CIFF 10th: The short films selection and its behind the scene


CIFF 10th: The short films selection and its behind the scene

The 10th China Independent Film Festival


It is not so frequent to experience such a high level of short films compared to the features in Competition, during a national Film Festival. The case of CIFF is fundamental to understand some important processes that are taking place in Chinese cinema business nowadays. Production funds and distribution accessibility are preferably connected to mainstream, therefore independent productions necessarily have available a small amount of money, which is never really linked to public fund.

This might be one of the reasons why directors usually manage to make their films with their own personal strength; thus, what a length-film can afford is comparatively less than what a short film can do. The working procedure itself, is built at the top of an underground network which supports the independent productions by partnership and collective work; an incessant collective work.

However, when it comes to deal with shorts, money becomes an issue slightly more affordable: not because the film requests less quality, but just because, mathematically, less minutes make spend less money. In spite of this, China Independent Film Festival offered some outstanding exception which has shown a rich way to shoot even the micro films.

The three shorts that gained the prizes, are the perfect representation about the different strategies which a Chinese author can address to, in order to sort out his dream. It needs to by underlined that those three films are all supported by a well-written, balanced and qualitative screenplay that, everywhere, no matter what, would have made the difference. Eventually, feature films can follow the same paths, though mainstream topics can reach a wider range of fund available.

Butter Lamp

Hu Wei's "Butter Lamp"
This Chinese talented artist had, comparing to his colleagues, an easy life. Fascinated by the Tibetan culture which is slowly disappearing, due to the lost of memory and the overwhelming technology that distances the human being from his roots, Hu Wei wrote a screenplay with immediate impact. He then found a producer in France, where he studied, and has come back to China to shoot it. This means that his job has been supported by foreign funds, from a country which policy about cinema is still an outstanding example among the European Community.

The short film itself, has already won hither and thither in the world: it has been presented firstly at Cannes Film Festival this year, then went around Europe and not only, collecting prizes (Switzerland, UK, Taiwan, Chicago...). In spite of that, the CIFF Best Short Film Award has been, for the director, the most important won so far. As a matter of fact, in this way his intention on sensitizing the audience about the Tibetan culture and its gradual disappearing, has been supported by the attentive jury.

The short is a junction between photography and cinema: it talks about the habit to shot family pictures and not only, with a fake background appositely arranged. The characters involved, struggle to keep their traditional costumes, struggle to turn to a religious monument instead of the camera, or even to appear better than the others. The lens wait until the last minute to cross the stage and get closer to the characters, who at the time, just disappear. But till then, the distance between audience behind the camera and the people acting, has been respectfully maintained: since Hu Wei wanted to show his esteem for those people who perfectly balance tradition devotion and the safeguard of that.

Some joyful scenes, as the children holding tight their Peking fake medals, some touching ones, as the grandmother who is bowing courageously in front of Lhasa fake background: but everything fly away when the backdrop is rolled up and discover the unmerciful progress, surrounding slowly the paradisiacal Tibet.

Nothing would have ever happened without the bright cinematography of Stéphane Degnieau and Jean Legrand.

The Hammer and the Sickle are sleeping

Geng Jun's "The Hammer and the Sickle are sleeping"
Although this film has born as an independent production and favoured only of Chinese funds, the 52 minutes of the Geng Jun's last film gained either the Screenplay Award at CIFF, and a genuine respect by the side of those who have watched it.

The story tells the desperate daily life of three odd villagers of a ghost place in the deep and iced north. The snow sparkles everywhere, and the cold take a grip on the spirit. They seem to be a kind of hopeless wretches, who muddle through the cold, lack of money and consequently lack of food, until they decide to join their poor forces and figure out a way to survive together. Therefore, they not only share supplies, but they also participate in their on misery and palpable humanity.

Shot in Hei Long Jiang, Geng Jun's medium-length-film opens a windows on that difficult situation where villages surrender and get empty: his main characters are too weak to try to find a different way, and the society just left them behind. As things are, their only way to sort it out is by using strength; or at least, try to do that.

"The Hammer and the Sickle are sleeping" is a brilliant black comedy where laughter and emotion mix up properly, thanks to a wisely written screenplay and an amazing surrounding, conscientiously caught. Particular attention, although that happened by a casual listening, has been dedicated to the soundtrack: Mozart and Beethoven got back especially for this white and huge landscape. And they fit so accurately.


Zune Kwok's "Downstream"
Another strategy for aspiring and emerging directors, to finance their short films, is to turn to Honk Kong private producers or film funds: here is the example of Zune Kwok last short motion picture, "Downstream". The quality of this project largely counts on the availability that has been offered by the production (Hong Kong Radio Television)
"Downstream" is where those people who are starving for the brand new iPhone and queue to get it before everybody else, and all the others that literally starve, and end to eat instant noodles every night, can meet. Life is made by something different that cell phones, seems to claim Zune Kwok; and then, money is not everything, not at all. Nonetheless, his film could count on a good production which left a fingerprints on lights and locations.

The short film has won Best Director Award at 10th China Independent Film Festival, but Zune Kwok is not new in this festival since he has already presented "Homecoming" in 2009 and won the Best Student Shorts Award. He is also a returner on working with his usual actor, Szeto Yat Lui Danny, an unusual Indian face into Hong Kong's locations.

Although the main character struggles to sort out a car crash, an arguable iPhone reselling, a misunderstanding with the police to end in his humble home with a cup of depressing instant noodles, the director chose to instil happiness in that end. Incredibly, in spite of all that mess, he refound that "joie de vivre"; notwithstanding this, in the attempt to represent and qualify the priorities of life, Zune Kwok has succeeded. Especially because he deals with a famous situation of "technology-addiction" spread in Hong Kong.

Nonetheless, this short film can be indicated as a pleasant work, nor speculating any longer nor achieving any high cinema targets.


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《酥油灯》Butter Lamp
《锤子镰刀都休息》 The Hammer and Sickle Are Sleeping
A Mask9 Exclusive Interview with Hu Wei: the Tibetan lamp which is crossing the world

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