Twenty years ago, at its inaugural “pre-edition,” Udine’s Far East Film Festival screened Hong Kong director Fruit Chan’s groundbreaking independent drama Made in Hong Kong. This year, the film returns to the northern Italian town in a restored form – courtesy of the festival itself.
“Made in Hong Kong is one of the first movies we saw when we went to Hong Kong in 1997 to research our festival,” says FEFF president Sabrina Baracetti.
“It’s one of the films that introduced us to Hong Kong cinema, so it’s important to us. When we found out that it was unavailable a few years ago, we had the idea to restore it. We discussed this with Fruit Chan when he attended FEFF a few years ago, and you can see the result at this year’s festival.”
The 4K restoration was carried out by L’Immagine Ritrovata, an Italian company which also has an office in Hong Kong.
As Baracetti points out, Made in Hong Kong is not typical of the films that screen at FEFF. The festival has made its name internationally for its focus on commercial, rather than art-house, films from Asia. Each year the program features movies that have performed well at the box office in China, South Korea, Japan and other countries in the region.
Audiences will more likely be treated to a Lunar New Year hit from China, a Japanese sci-fi flick, and a Korean horror film, than an art-house film by Wong Kar-wai or Jia Zhangke. “We aim to show the films that were popular in Asia the previous year,” says Baracetti, “as well as introduce audiences to some discoveries of our own.”
The festival takes place in the northeastern city of Udine from April 21 to 29.
This year’s selection features Pang Ho-cheung’s romance Love Off the Cuff, Stanley Tong’s wild comedy Kung Fu Yoga, Korean director Hur Jin-ho’s period drama The Last Princess, and the Japanese “eco-therapy disaster movie” Survival Family, which opens the festival. There are 83 films in all, says Baracetti.
“It’s a big selection this year, and it reflects the vitality and energy in the Asian industries that’s come about due to new platforms like video on demand,” she adds.
“We’ve noticed that movies from Asia have increased their production values. The market is changing and that has forced filmmakers to up their game. The films we saw were even better than usual.”
Baracetti, festival coordinator Thomas Bertacche, and a team of consultants across the region watched more than 1,000 films to make the final selection.
“The atmosphere at
FEFF is different to that of other film festivals.
We are very relaxed.
The stars are always around the same places as the festival goers,
and that’s certainly a part of our appeal”
Many Asian film stars have attended the film festival over the years, drawn by the city of Udine’s relaxed charm, as much as the movie events. The northeastern Italian city is located in Fruili, a notable wine producing area, and is just two hours by train from Venice.
Many of the films are screened in the city’s glorious opera house, the Teatro Nuovo Giovanni D’Udine. Movie stars are celebrated at the event itself, but can wander unhindered through the city’s winding streets – and upmarket fashion stores.
“The atmosphere at FEFF is different to that of other film festivals,” says Baracetti. “We are very relaxed. The stars are always around the same places as the festival goers, and that’s certainly a part of our appeal.”
Past guests have included, in the early days, Anita Yuen and Jackie Chan, while this year, Hong Kong actor/producer Eric Tsang will be present to pick up an award.
A more recent addition is the Campus, an educational experience this year sponsored by Asia Times, one of FEFF’s media partners. Conceived and organized by Asia Times journalist and film expert Mathew Scott three years ago, the Campus teaches around 10 young writers and journalists about film criticism, film journalism, and film festival management. Alumni have gone on to write for trade magazine Variety and The Financial Times.
“The Campus had become a very important part of the festival,” says Baracetti. “We want to help young journalists, involve them in cinema culture, and teach them to write about films. This is very important to us,” she says.