Davy Chou’s journey is an example of how life on the fringes of the international film industry can be made to work for an aspiring director.
The French-Cambodian 33-year-old pretty much traveled the world’s festival circuit as he put the finances together to fund his first two productions, attending pitching seminars and project markets looking for the support needed to enter into production. The hard yards paid off, the films got made – and acclaim (and an established career) has since followed.
“It’s all about making connections, and putting yourself out there,” says Chou. “Traveling to these festivals means you are given a taste of what world cinema looks like and who are the people behind it.”
Chou found funding for his debut documentary Golden Slumbers (2012) – an intimate look at the forgotten history of Cambodian cinema – after pitching the concept to the likes of the Busan, South Korea-based Asia Cinema Fund (ACF).
His debut feature film, the teen drama Diamond Island (2016), found support through the Asian Project Market and went on to win the SACD Prize for best screenplay after screening as part of the Critics’ Week program at last year’s Cannes festival.
Chou was in October 2016 back at the APM – like the ACF, an off-shoot of the Asian Film Market held concurrently with the annual Busan International Film Festival – as part of a delegation from the Anti-Archive filmmaking co-op he has formed with fellow filmmakers Steve Chen, Kavich Neang and Park Sungho. While based in Cambodia, Anti-Archive is looking to help independent filmmakers from across the region find support and distribution for their projects.
There are a lot of new Cambodian directors starting to make films, and short films. We want to show that this cinema exists to the outside world. We want to open that door – and these festivals are giving us a way to do that
Their latest project – White Building – seeks to present a modern coming-of-age story within the walls of a now decrepit building in Phnom Penh that was once home to an artists’ community in the 1960s and 70s. It took home two awards from the APM (and a nice wedge of cash) and the experience left Chou and his team brimming with confidence.
“It’s like getting a birth certificate for your project,” says Chou. “You get there when the film is still in your imagination – as White Building is now. But when you start talking about the film, it looks like the film already exists and you talk to film festival people, sales agents, co-producers – and that’s how your film comes to life.
“You learn how people see your film differently and by the end of the process you know your film better. Sometimes there are questions raised that you might not have asked yourself, but you should have.”
Another major annual focus for Asian filmmakers is the upcoming Hong Kong-Asia Financing Forum (HAF), which will run from March 13-15 as part of the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market (Filmart).
As well as industry newcomers, some of the biggest names in Asian cinema have since 2000 turned to HAF to help get their projects off the ground – including Chinese auteur Jia Jiangke and Japan’s Hirokazu Koreeda.
“HAF provides an opportunity for filmmakers and their projects to connect to with a wide spectrum of financiers, distributors, festival scouts and others,” says Roger Garcia, who directs HAF as well as the Hong Kong International Film Festival. “Through an intense series of meetings and networking events, filmmakers not only meet potential co-production partners but also gain insight into how to re-tool and position their projects and finished films in the international market.”
As well as playing a major role at such larger festivals, smaller scale ones such as July’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea, with its It Project pitching forum, and this past December’s Crouching Tigers Project Lab at the International Film Festival & Awards • Macao, have found these initiatives a productive way to increase their own industry footprint.
“If you don’t meet people, how would you know they might be interested in what you are trying to do,” says Chou. “And meeting face to face makes such a difference. You can see if you can relate to people. I try to make a lot of jokes which can tell me this. There are a lot of new Cambodian directors starting to make films, and short films. We want to show that this cinema exists to the outside world. We want to open that door – and these festivals are giving us a way to do that.”