The first year

Now that I think of it, it feels much longer than just a single year, the 4 seasons we had here at Future Shorts Taipei. On the other hand, indeed it was just a year and a few days ago, that the idea came to bring this global pop-up film festival to Taipei as well.

It was a crazy year, two dozen great films, fun audience, and a lot of learning.

I got to meet a lot of local film makers, I’m the most surprised how natural it is to talk to them about movies. I go to cinema a lot, and having a peek on the other side of the camera is always fascinating. Probably that’s the biggest gain of the entire experience. There should be a gain, because being an organizer, I got to experience the programme in a very different way – it’s not movie going, it’s event organizing. The two don’t mix well. Still, it’s good enough, that when the projector is up and running, the sound is good, the airconditioning is working, and the audience is there, then I can relax and enjoy the show (as long as my computer doesn’t crash…)

View of the audience for the autumn screening

Future Shorts Taipei autumn screening

In this one year, we have tried a few different ideas, small screening, big screening, first screening, reprise screening… Some worked better than other, and in the end, probably will just take it easy, and continue with the shows in the cafe where we had most of our events so far. It’s easier that way, and then we can concentrate on making the event better.

And better we have to do. The Chinese/English subtitles are a big issue. First there were no subtitles, then we could convince the HQ to add the English ones, by the end of the year, they had Chinese as well. If we can keep that up, we have a much better experience for the organization and the audience’s point of view too.

It would be great to make a little money with this that I enjoy doing, though so far it is mostly avoiding losing some. In the summer with our large screening, that was the biggest audience so far, I have lost a small fortune, because I haven’t planned well. Subsequently it was good enough to break even, and pay for our own drink at the cafe that night. It’s good enough for me, and not planning to raise the ticket prices, I want people to come first and foremost. If we could negotiate smaller license fees with the HQ, that would be the best way ahead.

Today is the last day of the Autumn season, and 2012 as well. The new season is just a few hours away, really looking forward what is going to be on the menu, and will be very happy to bring it here. Future Shorts is more labour than I expected, but it is truly a labour of love.

Thanks for all of you guys who came to any of the screenings this year, you make this all happen.

Happy New Year and have an awesome night tonight!

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Fifty Shades of Future Shorts

This is a review of the latest Future Shorts season by Alexander Flenniken, filmmaker from Seattle, co-founder of Cracked Aperture Video Productions, now working on his feature film, Fall Tiger.

I had the chance to see the Autumn season of Future Shorts in the basement of Insomnia cafe in the university district of Taipei, where thirty or so of us sat among mismatched chairs and couches, watching the festival and discussing the films after. There’s very little else like it in Taipei, and it’s always fun to talk movies and meet new film lovers. Also as always, the films compelled me to think about film art and filmmaking, and I was struck that these films, as superficially different as they are, seem to express a similar gritty realism – and, likewise, a similar empty competence.

Even though these films are dissimilar, dealing with everything from sex and love to voyeurism and violence, short film festivals like Future Shorts are particularly interesting because it’s impossible to see the films completely separately from each other. The films, watched in sequence, bleeding into each other, give a feeling that is sometimes completely separate from any one film taken by itself.

Squished together, the films present a reality that is shadowy and ambivalent, where a father can simultaneously assault a bystander in the bathroom of a sports bar and gracefully accept his son’s homosexuality; where a humble security guard can fall in love with a woman – as he watches her over a bookstore’s CCTV. The Autumn Season of Future Shorts was about the everyman – the balding, unhappy and increasingly desperate man trying to make his way in the universe. Overweight, with deep bags under his eyes, he struggles to manage his powerful emotions and survive in a society that is leaving him behind. I remember the most striking imagery – a son trying to escape his father by crossing an empty freeway overpass, a black balloon emerging from a dump, covered in dirt and refuse, a security guard hunched over in a dark booth, watching security cameras. These are dark images.

Optimism and beauty, while present in these films, is reflected out of messy, dirty life, beautiful moments shrouded in sadness and guilt. These are what you might call “gritty,” a popular tone found these days in everything from comedies (like Funny People), to science fiction (like Prometheus), to action movies and comic book movies (The Bourne movies and The Amazing Spider Man).

