FFY3: Film Festivals and East Asia

January 8, 2011 at 11:52 am

I am pleased to announce the publication of our new volume from the Film Festival Yearbook undertaking, the third one in a row. Co-edited by myself and Ruby Cheung, this one is dedicated to Film Festivals and East Asia and is available to order from our web-site; it is also possible to order it in combination with our previous volumes, Film Festivals and Imagined Communities and The Film Festival Circuit, at a special price. Working on this volume was extremely engaging and exciting. The collaborators were based all over the world, as usual, and we managed to gain insights into a little known but thriving area for film festivals.

The table of contents features:

FILM FESTIVALS AND EAST ASIA

East Asia: ‘New Localism’, ‘Full Service’ and Film Festivals
Dina Iordanova

Part I: Contexts

Asian Film Festivals, Translation, and the European Film Festival Short Circuit
Abé Mark Nornes

East Asian Film Festivals: Film Markets
Ruby Cheung

Japan 1951-1970: National Cinema as Cultural Currency
Julian Stringer

News for Whom?: Critical Coverage of the 10th Jeonju International Film Festival
Adrian Martin

Washington, Pusan, Rotterdam, Udine and Back: Programming East Asian Films for American Audiences
Tom Vick

Comrades and Citizens: Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals in China
Ragan Rhyne

Part II: Case Studies

Bulldozers, Bibles, and Very Sharp Knives: The Chinese Independent Documentary Scene
Abé Mark Nornes

Programming Southeast Asia at the Singapore International Film Festival
Felicia Chan and Dave Chua

Taipei Film Festival: Creation of a Global City
Yun-hua Chen

Tourism and the Landscape of Thai Film Festivals
Adam Knee and Kong Rithdee

North Korea’s Pyongyang International Film Festival
James Bell

Between Europe and Asia? A Chronicle of the ‘Eurasia’ International Film Festival (Kazakhstan)
Birgit Beumers

Part III: Resources

The Resources: Necessary Groundwork
Dina Iordanova

Interviews
1. ‘I believe in “film as art”’An Interview with Li Cheuk-to, Artistic Director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF)
Ruby Cheung
2. A Platform to the World: An Interview with Kim Ji-seok, Executive Programmer of the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF)
Seunghee Lee
3. ‘It’s very simple. We like to give the audience the chance to see good films’ An Interview with Hayashi Kanako and Ichiyama Shozo of Tokyo FILMeX
Chris Fujiwara
4. Do Vodka and Sake Really Mix? An Interview with Natalia Shakhnazarova, Executve Director of Pacific Meridian: Vladivostok International Film Festival of Asian Pacific Countries
Alex Fischer

Tables
Location Map (Alex Fischer)
Table 1: The Asia-Pacific Film Festival (1954- ) (Sangjoon Lee)
Table 2: East Asian Festivals by Decade (Ruby Cheung and Alex Fischer)
Table 3: Festivals Featuring Significant East Asian Cinema Content (Andrew Dorman and Alex Fischer)
Table 4: Film Festivals in Mainland China (Ma Ran)
Table 5: Film Festivals in Hong Kong (Ma Ran)
Table 6: Film Festivals in Taiwan (Yun-hua Chen)
Table 7: Film Festivals in Japan (Alex Marlow-Mann)
Table 8: Film Festivals in South Korea (Yun Mi Hwang)
Table 9: Film Festivals in Singapore (Dave Chua)
Table 10: Film Festivals in Central Asia and the Asian Part of the former USSR (Birgit Beumers)
Table 11: Documentary Festivals in Asia (Abé Mark Nornes)
Table 12: GLBT Festivals in Asia (Ragan Rhyne)
Table 13: Monetary Value of Awards at Top Festivals in East Asia (Alex Fischer)

Bibliography: Film Festivals and East Asia (Alex Fischer)

What is New in Film Festivals Studies Thematic Bibliography on Film Festival Research: Update 2010
Marijke de Valck and Skadi Loist

New Book: Cinema at the Periphery (2010)

April 24, 2010 at 12:47 am

A long time in the making, “Cinema at the Periphery is finally out, published by Wayne State University Press in Detroit as part of their series on Contemporary Approaches to Film and Television, under the general editorship of Barry Keith Grant.

