Liew Seng Tat's double win of the New Currents Award and the KNN Audience Award at PIFF with Flower in the Pocket tends to overshadow the substantial Malaysian presence there this year.
PIFF's Special Programs in Focus had 3 sections:
1. Three Colors of New Malaysian Cinema
2. Remapping of New Asian Auteur Cinema 3: Dariush Mehrjui
3. Edward Yang: The Memory of Taipei.
In the Malaysian section, apart from Flower in the Pocket which was in competition for the New Currents Award, 8 other films were shown:
Mukhsin (Yasmin Ahmad)
Apa Khabar Orang Kampung (Amir Muhammad)
Waiting for Love (James Lee; world premiere)
Dancing Bells (Deepak Menon)
Cinta (Kabir Bhatia)
...and 3 short films (all world premieres):
1. As I Lay Dying (Ho Yuhang)
2. Nobody's Girlfriend (Tan Chui Mui)
3. Blue Roof (Woo Ming Jin)
Yasmin, Yuhang, James & Seng Tat and myself were present at PIFF as festival guests.
PIFF also co-hosted with Pusan National University a seminar on Three Colors of New Malaysian Cinema at which the Malaysian panelists (James, Yuhang, Yasmin, Seng Tat and myself) spoke on various aspects of the indie scene. PIFF also published a nice booklet with nice pics titled (what else) Three Colors of New Malaysian Cinema, with essays by Hassan Muthalib, Khoo Gaik Cheng & myself.
We also sponsored a Malaysian party on night of Sunday 7 Oct! Unfortunately, the rain prevented the full complement of guests from attending, after a leaking roof at the original venue, the PIFF Pavilion, forced us to move to Monaco Bar & Restaurant. Variety's daily paper reported in its Pusan parties round-up: "Throughout the night, rumors of what was happening in the Malaysian party trickled out, the most consistent one being that the best sushi in town was served there". Yeah, the food was nice, but then there were at least 3 other parties that night, so people were spoilt for choice.
Despite the inclement weather, spirits were not dampened, and it was gratifying to welcome supporters of the new Malaysian cinema (friends, fans, programmers, journalists, scholars, festival directors) as guests, including festival warrior Kim Dong-ho and Asian Film Market director Park Kwang-su. We were honoured and humbled by their presence.
There never was weather like this before at PIFF. Opening night in the huge Outdoor Theater at the Yachting Center looked set to be a disaster, but remarkably guests brave enough to venture to the seats in the rain found packets containing plastic raincoats there ready to shield them from the intermittent rain that plagued the night's proceedings.
The party was listed in the events list as being hosted by the Malaysian Embassy. Not true. There was no official Malaysian involvement in any part of the program at all - no press, no sponsorship, nothing.
PIFF's Special Focus aims to showcase new Asian indie cinema every year. When it focused on Indonesia a few years ago, the Indonesian Embassy hosted a reception. It did so even this year although there was only a couple of Indonesian films in the program. Our party was sponsored by kind souls Yasmin and Pete Teo and friends, and Kelab Seni Filem. PIFF paid for the rental of the alternative venue (Monaco) - a cool 2,000,000 won.
Pete Teo was supposed to perform at the PIFF Village next to PIFF Pavilion one hour before the Malaysian party. He too got washed out. But no matter; Pete had had his moment of glory when he was introduced as an actor on 3 gigantic screens and walked the red carpet on the opening night in full glare of the bright lights and a crowd of thousands in the Outdoor Theater.
Korean audiences went gaga over our films. They're certainly some of the most serious, devoted and intelligent cinema audiences in the world. Yuhang and James already have fan followings at Pusan. To them this year were added Yasmin's and Seng Tat's. Signing fan autographs must now be a bore for Yasmin, but Seng Tat was elated by the experience.
Seng Tat's win is a great (and perhaps unprecedented) encore for Malaysian cinema. Mui won the same award last year with Love Conquers All (shared with Yang Heng's Betelnut (China)). Although initial post-screening feedback was favourable for Flower in the Pocket, we thought strong vibes for Thailand's Wonderful Town (dir Aditya Assarat) indicated a convincing victory. Almost everyone we met was singing its praises. As it turned out, Seng Tat swept the field by winning both the New Currents Award (USD30,000) as well as the KNN Audience Award (USD20,000, given by the KNN Cultural Foundation to the most popular film in the New Currents section). Astonishingly, it was the top choice of the three titles in the jury vote, over Wonderful Town and Life Track (dir Jin Guang Hao, China/Korea). (The jury deliberated for 5 hours, according to inside info provided by Tony Rayns.) According to an AFP report posted by Amir Muhammad, jury head Dariush Mehrjui said, "We had great difficulty finding the winners, even though there were three to find. Luckily things did not get violent in the jury room but we had long debates". Obviously new-fangled cinema did not go down well for some of them (perhaps Dariush Mehrjui, veteran Iranian director?). Perhaps younger members of the jury won the day for Seng Tat - like Nan Yu (China's award-winning actress who starred in Lunar Eclipse and this year's Berlinale Golden Bear winner Tuya's Marriage (both directed by Wang Quan An), and Cristian Mungiu (Romanian director of this year's Palme d'Or winner 4 months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days).
Flower was funded by Tan Chui Mui's 2006 New Currents prize money. In true Malaysian indie spirit, Seng Tat said his money would fund Mui's next film.
There were many more Malaysians present at PIFF this year -
Mahyidin Mustakim & Bala (Finas) for AFCNet meeting
Kamil & Ismal (MDeC) for AFCNet meeting, who again kindly provided space at the market for our filmmakers to put up promo materials
Michael Chuah & Winnie (promoting their film Seed of Darkness)
Zahrin & Norman (KL Int Film Festival)
Zarina Abdullah & Ummi Khaltoum Abdullah (team from "Chermin")
Actress Deanna Yusof
Irwan, Vignes & Liang Huei (students at Korean National Univ of Arts)
Abdul Mutalib Awang (Dir of the Malaysian Tourism Promotion Bd, Seoul)
Darryl (this year's sole PIFF Asian Film Academy candidate from Malaysia)
- yes, a very large Malaysian presence at Pusan. Would that there was more unity of purpose and action.
wong tuck cheong