Views of Reality.
Fragments of an Empire.
by Ulrich Gregor
Some provisional coordinates may provide help in navigating through the multifaceted programme of the International Forum 1996. |
The Forum is known for sifting out those works emerging from the global film production that challenge us to look for new horizons, enrich the film language or hold a critical mirror to our society. Our aim is to encourage those filmmakers who perhaps embody the cinema of tomorrow, while at the same time showing films that interpret the experiences of history, films which bring new images to the screen or to piece together new views of the world.
Each year the Forum plumbs the four corners of the globe; the number of "strikes", however, varies greatly from region to region and continent to continent. Whether one approves of it or not, it must be acknowledged that in the independent film sector, including both documentary and experimental cinema, the USA has secured a leading position. What young US directors are able to achieve under adverse production conditions is indeed impressive. With 190 often high-quality submissions from this country (and a correspondingly high percentage of US-films in our programme), we regret that there are many deserving films which we couldn't fit into the programme. And we are only speaking of film auteurs and not works which are simply trying to launch another "product" on the "market".
Among the US entries, particular mention should be made of the feature films, such as WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE by Todd Solondz, the story of an "ugly" young girl amidst the "ideal" US family. 93 MILLION MILES FROM THE SUN describes the nocturnal wanderings and meetings of a group of people in the Mission District in San Francisco; FRISK by Todd Verow is a study of abnormal behavior, of violence and obsession, a film which may horrify the viewer; but it is is an earnest work with an interesting narrative technique and visual richness.
Then there are the autobiographical confessions of Barbara Hammer, TENDER FICTIONS, which find a parallel in ELECTRONIC DIARIES by Lynn Hershman (in the video section of the Forum). PARADISE LOST - THE CHILDS MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky reports on a trial in the state of Tennessee involving the murder of three children. The film is so riveting that you can't look away from the screen for a second. Whether the alleged perpetrators actually committed the crime or not remains open to the end. THE BATTLE OVER CITIZEN KANE by Thomas Lennon and Michael Epstein and THE CELLULOID CLOSET by Rob Epstein and Jeff Friedman deal with themes from US film history: the first compares the biographies of media tycoon Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles (Hearst served as the model for "Citizen Kane" and fought the film with all available means); the second investigates the topic of homosexuality in US motion pictures by means of an intelligent and humorous collage of film sequences.
The Vietnamese born director Trinh T. Min-ha, who now lives in the US, made a name for herself with her ethnographic and essayistic films. In her first feature film, A TALE OF LOVE, she deals with the subject of immigration and identity in a foreign environment by means of a fictional story; the same theme is approached in a documentary manner by Spencer Nakasako and Sokly Don Bonus Ny in their film A.K.A. DON BONUS. In this American film, a young immigrant from Cambodia was given a Hi8 Camera to film his own life; a highly fascinating and very authentic account of subjective experience. The Forum is showing a.k.a. Don Bonus together with KAKI BAKAR (The Arsonist) by U-Wei Bin Haaji Saari (based on a Faulkner story!), which portrays an Indonesian family in Malaysia who are unable to feel at home there. This entry from Malaysia, which until now has occupied a blank spot on the cinematic world map, is definitely one of the most surprising and exciting new feature films from Asia.
THE GATE OF HEAVENTLY PEACE also deals with events in Asia: the filmmakers Carma Hinton and Richard Gordon minutely analyse the history of the Chinese student and democracy movement, which led to the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
Films from Asia form an additional major focal point of this year's Forum programme. Film production in Japan and the Chinese region (Taiwan, Hong Kong, China) yielded particularly interesting results this year. Four contributions come from Japan. The three features, OKAERI (Welcome Home), PICNIC and THE GIRL OF SILENCE, all demonstrate an exquisite visual language and sharp insight into the reality of Japanese society. Picnic operates on a surreal level and portrays the escape of two patients from a psychiatric clinic. The fourth Japanese film, HEAVEN-6-BOX by Oki Hiroyuki, a work commissioned by a small provincial city, is composed of a series of freely associated images of dreamlike beauty and lightness.
Equally noteworthy are the new films from China, in which a younger generation of directors has come to the fore. Ning Ying - who was already a guest at the Forum - gives an ironic account of the daily routine of a police station in Beijing in MINJING GUSHI (On the Beat) with pointillist observations, while WU SHAN YUN YU (In Expectation) by Zhang Ming recounts stories from a small city on the Yang Tse Kiang River; the hero of the film is a signalman and directs boat traffic. Both films share a concern for presenting everyday life, a great sense for poetry, irony and the passage of time. A Hong Kong-financed Chinese film, BIAN LIAN (The King of Masks) by Wu Tianming, is the mythical tale of an old mask-maker.
The film industry in Hong Kong has retained its dynamism, and this in the face of the coming reintegration into China. Wong Kar Wai's film, Duoluo Tianshi (Fallen Angels), showing by the Forum in its European premiere, is a true explosion of cinematic ideas, which captures the current spirit of life in Hong Kong by means of a face-paced and intricate crime story. The Forum is screening the world premiere of Shu Kei's new film, HU-DU-MEN (Entrance of the P-Side). Shu Kei, filmmaker and critic, is a central figure in the Hong Kong film scene. His latest work plays in the milieu of the Cantonese opera and tells the story of a famous actress who is standing at a crossroads of her life. She is played by Josephine Siao Fong-Fong, who was featured last year in Ann Hui's film "Summer Snow".
Several other recently produced Hong Kong films are being shown in the Midnight Programme. The Taiwanese film, SUPER CITIZEN KO by Wan Jen, deals with the history of Taiwan, reporting on the "white terror", which was practiced on alleged communists and dissidents during the fifties. The plot follows an old man, who was a member of the leftist movement at the time and is now searching for traces of the past. This film is complemented by the video WHY DONīT WE SING?, produced by Hou Hsiao- hsien, that analyses the same segment of Taiwanese history in documentary film style.
There are also several films of interest from Southeast Asia. A particular treat is the feature film from Singapore, MEE POK MAN by Eric Khoo, which plays in a noodle restaurant. BULAN TERTUSUK ILALANG (... and the Moon Dances) from Indonesia by Garin Nugroho looks at the conflict between tradition and modernity. The previously mentioned Malaysian film KAKI BAKAR (The Arsonist) must also be included in the review of Asian films of the Forum, as well as the small group of films from Burma, which were only obtained with great difficulty.
Where Europe is concerned, Germany and the German-speaking countries did not come away at all poorly in the selection of Forum films. Two films each are included from Switzerland and Austria. From Switzerland: Daniel Schmid's THE WRITTEN FACE, a fictional/documentary portrait of the Kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando and a work of extraordinary beauty; and Andreas Hoesslis DEVILS DONīT DREAM! - RESEARCH ON JACOBO ARBENZ GUZMAN ABOUT THE PRESIDEN OF GUATENALA. From Austria: CHARMS ZWISCHENFfÄLLE (Charms' Incidents) by Michael Kreihsl, a surrealistic tribute to the Russian poet Daniil Charms; and EMIGRATION N.Y. by Egon Humer, whi