Our idea for this project was to explore marginal cinemas from around the world by bringing them together in a comparative perspective. Because, as we see from Iceland to Iran and from Singapore to Scotland, a growing intellectual and cultural wave of production is taking cinema beyond the borders of its place of origin and ventures into exploring faraway places, interacting with barely known peoples, and making new localities imaginable. In an array of films that are made in the context of these traditions, previously entrenched spatial divisions no longer function as firmly fixed grid coordinates, the hierarchical position of place as “center” is subverted, and new forms of representation become possible. Thus, for the project Cinema at the Periphery (first a conference in 2006 and now finally a book), we assembled criticism that explored issues of the periphery, including questions of transnationality, place, space, passage, and migration. The brief to the contributors was to examine the periphery in terms of locations, practices, methods, and themes. The volume includes geographic case studies of small national cinemas located at the global margins, like New Zealand, Denmark or Scotland, but also of filmmaking that comes from peripheral cultures, like Palestinian “stateless” cinema, Celtic-language film, Australian Aboriginal films, and cinema from Quebec. Therefore, the volume is divided into two key areas: industries and markets on the one hand, and identities and histories on the other. Yet as a whole, the project is to illustrate that the concept of “periphery” is not fixed but is always changing according to patterns of industry, ideology, and taste. Most importantly, however, Cinema at the Periphery proposes a workable approach that allows us to link the inextricable interrelationship that exists between production modes and circulation channels and the emerging narratives of histories and identities they enable. It includes some really important writing by leading authors in the field of transnational film studies.

Let me take the opportunity and make an important link here. Back in June 2006, at the inaugural conference that marked the beginning of this project, we recorded the presentations of many of our guests and made them available on-line. Some of these, like Faye Ginsburg (NYU), Mette Hjort (Lingnan), Patricial Pisters (Amsterdam), Sheldon Lu (Santa Barbara), Laura Marks (Simon Fraser), Bill Marshall (Stirling), and Duncan Petrie’s (York) talks became the basis of chapters in the current book. Others, like Dudley Andrew (Yale), John Caughie (Glasgow), Pam Cook (Southampton), Hamid Naficy (Northwestern), Rod Stoneman (Huston Film School), Kristian Feigelson (Paris), published their work elsewhere. While still others, like Lucia Nagib (Leeds), opted to participate in the book but by presenting us with texts on topics that differed from those that they presented. We also commissioned several essays that were added to the two parts of the volume (Industry and Ideology). These included contributions by all three of us — myself and David Martin-Jones (both still at the University of St. Andrews) and Belén Vidal (who since moved to take up a job at King’s College in London) — who acted as editors of the collection. We also included a specially commissioned piece by Kay Dickinson (Goldsmiths) (on Palestinian cinema in an international context). Back then, a number of reviews of the event appeared in the film press. Here is a link to the one published in Senses of Cinema.

Reviews of the book are still to materialise, and I would be most excited to see this volume reviewed internationally, at the periphery and in those locations whose cinematic cultures we aimed to discuss (e.g. Spain, Quebec, Denmark, Brazil, Morocco, New Zealand, Australia, China, Palestine, and others). If you are writing for the film journals in these (or other peripheral) countries, where there is likely to encounter particular interest to the writing included in the volume, for review copies, please be in touch with the Press’s coordinator Sarah Murphy at murphysa@wayne.edu. For the time being, we only have Ruby Rich’s lines that describe the book as a ‘collection of reflections that challenge conventional definitions of national film cultures’ that we can quote.

New Book Announcement: Moving People, Moving Images

March 12, 2010 at 4:50 am

Co-written with my colleagues William Brown and Leshu Torchin, Moving People, Moving Images: Cinema and Trafficking in the New Europe is the first title in our new series on Cinema and Transnational Discourse (St Andrews Film Studies, 2010). The next title planned for the series will look into the wide range of cinematic representations of international terrorism in cinema.

