three Yes votes we try and see if we can show it. The first time through after we all saw it, Dongmakgol had one Yes vote - mine. I was actually stunned and admittedly annoyed that the rest of the group didn't feel the same emotions I did after seeing the film - I thought it was glorious - manipulative to some large degree I admit but done with enormous heart. For two months I bugged them and bugged them to change their minds - no one would give in - I told them it would sell out and win the Audience Award - I was ignored until it won the award at Udine and we were short of Korean films and they told me to now shut up and stop whining! So we got it. You have to whine for what you believe in! It had the audience in its palm from the get go with its surrealistic mix of earthy humor, farce, brutality, humanity and magic. And like only a Korean film can do - its emotional swerve toward the end hushed the audience into total silence and left them battered and bruised but clearly in some awe. It didn't win the Audience Award as I predicted but as you will see it came darn close.

The final Sunday was somehow the best for us. A short but sweet return to our roots. We were unable to get one HK film this year and felt bad about that but we tried - the 2 Election films, Seven Swords, Sha Po Lang, Isabella - but came up short - the distributors wanted a big rental fee for Isabella that we just could not afford and the other ones have been picked up by US distributors who would not give us the time of day. I just saw that SPL is being released straight to video - gee would it have hurt to have gotten it some publicity at our festival Harvey? We got covered ths year by everyone - huge articles in the NY Times, the Village Voice and Time Out and coverage in a ton of internet websites and other smaller publications. Grady is either a worlock to get these guys to cover our little fest or he is handing out sexual favors. I just hope my name was never mentioned - I have a fear that some day a 65-year old fat guy with a long beard will come to my apartment to collect. But I guess its better to just go straight to video and have your film disappear among the shelves. And they love Asian films don't they?

Anyway back to the final Sunday. If people haven't heard a few months ago the Music Palace was purchased by a new owner and he discovered nearly 300 prints within - just left along with unopened bills, crumbling schedules and dusty snacks as the old owners made a dash apparently and never looked back. We were invited to do an inventory of the prints, posters and lobby cards in below freezing weather and were allowed to pick some prints out to show. This may be the last time they are shown - what is now happening to all this stuff is truly tragic as they have been moved from the MP which is scheduled to be torn down very soon to a doctors's basement that is filled with water and dampness and should destroy much of all this within months. We tried finding a home for all this stuff but the owners wanted more money than anyone was willing to pay and now its a total mess. Grady and I ventured into this basement with water lapping over our shoes and using our cellphone light to try and find the films we wanted to show. It was impossible and we ended up taking the first five films we found that we liked and getting the hell out of there - Grady seems to think he got some spore disease down there that will kill him within ten years. We had no idea what kind of condition the prints would be in but invited folks to come see them for free (with possibly a small donation to help pay for the theater rental) and stay all day. Many did. And they brought food and beer and lots of good spirit as they cheered for Yuen Biao, Sammo, Jackie, Jet and Joyce Godenza one more time. It was so great seeing these films on the big screen again - perhaps for the last time and the prints were in fact in amazing condition - they must be made of stern stuff. We all sat there from 2pm to midnight and watched Knockabout - wow is all I can say - Yuen Biao was so young when he made this and his dexterity was mindblowing, Dragons Forever - the favorite of the day I would guess, She Shoots Straight - one of the lesser know Girls with Guns films but one of my favorites as they lavish it with lots of melodrama, Miracles or Mr. Canton and Lady Rose - Jackie's favorite of his films and I loved it but have to admit that it felt slow after seeing the previous three action films - there are some long slogs between action scenes and the Stanley Fung police routine grows old real fast. Finally, we ended it with Jet's New Legend of Shaolin - far from his best film but hey its still Jet and we were able to find it in the dark. It hit midnight and it was time to go - I wish we could have stayed all night watching these films - but we all collected ourselves and left the darkening theater with a sense of a bond between all of us - thinking those were days when HK made films that no one could or ever will match. What a great day to end the festival with.

The top three Audience Award winners were Always, Dongmakgol and Funky Forest. The first two had nearly 100% excellent, Funky just edged out a few others - Linda Linda Linda, GIT, Yokai Wars, Strangers of Mine, Shinobi - but it was really the surprise hit of the festival. One festival programmer from another fest told us that he had to see it six times before he got it - but we New Yorkers got it right away! I was glad that Always won in fact. At the dinner with the director he mentioned with a sheepish grin that his film came in second to Dongmakgol at Udine and hoped he could do better this time. It did by a nose hair.

I hope we make it back next year but I am so glad this year is over with!

NY Asian Fim Festival Part 1

Here are just some random thoughts from me on the just finished NY Asian Film Festival. Much of this was already posted at the Mobius Asian Forum mid-way through the festival but now we can add the Audience Award winners and some depressing news about the financial results. First though just a bit of background on the folks who bring you this festival every year. Why? I have no idea - I just feel like it.

