Of the 83 films in the official selection for this year’s Far East Film Festival, 10 were from mainland China. They made up a diverse selection, including big box office hits such as Jackie Chan’s Kung Fu Yoga, and smaller, independent films such as Someone to Talk to and Mr Zhu’s Summer.
FEFF has always been an important window to the world for filmmakers who maintain their independence or have only small production budgets, and for talented directors who are just emerging in their home countries.
Director Song Haolin’s debut film, Mr Zhu’s Summer, had its world premiere at the festival on April 23. It is a gem unearthed by festival director Sabrina Baracetti from the vast filmmaking landscape of China. What does it mean for such a film to be screened in Udine, Italy, with the hope of going global?
The mainland Chinese movie industry has been developing a monopoly on blockbusters in its home market. It is the second biggest film industry in the world and, as the growth engine of the international entertainment business, will soon overtake Hollywood as the biggest. So it is becoming increasingly difficult to make more novel, smaller-budget films and get them shown in theaters.
Song has said that while the means to finance and distribute a film may be there, the system works poorly for true artists trying to make meaningful films. Song and the producer of Mr Zhu’s Summer, Deng Sheng, were in Udine for FEFF and agreed it was almost impossible to attract large audiences with a film like theirs.
Deng said: “In every theater, big productions are being screened and the managers don’t have slots that can be filled with smaller ones.”
That is where FEFF comes in. “It’s very important to screen at film festivals, to expose people to the film,” Deng said.
Added Song: “The audience’s reaction was very enthusiastic, which made me very happy. The Far East Film Festival here in Udine allows my work to be known and I hope that this will continue.”
Song knows that it is not just about talent. In his own experience, up-and-coming filmmakers everywhere need a little bit of luck. “I know a lot of talented people who aren’t lucky, and who aren’t here,” he said. Song is lucky, so he is in Udine. He is grateful for that – and so, it seemed were the festival moviegoers who rated his first film as among their favorites.