We hope to find a wide exposure for this volume, far beyond the narrow film studies field (it is no accident that this was also the best-selling title of all the books we introduced at the recent multiple book launch event at the BFI Filmstore on Southbank in London). It is a volume on the representation of human trafficking in international cinema, and even though it is a ‘film studies’ work, we believe it is really of interest to much wider circles as these are matters of immediate concern to social workers, migration specialists and activists. The book discusses a range of films, both feature and documentary, reflecting the situation with human trafficking in a great variety of countries — from Turkey to Sweden, from Sri Lanka to Greece, from Serbia to Italy, from North Africa to Spain, and so on.

ISBN (13): 978-1-9066-7803-6 (paperback)
180pp.
Price £17.99 (UK), $29.00 (US)
Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

The volume is divided in three parts, which include respectively general essays; close analysis of fifteen important international films on trafficking; commentary on the political aspects of the usage of these films in the context of activism.

Here is a more detailed Table of Contents

PART ONE. Landscapes
William Brown – Negotiating the Invisible
Leshu Torchin – Foreign Exchange
Dina Iordanova – Making Traffic Visible, Adjusting the Narrative

PART TWO: Close-Ups

In-depth analyses of The Bus (Turkey/Sweden, Tunc Okan), The Guardian Angel (Yugoslavia, Goran Paskaljevic), When Mother Comes Home for Christmas(Greece/India/Germany, Nilita Vachani), Wesh wesh, qu’est-ce qui se passe? (France, rabah Ameur-Zaimeche), Poniente (Spain, Chus Gutierrez), Spare Parts (Slovenia, Damjan Kozole), Promised Land (Israel/France, Amos Gitai), Ghosts (UK, Nick Broomfield), It’s a Free World… (UK, Ken Loach), Import/Export (Austria, Ulrich Seidl), Love on Delivery and Ticket to Paradise (Denmark), The Silence of Lorna (Belgium, Dardenne Brothers) and Taken (France, Pierre Morel).

Part THREE: Traffic Jam
Film, Activism, and Human Trafficking

Excerpts of reviews:

Moving People, Moving Images tackles human trafficking, one of the most serious consequences of the massive movement of people enabled by post-Wall processes of economic and cultural globalization in Europe. While immigration, migration, exile, and the illegal movement of people have been the subject of much work in film and media studies recently, few volumes would take such a bold stand in favour of the possibility of filmic activism. One of the attractions of this book is precisely that it refuses to tread lightly and tentatively across the well-established divide between cinematic representations and socio-political issues. It makes a provocative argument for the political effect of films and proposes that human trafficking should not be the rightful, let alone the exclusive, domain of governments, NGOs, activist organizations and the social sciences.
— Aniko Imre, University of Southern California

Moving People, Moving Images is a groundbreaking and much-needed study of the intersections between film and human trafficking. Through a sophisticated and versatile approach, and against the backdrop of theories of economic globalisation, transnationalism, post-colonialism, identity and modernity, it offers a theorisation of human trafficking that engages with a range of published work on social and critical theory as well as on film studies…. This volume is both a complete and valuable teaching tool, and a precious resource for future research, and sets the agenda for more work in this all-important area.
— Laura Rascaroli, University College Cork, Ireland

Available for purchase by clicking through to St. Andrews Film Studies bookshop

Blurred Memory, Responsibility, War Film: Ordinary People (2009), Waltz with Bashir (2008)

January 31, 2010 at 4:18 am

Ordinary People is a Serbian film, which is a co-production of France, Switzerland, Serbia and the Netherlands and does not seem to have a title in Serbian. As France is a co-producer, no wonder it screened in the context of Cannes IFF in 2009; it won awards at Sarajevo and at the specialist East European film festival in Cottbus, Germany.

Perhaps the most impressive recent film from the region, this almost silent, slow moving, and seemingly dull story chronicles one day in the life of soldiers whose work is killing people all day long while staring at the blue sky and smoking cigarettes in the breaks in-between work. It is mid summer, and groups or men are brought in and executed in groups of five or six, shot at the back of the head on the premises of what appears to be a disused vacation camp. The victims are passive, there are no interactions between prisoners and executors, and only in one instance a captive shows signs of resistance. Another one attempts to initiate something like an investigation into why he is here, hoping he may get out, and only gains an extra few minutes of hope – he is still executed along the others.