Back in 2000 a bunch of us sat around a table in Chinatown munching on dim sum and wondering whether it would be possible to bring some Hong Kong films to New York City to show in a film festival. None of us really knew each other all that well except primarily through various discussion forums on the internet - in particular the Mobius one - or as that other weird white guy sitting through Cat III double features at the Chinese theater, The Music Palace. Grady was already gaining a reputation with his highly literate and entertaining posts on Asian cinema (he now has a blog affiliated with Variety magazine called Kaiju Shakedown that is very popular), Paul tended to be terse and to the point in his posts and at some point we finally realized that he could actually see into my apartment from where he lived - not that there was anything very interesting going on unfortunately. Goran had perhaps the most interesting background of all - he had skipped out of Serbia to escape the troubles and being drafted into the army and was now becoming an engineer at a telecommunications company - but instead of embracing the American dream he instead came to America and fell in love with Asian culture and Asian films and seems to know something about everything to do with Asia. He is still an engineer but also writes about Asian film with a focus on distribution for an on-line magazine. Nat was our fifth member, but he was wise enough to quickly drop out and move to Hong Kong - he has a cool blog about living there.

There were actually about ten people around that table but when it came time to put up some money for this film festival venture all but us five did a vanishing act that Houdini would have been proud of. So we ended up with five white guys and that has caused us some embarrassment and awkward moments from time to time. I can't tell you the number of instances Asian people have expressed surprise to find this out and a certain note can often be detected in their voice that seemed to resent this - even one of my favorite volunteers Angie told me at the closing party last year after a few drinks had loosened her lips that she was initially shocked to find this out and kept muttering "but you are all white". Only if you look really closely. All I can say is that no one else was bringing these films to NYC and my guess is no one would still be bringing these films to NYC - so we did it simply because we loved them - and had nothing much else to do in our mundane lives.

Back then no festivals or U.S. distributors were particularly interested in Asian films unless someone named Akira Kurosawa or Zhang Yimou was attached to it. Not that we have anything against those kinds of films but we wanted to show that Asian film was so much more - that it could be rowdy, funny, emotional, romantic and transcendent at times. Even though none of us had a bit of experience doing this, we thought what the hell and all ponied up some money to give it a shot. Little did we expect then that we would be doing our 10th festival all these years later and will have shown over 170 Asian films of all kinds. Even more unlikely and just as important is the fact that after many fierce arguments about what films to include and what direction to go in we are all still good friends and we still get a kick out of bringing great Asian films to see.

We began learning the ropes with a few Hong Kong film festivals - these were the films we really loved and grew up with - Tsui Hark, Johnny To, kung fu and a wonderful horror/extreme fest - and in truth these are still our favorite films. But we did it just in time - in those days all the rights to show these films were owned by two Chinese companies here in the US - Tai Seng and Pinetree - but now the rights to so many of those films have been picked up by US distributors and so putting together a Tsui Hark/Milkyway retro would be nearly impossible. I look back very fondly on those first festivals and remember being really excited when like over 100 people showed up to see The Mission. Next we decided to branch out from Hong Kong films primarily because we had showed most of the good ones these companies had and unfortunately the HK film industry had begun its downward spiral and there just weren't enough good films to show anymore.

So we decided to try our hands with a Korean film festival - it was a big jump because it meant having to develop new relationships and prove our worthiness to someone outside of the US - but we had the help of a Korean student group and between the two groups we put on an amazing fest - the first one in the US I believe to really focus on contemporary Korean film - some really great films - JSA, Attack the Gas Station, Momento Mori, Christmas in August, Barking Dogs Never Bite (my introduction to Bae Do-na), Foul King, Art Museum by the Sea, The Isle and a few others. It was a great success and we then decided to embark on doing something called "Asian Films are Go" - which over time evolved into the more stately titled NY Asian Film Festival. We loved the original name of the fest, but nobody understood it. Not even me but I liked the sound of it.

Putting on a film festival isn't brain surgery by any means but it is a lot of work and entails creating a lot of relationships - most importantly with the distributors of the films who have to believe that you will do right by their movie and the press who you have to convince that you are worthy of being covered in their publication. We have come a long ways since our first NY Asian Film Fest in which we only showed eleven movies and were turned down by nearly all the distributors because they just didn't know who we were. It has taken a while to build a track record and to show them that having their film in our festival is a plus - we communicate with them all the time and visit many of them when traveling overseas or going to other festivals. Even so we still get turned down all the time like spurned lovers as they prefer showing off their baby at Toronto, Tribecca or the NY Film Festival - so most of the time when you wonder why we didn't show this or that - chances are we tried and were told no. Small festivals like us will always be scooping up what the big ones don't want.