These films were well-made, and each was effective at telling its own story, to be sure, but I’m simply a little tired of grittiness. I ask myself, why not make a beautiful film? Why not make an adventure? Why not make something pure?

Take for comparison a film like Spirited Away, so colorful and lush, with the deep blue of the sky, the green of the trees, and the deep Chinese red of the buildings, with dragons, stink spirits, a giant baby and a hideous crone. Or take a film like the Chinatown, where Jack Nicholson plays a detective who is intelligent and driven; his nose slit by gangsters, he continues to investigate, undeterred. Films can create amazing worlds, can give us characters with powerful personalities. Films can show us any reality.

I want to watch a film like that!

The ambivalence that is characteristic of gritty films can be a weakening force. For example, look at Coffee Regular, Cairo, one of the standout films of the evening. In no more than four setups and almost no cuts, a woman and her boyfriend discussing sex is completely transfixing. Paraphrasing slightly, the woman tells her boyfriend, “I heard some foreigners speaking frankly on the train about sex, and I’ve decided that we should make love.” She lays down her requirements – that she wear her headscarf, that he buy roses to scatter over the bed (“Aren’t you worried about the thorns!” he retorts). They discuss it, and she convinces her boyfriend to sleep with her. But then, in the end, she loses her nerve and changes her mind.

Cafe Regular, Cairo film still

Cafe Regular, Cairo

The film, perhaps, is arguing that no respectable, conservative Egyptian woman would stick to such a plan for more than a couple of hours. So the film ends, nothing different, enjoyable and funny but not particularly challenging. The film could easily be called “realistic.”

But imagine, what if the ending were different? What if the couple left the cafe, planning to make love that coming Friday? The film would be much more provocative, and, I would argue, stronger.
The films fall into another common trap of gritty realism, in that they are overly male-oriented. The masculine focus of the films is clear from a quick application of the Bechdel test. To pass the Bechdel test, a film must:

  1. Include at least two women
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. About something other than a man

All five of the short films failed this test. To be fair, a huge portion of modern cinema somehow manages to fail it as well, but it’s sad that our industry continues to neglect half of the stories out there.

As a filmmaker and a amateur critic, these films entertained me and made me think, offering high production values, top-quality acting, drama and humor. Still, I find myself thinking of the stories that art film continues to miss out on. Women interacting with each other, adventure and joy, unconditional love, science fiction, optimism, beauty. Where is the fun? Where is the adventure? Is life really so dark? But then, I remind myself of my eternal recourse: if you’re not satisfied with the films out there, make a film yourself!

A few hours until curtain call

Only a few hours left till we have this Autumn’s screening tonight – here are the Facebook and Google+ event pages.

Subtitled scene from the short On the Line

Subtitles for Autumn Season (from On the Line)

 

I feel that in some way there are more work gone into this than any of the last 3 seasons, but actually every season was somewhat experimental:

The last winter season was the first time we have ever put on such event, even such kind of event, thus it was all new, everything had to be seen for the first time. And it was the first time Future Shorts blown my mind with their film selection.

The spring season was going to be bigger, we had a premiere and a grande screening. The grande needed much more arrangement, huge auditorium (well, for us, 220 people), our biggest audience to date, online ticket sales, and the fact that the film selection was 18+, which surprised me. And it was amazing again, edgy, clever, pushing the boundaries.

The summer season was a bit more laid back, just a simple screening, kinda run out of time to do much more, even if there were plans. It was one great time, and finally the first screening on which we haven’t lost money. :)

For the autumn season, the one premiering tonight, we tried to get Chinese subtitles, so we can extend our audience a bit more, out from the English speaking community in Taiwan. Some amazing volunteers worked with us, and the global organizers had finally some Chinese translations, which altogether makes a better experience. Let’s see how it worked out. The process need some fine-tuning, but things should definitely work smoother this time than before, from the technical point of view.

It’s time to set up our venue. Looking forward to seeing you tonight. :)