The protagonist is a young man, Dzoni, just out of high school. There were no jobs when he graduated, he explains, so he joined the army. One learns little of him: he is clearly a most average young man who likes to sleep in, and in his free time smokes cigarettes and stares at the clouds in the sunny sky. That is, when he is not busy killing. At the first group of prisoners he tries to opt out, but then joins in and does his work along the others, he does not want to be ostracized. At the end of the day the soldiers are asked to do some more but he leads something like an improvised protest and says the work been enough and they should now call it a day. The lieutenant, pictured here as he is training the soldiers for the job, is a kind of a father figure. So much so that at some point I thought it may be revealed he is the protagonist’s real father. At the end of the day he catches up with Dzoni in the men’s toilet where he issues a brief technical remark on how to aim better the next day.

Clearly, it is in former Yugoslavia during one of the several wars of the 1990s. As the film is Serbian the soldiers are presumably Serbian as well, executing prisoners from the other nations that sought secession during the wars of Yugoslavia’s break up. But there is very little to identify the place and the time, and indeed, the action of the film could take place in almost any historical period and geographical place. It is a war film about killing in the context of a war that is not of the soldiers’, one in which they take part almost mechanically by doing their little part. It is about how guilt and responsibility is devolved by dismantling the operation into small parts where no one is ultimately responsible.
Reportedly, the film is partially based on some personal experiences of the director who served in the Serbian army in the 1990s. It is probably this fact that has made a number of reviewers to accuse it in trying to exonerate the Serbs for the troubles they have been charged with in the context of the wars of Yugoslavia’s succession. There is no mercy in these critics – the director is said to seek to excuse the killings by showing that individual soldiers cannot be held responsible.

But is this really the case? Ari Folman’s oneiric animation Waltz With Bashir (Israel, 2008), one of the most impressive films I saw last year, was not subjected to such criticism, even though it speaks of largely the same issues. Like Ordinary People, Waltz with Bashir evolved around a young protagonist and his buddies, all involved in an atrocity in a way that similarly dismantles the operation into small parts and creates a context where no individual can be vested with responsibility over the reprehensible results of their collective actions. I cannot recall any critics claiming that Folman was trying to exonerate his protagonists. In both cases the films make a powerful statement that raises above concrete wars and contexts: personal memory becomes blurred and reminiscences uncertain when confronted with the master narrative of the big picture that emerges in the aftermath of the atrocity. Once the focus zooms in on the atrocity for a close scrutiny, personal responsibility becomes increasingly difficult to pin down on to an individual, as singular people have been just parts of an operation that now seems to lack the mastermind that would take responsibility for the whole. Thus, in these two films, war cinema charts out new areas for investigation into the realm of guilt and remembrance.

© Dina Iordanova
31 January 2010

The Closing of Pyongyang International Film Festival, September 2008

March 26, 2009 at 12:34 am

I came across this interesting item on You Tube, featuring the closing ceremony of Pyongyang’s IFF last September (see also Jamie Bell’s piece on the history of this festival, in a recent issue of Sight and Sound). The festival has been in existence since 1987 and clearly is one of the festivals that has got an idiosyncratic and interesting agenda.

I also re-post here the report that comes along on You Tube, which tells us of the films that won awards — mainly Chinese and Iranian titles (a film by Xiaogang Feng and by Rakhshan Bani Etemad), but also The Counterfeiters (Austria) and Elizabeth I-The Golden Age (UK) and Atonement (UK), as well as Czech Empties. The first two films also won awards at the Oscars and at the BAFTAs, while Jan Sverak’s film got the audience award at Karlovy Vary last year. So, not much difference in the taste of North Korea’s comrades and that of audiences and academies in the West. And the range of exposure to international titles is not much worse than the one viewers at most festivals in the West would get.