The press is a different matter. I read an article in the Village Voice a few weeks back that was about the incredible growth of film festivals in NYC and basically said there are way too many of them with everyone and their uncle deciding to put one on. There is an average of 3 festivals a week in NYC with a focus on everything from bikes to transgender films to Albanian cinema. So trying to get even a mention in a paper is a huge effort - 90% of the festivals never get a word. We have been lucky but it's because we develop relationships and try to make them feel sorry for us!

Continues in Part II

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hitting the Road

So back in April my department at JP Morgan Chase got our walking papers - or I should say in my case my traveling papers. The timing could not have been more perfect for me. In fact, our entire group basically high fived each other upon hearing the news. The HR rep told us he had never seen a group of people receive their pink slips with such little concern. It allowed me to work on the NY Asian Film Festival and the package is good enough to allow me to get away from the work life for a while to see some of the world. I have been wanting to do this for some time. Now with the festival over with I am getting ready to hit the road in a short while. I expect to be leaving by the end of July and not showing my frumpy face in NYC till mid-December. I have no particular plan, no schedule, no agenda, no timetable. I just want to play it all by ear and the hand of fate but I have a general inclination to spend much of it in Southeast Asia with side trips to Hong Kong, Macau and perhaps China. I have no desire to be the frantic tourist rushing from place to place like a junkie looking for a score - but instead just taking my time in various locales and if I find somewhere that I really like I just want to stay there till I feel like moving on. Everyone tells me that its too hot to go now but I may be the only person left in NYC without air conditioning so I figure I will at least have that - and pools and beaches and cheap cold beer!

I am taking along my computer with me but am not sure I will be able to update the site with the use of free wi-fi places and so thought at least for a while I would just use this blog for any updates. Most of the posts will still be movie related but perhaps a little less formal than normal and certainly with spelling that would make my elementary teacher, Miss Babson, wince in pain.
I hope to be able to see a number of films in the theaters if I can but am also taking along loads of DVDs to watch. There are lots of lazy late afternoons in which you really just want to take a catatonic nap after a hot curry but feel like you should be mildly more productive - and thats perfect for DVD watching. But perhaps I over did it as I tend to do - unable to make up my mind as to what I want to see and so I am taking way too much. But I have been stockpiling DVDs for years and finally I have a chance to dust them off and let them breathe like a fine bottle of wine. Aged for perfection.

So my main task before leaving has been deciding which DVDs to take on the trip with me and which get left behind to stew in resentment. I picked up one of those DVD bags that hold 240 but I managed to cram in close to 400 I think - of which I may be able to get thru 60 perhaps. But this isn't really going to be a big sightseeing slugfest - I really want to take it easy, relax, do a lot of swimming and a whole lot of eating. My idea of sightseeing is just to go out of the hotel, pick a direction and walk in hopes of seeing something interesting - I can only see so many temples, wats and elephant shows.

Still 400 DVDs is plain silly. Do I really need to take four Elvis Presley films and the Val Lewton collection - well maybe - you never know - but five Betty Grable films? I've never watched a Betty Grable movie in my life but I guess this is as good a time as any. Most of the films are Asian of course - with a major focus on 1960's/1970's Bollywood films (I really find the old ones so much better than what they are making now) with a bunch starring Shammi Kapoor, around 50 films from the Shaw Brothers (mostly non-martial arts) that I am dying to see ("Sex Beyond the Grave" anyone!), a few Grace Chang Cathay films, around 30 Korean films that I have either put off seeing or sort of want to see again (mainly lame romcoms that I have an unexplained weakness for) and loads of Japanese films.

Finally a chance to go thru the filmographies of Shunji Iwai and Sabu and my friends YTSL and Elif will be happy to hear that I am taking eight Miyazaki films with me. They have shamed me that I have never seen one but honestly I avoid anime like a bad skin rash but these they tell me are magnificent and full of humanity. And they should make perfect plane fare as you don't have to worry about a naked woman suddenly popping up on screen. A few years ago I recall watching some Korean/Japanese film and all of a sudden the guy in the film was masturbating in front of his computer and the eyeballs of the young woman next to me almost fell out - as I fumbled quickly to turn it off she casually told me not to worry - her boyfriend does it all the time. Yikes - more than I needed to know. So I play it safe now. I am also taking a lot of older Japanese films - not the classics mind you but things like the Pinky Violence Collection (not to be played on the plane!) and the Convict Scorpion films and a bunch with one of my favorite newly discovered old stars, Hibari Misora.

So hopefully I will be able to keep the site updated with this stuff and other films I see - but if not - so what really. The internet is already full of people that think they have something special to say and most of the time my head feels like it wants to explode at all the information overkill. Maybe I will just become a Betty Grable freak instead and turn the site into a shrine for her - thats if she is dead I guess.