Pyongyang, September 26 (KCNA) — The 11th Pyongyang International Film Festival which opened on September 17 was closed with due ceremony at the Pyongyang International Cinema House on Friday. Present at the closing ceremony were Yang Hyong Sop, vice-president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Ro Tu Chol, vice-premier of the Cabinet, Kang Nung Su, minister of Culture who is also chairman of the festival organizing committee, Pak Kwan Ho, chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee, and others, foreign delegations and delegates and members of the international jury of the festival. Present there on invitation were diplomatic envoys of various countries, embassy officials and staff members of missions of international organizations here. At the ceremony the results of the screening of the films presented to the festival were announced by the jury and awards were conferred upon the successful films. According to the results, award for the best film and directing and technical awards for full-length film were conferred upon the Chinese film “Assembly”, award for scenario of full-length film upon the Iranian film “Mainline”, award for shooting and fine art upon the British film “Atonement”, award for acting upon the actor who played the main part in the Bosnia-Herzegovina film “It’s Hard to Be Nice,” award for acting upon the actress who played the main part in the Iranian film “Mainline” and award for music upon the Indian film “Tale of a River”. Award for directing documentary and short films went to the German documentary “Chamame – Music, People, Poetry”, award for composition to the DPRK children’s film “The Oriole’s Song”, award for shooting to the British documentary “Earth”, special award of the International Jury of the Festival to the Czech film “Empties” and the Chinese documentary “The Imperial Garden”, special award of the Organizing Committee of the Festival to the Russian film “The Irony of Fate ” (continuation) and the Chinese film “The Tender of Feeling”. Awards for special screening were conferred upon the German film “The Counterfeiters”, the Russian film “Mukha”, the Swiss film “Vitus”, the DPRK film “The Kites Flying in the Sky”, the Chinese film “Good Man”, the French film “Aurore”, and the British film “Elizabeth I-The Golden Age”.

© Dina Iordanova
26 March 2009

Gagma napiri/ The Other Bank (Georgia, 2009): Transnational cinema at the periphery

March 2, 2009 at 1:58 am

Talking to Georgian Tbilisi-based director George Ovashvili last week at Belgrade FEST about his gripping humanist tale Gagma napiri (The Other Bank), where it was featured as part of the competition Europe outside of Europe, led to the emergence of yet one more amazing composite picture of the subdued dynamics of transnational filmmaking ‘at the periphery’.

While this appears to be a distinctly Georgian film, in that it is set in Georgia and Abkhazia and features the specific realities of the country, it is also one that involves creative ‘above the line’ contributions from professionals that belong to no less than seven other national cinematic traditions, none of which is Western. Kazakh Sain Gabdullin co-produced the film with Ovashvili, while Kyrgyz Marat Sarulu acted as an associate producer. The adaptation of the novel was assisted by Rustam Ibragimbekov, a screenwriting veteran of Soviet cinema responsible for classics such as Beloe solnce pustyni (White Sun of the Desert, 1970), who is based in Baku, Azerbaijan today. The cinematography of the film is by Iranian Shahriar Assadi, best known for his work on Bahman Ghobadi’s Turtles Can’t Fly (2005), the sound mixing — by Czech Ivo Heder, while Jew Israel David is listed as score recordist.

When he came to think of editing the film, Ovashvili noticed that two of his favorite films, Kim Ki-duk’s The Coast Guard (Hae anseon, 2002) and Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (Salinui chueok, 2003) shared the same editor, award-winning Sun-min Kim. Clearly, a South Korean editor would be out of reach for a director based in Tbilisi in these turbulent times, be it just for the sake of the differences in language and the geographical distance. Nonetheless, George Ovashvili decided to use an e-mail address he found on the Internet and tried contacting Sun-min Kim by sending a message into cyberspace following the principle ‘if you do not try, you do not know,’ yet without expecting much. To his great surprise, however, he soon received a reply from the editor who was amazed that someone from a remote and isolated country like Georgia may know of her work and may be interested to work with her. When it transpired that the Georgian director’s budget cannot accommodate the usual fee that the editor would work for, she even agreed to reduce substantially, and worked on the project for a whole month in Tbilisi, giving it her full attention and dedication.

There is nothing surprising, really, in this configuration of transnational collaborators, especially as it is coming from a director who identifies Korean director Kim Ki-duk and Iranian Majid Majidi (alongside Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf) as his main influences. It is more and more often that major international auteurs trace their artistic roots to influences that come not from the West but from countries like Russia and Iran (take the example of acclaimed Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan, for example, whose early work reveals a fruitful cross-pollination between Tarkovsky and Kiarostami). The trend of this ‘peripheral’ transnational cinema is getting stronger every year. I see it all the time in various instances, yet it appears it is best to foreground it one example at a time, as I have attempted to do in this short discussion of George Ovashvili’s film.

© Dina Iordanova
2 March 2009

From Bollywood to You Tube

August 1, 2008 at 12:54 am



Below is the text of the Press Release that the University’s Press office did on the occasion of the large Leverhulme award I recently received.

From Bollywood to YouTube, an academic at the University of St Andrews is to investigate the ways in which non-mainstream film reaches the masses.

Professor Dina Iordanova, St Andrews’ first Chair of Film Studies and a leading international authority in her field, will receive a prestigious grant from The Leverhulme Trust to carry out the study “Dynamics of World Cinema: Transnational Channels of Global Film Circulation”.

The innovative project will examine the circulation of global cinema by comparing the four main channels: the system of global Hollywood, the international film festival circuit, various alternative production centres like Bollywood as well as internet-enabled channels such as YouTube.

Professor Iordanova said, “We know a lot about Holywood’s global operation, and we have all sorts of box office data and charts on them. But we know next to nothing of the other side of the equation, of those films that are not in the blockbuster sphere, that are distributed via less visible channels but are still popular.

“In the course of our study, we will establish how much money non-Hollywood films actually make and are likely to reveal that they enjoy a growing domestic and international commercial success.

“The study will examine the phenomenal growth of film festivals around the world and will assess if they indeed have become an independent distribution circuit. We will also explore the film distribution for ethnic minorities (for example, Bollywood imports), and reveal that it is an operation of astonishing commercial success.

“Finally, we will also assess the impact that new internet-enabled channels such as YouTube, online forums and download sites, have on the changing dynamics in world cinema.”

The £240,000 grant will allow Professor Iordanova to undertake the pioneering two and a half year investigation into the ways film travels nowadays to reach a growing and increasingly diverse community of viewers that are interested in getting more specific content than the blockbuster playing at the cinema around the corner.

She explained, “What makes us distinct in relation to earlier studies is that we will correlate all those diverse strands of film circulation that are extremely active nowadays but somehow remain below the radar. By putting all information into comparative perspective and by revealing patterns of interaction, we will show the real dynamics of world cinema. We expect to bring to the attention traditionally ignored aspects that will undermine the view of Hollywood’s undisputed global dominance.”

Originally from Bulgaria, and having worked in Canada, the US, and England, Professor Iordanova’s background is in philosophy and aesthetics. Soon after acquiring her PhD in 1986, she realised she needed images to come along with the theoretical concepts. She made a profession out of her habit of seeing a movie a day, and switched to the new field of film studies in 1993. Today, she has numerous publications on in international cinema to her credit. She has recently edited a special issue of Film International dedicated to film festivals, and is now working on a book chapter about recent Asian epic cinema.

She continued, “This is a radically interdisciplinary project, which brings together transnational film and media studies, globalisation and diaspora studies, political economy and humanistic scholarship. Given the Trust’s interest in major issues of contemporary culture, The Leverhulme was the best organization to fund it. We are truly grateful for their recognition.”

Professor Stuart Cunningham from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, a leading specialist in the area of creative industries, is co-investigator on this unique and innovative project. He will spend a month in St Andrews during the second phase of the research. Two post-doctoral fellows, one from Hong Kong and the other one from New York City, are joining the team set to start work in October.

ENDS

NOTE TO EDITORS:

Professor Iordanova is available for interview on di1@st-andrews.ac.uk or at 01334-467-474 (by appointment).
Her current work is showcased at www.DinaView.com

NOTE TO PICTURE EDITORS:

IMAGES ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE PRESS OFFICE – CONTACTS BELOW.

Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Fiona Armstrong, Press Officer on 01334 462530 / 462529, Mobile: 07730 415 015 or Email: fa12@st-andrews.ac.uk
Ref: Leverhulme film 240708
View the latest University press releases at www.st-andrews.ac.uk

Snoop Dogg, Akshay Kumar and Singh Is Kinng (2008): More Transnational Film Professionals

July 29, 2008 at 2:02 am

View here Snoop Dogg’s and Akshay Kumar’s video for the still-to-be-released Indo-Australian Singh Is Kinng (2008), posted by johalballin on YouTube. Like is the practice in Bollywood, the music is released before the film to create hype and momentum.

Not just an encounter between Bollywood and Hollywood, the film is yet another prime example of the transnationalisation of highly skilled labor in filmmaking which I have been covering over the past few days. A look at the ‘below the line’ sections of the crew reveal whole teams of non-Indian assistant directors, art designers, and special effects people, who come with background from productions like Inspector Gadget or the Australian Western, The Proposition. The stuntspeople have been not only in Australian and US productions, but also in films made in China, Japan and other Asian hubs, and many of the miscellaneous crew members have Bosnian or Croatian-sounding names, reminding me of the forced dispersal of families from former Yugoslavia to all parts of the world nearly fifteen years ago, just about the time needed for their children to grow up and get entry level jobs in transnational filmmaking.

See also Part I and Part II of Transnational Class of Film Professionals.

© Dina Iordanova
29 July 2008

House of Flying Daggers/Shi mian mai fu (2004), Zhang Yimou

July 19, 2008 at 2:11 am

Zhang Yimou’s second installment in the wuxia genre, House of Flying Daggers came to the West just a few months after the delayed release of Hero (2002). In this context, the procrastination that surrounded Hero‘s release may have played a positive role in enhancing the impact of this second film. But it can also have been the other way around, as in this instance the second film really came too soon after the first one (between two and four months in different Western countries); Miramax had been concerned about releasing Hero too soon after Crouching Tiger (see my discussion of this here); such fear may have been more applicable in this case with the two Zhang Yimou films. Whereas in real terms there had been a two year gap between the making of the two films, to viewers in the West they came within the same season.

House of Flying Daggers was made for an estimated 100,000,000 CNY (c. $15 million US) and within China it made about CNY 55,000,000 on theatrical release (c. $8.1 million US). Clearly, the film could only make successful business on the realization of international revenues. Distributed by Sony within the USA, by Focus films internationally, and by about another 15 companies regionally, the film made a total of $92,863,945 worldwide during the 18 weeks that the Box Office Mojo has monitored the release in 2005, of which about 88% came from international revenues ($81,813,851) and only 12% were domestic US ($11,050,094 at 1,189 screens).

Judging by these numbers, it appears that the domestic U.S. revenues may have indeed been damaged by the timing of the release, just two months after Hero. But it is also important to note that the gross revenues are at levels similar to those of the other film. Made for about $30 million, Hero made this amount about six times over. Similarly, made for $15 million, House of Flying Daggers also made it about six times over. What is different in the revenue patterns of the two films is the balance between international and US box office revenues.

Set in the time of Tang Dynasty in the 9th century AD, the film evolves around intricate stories of betrayal, romance, and honor, and features spectacular and impeccably choreographed sword fight routines. Zhang Yimou’s love for colors, seen in his early classics like Ju Dou (1990), here comes to full swing; the art directors’ work could easily rival the concepts of top fashion designers. Watching House of Flying Daggers can best be compared to the experience of visiting a Shanghai Tang store.

The film’ reception in China has been quite critical, as reported in the Wikipedia article on the film. The critical reception in the West is more or less summarized by Jason Blake who describes the film as ‘ravishing to look at but dramatically inert’. When the IMDb users are asked to rank the three Yimou recent spectacular epics, almost unanimously the vote goes in favour for Hero, maybe because it is the purest form of an action film. One of the voters says: ‘The second film focused as much on opulence as action, and the third was an exercise in opulence’.

I found myself agreeing with The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, who assessed House of Flying Daggers contextually as a work of transnational cinema:

Entertainments like this have been criticised as Sino-American inventions, cumbersome magic-realist versions of martial arts, custom built for western audiences, which piously subtract the comedy that Asian audiences have traditionally enjoyed. Added to this criticism is the recent suggestion that Hero, with its bullish theme of Chinese unification, was in tune with a new reactionary patriotism. I can only say that if this Hollywood-ised wuxia is a new form of the genre, it’s all the more exciting for that. As for its alleged chauvinism, this movie’s content is much more ambiguous than that. The government is corrupt; the rebels are virtuous; we hardly know who is on whose side and the disguises and subterfuge are almost a reminder of Andy Lau’s cynical Hong Kong cop thriller Infernal Affairs. House of Flying Daggers is hardly an uncritical piece of cheerleading for the Chinese state.

Most of the crew involved in the making of House of Flying Daggers are Chinese, except crew members from two departments — sound and visual effects. Some of the specialists involved here, also worked on films such as Moulin Rouge, Lord of the Rings, 300, of the World Trade Center. Thus, the film is only partially representative of the tendency to employ transnationally the globally developing workforce in special effects.

© Dina Iordanova
16 July 2008

Bollywood: The Global Dance Number

July 16, 2008 at 12:58 am

It was in a multiplex in Singapore nearly ten years ago. Hollywood productions were scheduled in the five other theatres but I ended up in the sixth one where the then latest Indian blockbuster, the Tamil-language Jeans (S. Shankar, India, 1998), was playing to a full house. It was the usual Indian masala fare, a comedy cum romance, the narrative interrupted by lavish musical numbers. One of the early ‘NRI’ films, taking place amidst diasporic Indians in the USA, some of the musical intermissions were set in places like Disneyland or on the lawn of a suburban Californian bungalow.*

Toward the end, however, there was a musical number of a kind I had not seen until then. The lovers were singing and dancing in a continuous swing against an incessantly changing background setting, taking them from one place to the next. They started off in front of Taj Mahal, but then the backdrop changed and they were dancing in Paris, in front of Tour Eiffel and L’arc de Triomphe, then they went on dancing in Rome, the Coliseum on the background, then in New York, in front of the World Trade Centre, and then — near the Egyptian Sphynx. I no longer remember the other stops of their dance itinerary but it included places of the kind that an advertisement for a “private-Concord-around-the-world-in-the-year-2000” promised — Davos, Chichen-Itza, Stonehenge, Samarkand — everywhere you may want to be in an around-the-world-adventure. Powerfully focused on each other, the world was in the feet of these Indian lovers. They were changing costumes and places without breaking the pace of the dance. They were beautiful and rich, nothing to do with the slums of Calcutta. They were not confined to an ethnic enclave or a remote quiet place where they could love each other in seclusion. The background of their love affair consisted of prime tourist attractions, which they were consuming and dispensing of as picture-postcards, a universe defined solely by their mutual attraction but comprising of a multiplicity of places. The wonders of the world were no longer reserved for affluent Western tourists, now they were nothing more than a backdrop for the Indian couple.

One could find the roots of the global dance number in classics such as Raj Kappor’s Sangam (1964), where the newly weds go to Switzerland and a musical number evolves on the background of spectacular snowy landscapes in the Alps (hence the Alpine setting having become a favorite for a long tradition of Bollywood films).

The global dance number, however, is different. It is seen in those films preoccupied with migrations and places. In these films, East and West, North and South, center and periphery are no longer used as meaningful grid coordinates, and entrenched spatial division lines gradually become void of meaning. The hierarchy of places is subverted and changed ‘from below,’ challenged by former outsiders who come and conquer the places that may have been out of reach for them back in colonial times. The discourse on place is no longer a prerogative of the ‘center’ reflecting on its ‘margins.’ What formerly was deemed a ‘periphery’ is endowed with new vitality that challenges the traditional narratives of locale and movement and replaces them with new takes on place and itinerary.

* See Kaori Shoji’s review of the film in Japan Times from 2000, according to which it played in Shibuya in Tokyo, especially the remarks about Aishwarja Rai (I quite agree, this was the first time I saw the actress, and I also had this feeling of being somewhat overwhelmed). I also remember that this film, Jeans, was part of the international menu on the airplane on which I was returning back to the UK, I believe it was Thai airlines. It is interesting to note and probably research how many Indian films (and not only Hindi, but also Tamil and other) these airlines include for their passengers.

© Dina Iordanova
16 July 2008

There is a new book of relevance, by Sangita Gopal and Sujata Moorti, Global Bollywood: Travels of Hindi Song and Dance