Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Twitter Adventure

I couldn’t believe my luck. For ages, I’ve wanted to learn about women in Asia who write and direct feature films. But with my limited language skills and networks I could’t easily access relevant information. I'd had a single conversation (five years ago) with a woman involved with the International Women's Film Festival in Korea, and that was it. And now, here was a Japanese woman, ‘ramuyaman’, on Twitter--

Ramuyaman had seen this ScreenTalk interview with Niki Caro:

And then she sent out a general tweet: I'd like to see the film The Vintner's Luck directed by Niki Caro but unfortunately, it's not yet released here in TOKYO...

Opportunistic as ever, I—as 'devt'—tweeted her. Was she a filmmaker who could tell me about Japanese women’s experience of feature filmmaking?

Ramuyaman replied: @devt I'm a cinephile and fan of Niki Caro. North Country told me a lot about human rights. Whale Rider, unforgettable.

I told ramuyaman I was writing about The Vintner's Luck. (I still am. But it's hard. It's going to take a while.) And then, on we went, in little bursts of 140 characters, slightly edited here.

@ramuyaman Have you got a minute to answer this question? Do as many Japanese women write & direct feature films as Japanese men do?

@devt Not many female writers and directors were in our cinema history. But these days, gifted female directors appear one after another.

@devt Naomi Kawase won the Grand Prix of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival for Mogari No Mori. She is the most famous female director in Japan.

@devt Many Japanese women learn film making at university or film academy, and make their debut nowadays.

@ramuyaman Here (in New Zealand) there are also many women learning to make films, but they are less likely to make a feature film, for many reasons.

@devt It’s similar in Japan. See the ENGLISH/messages of this website. Maybe helpful for your question.

@ramuyaman What proportion of your features do women write and direct? Are half your feature films written & directed by women? Or 20%? Or 10% as in New Zealand?

@devt I can't tell the proportion of women directors of feature films exactly but maybe not so many...

@devt Sachi Hamano is a famous but 'forgotten' director. She got many awards for Lily Festival which describes the sexuality of elderly women.

I resolve to find Mogari No Mori—The Mourning Forest —asap. And Lily Festival—Yurisai, a romantic comedy adapted from Hoko Momtani's novel, shown and awarded at various North American festivals and also shown at Raindance this year (&, who knows, maybe here in New Zealand, but I'd not heard of it before). Especially as each film features old people, just like Development-the-movie.

Then I follow the link ramuyaman gave me, and become very excited, because it tells me of another pathway to becoming a feature filmmaker, almost unheard of here in New Zealand.

According to a post by Hikari Hori, Sachi Hamano entered the Japanese film industry via low budget 35mm pornographic filmmaking, in the Pink Eiga underground erotica industry. In 1984, she founded her own production company, Tantansha (I think the link ramuyaman sent is to her site, mostly in Japanese); and has made over 300 films that portray sexuality from women's perspectives.

Then, in 1998, Sachi Hamano produced In Search of a Lost Writer: Wandering the World of the Seventh Sense/ Dai-nana kankai hoko: Osaki Midori o sagashite, which depicted the life and work of the 'forgotten' female writer Midori Osaki, funded partly through donations from over 12,000 women from all over Japan. In 2006, she completed another film about Osaki, The Cricket Girl, where—I found this an inspiration—during filming there were hot springs at every location to 'ease everyone's fatigue'. From the information about her work on imdb, she's made two more features since, not yet available in English.

So-- Sachi Hamano's pathway to making features is 'almost unheard of' here, but not quite. When I was tracking down the (at least ) 75 features produced by New Zealanders in New Zealand between 2003-2008, I learned about Astrid Glitter, who directed John, a feature she also wrote the story for—but not the script—and produced. Glitter Films is perhaps the only production company in New Zealand that proudly contributes to the World Wildlife Fund, has an online store (100% pure, orgasmic, fresh adult entertainment) that sells mugs and sweatshop-free t-shirts. Although her pathway to feature-making—or Sachi Hamano's—is not for me, I've learned something from Astrid Glitter's commercial focus, her knowledge of her niche market, her mission statement of 'arthouse for adult film', her ethical stance and her pride in being '100% New Zealand-made'. I couldn't find an image of her to use, but there's some Adrian Malloch portraits here.

Twitter, thanks again for being there. And ramuyaman, many thanks to you, too.

@ramuyaman I have made a blog entry about our tweets: I hope you enjoy it. Thanks again & every good wish to you.
@devt I'm very glad to see your article. Thanks a lot ! By the way, I am a man. Sorry, I didn't write it in my profile. haha.
@ramuyaman That is really funny. I'm laughing here, at my assumptions! Have you seen the Vintner's Luck FB & blog?

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Future of Indie Film?

The future of indie film culture is not corporate, but artist controlled. It is about owning your work and connecting with your audience—Ted Hope

As well as emails and the phone—though I avoid my mobile—I can now blog and use Twitter and Facebook and the Development-the-movie website. And today I’m thinking about how each has a different function for me, and for Development.

The website’s relatively fixed. It’s hard information, presented as simply as possible. Facebook’s an ongoing visual diary for Development-the-movie, where we can chat & make new friends. (You’re welcome to join us: just press the button in the right hand column.)

This blog’s where—helped by emails and comments from friends and strangers—I sometimes try to make sense of the world that I care most about: Wellywood where I live and work, my garden, women filmmakers and writers, and Development. On Twitter, I keep up with the global issues: film (especially indie film), piracy & crowd funding, feminist activity, books. And it’s there I got Ted Hope’s tweet at the top of this post, yesterday.

Ted Hope’s a producer. People tweet about his blog, and often retweet his tweets. And after last week in Wellywood, his tweet about the future of indie film seems spot on.

The evening with the cinematic panel and then Guillermo Del Toro was amazing, after a long day as a student helper at the SPADA—Screen Production And Development Association—conference. (I got to hold up signs with ‘5’ and ‘1’ on the front, to tell speakers they had 5 minutes or 1 minute left. I enjoyed it most for the Matthew Weiner / Kim Hill session about Mad Men. Fascinating. There they were, going at it head to head: would they see the sign? Maybe: there was Kim, nodding away at Matthew and suddenly, a little slightly off rhythm nod—Yes! She had seen it. Whew. All I knew about Mad Men before then was that my Canadian qi gong mate Danuta had entered a competition for a guest appearance and asked me to vote. But after hearing Matthew Weiner I plan to get a TV!)

At the One For the Road event, Guillermo Del Toro was great (partly because director Jonathan King—Black Sheep, Under the Mountain—was a highly informed and subtle interviewer?) Funny, touching, profane—even about pavlova—and generous. I hadn’t known that Pan’s Labyrinth is a twin work to The Devil’s Backbone, and now plan an evening with friends to watch them both, to experience the poem that he says they generate when seen together. The Paramount was packed. There was a lovely atmosphere, too. And afterwards in the foyer, the band from the (fictional) film played music that reminded me of Once, one of my favorite music films. Imagine the One For the Road DVD, including the two hours with Guillermo del Toro as an extra and that music—AH.

Together, the One For the Road night and Ted Hope’s tweet got me thinking about features New Zealanders make in New Zealand. Not the Film Commission funded ones. But the rest of them, the forty (out of seventy-five) features made here 2003-2008 that their writers and/or directors produced. This is where Development-the-movie fits.

We have the extraordinary Peter Jackson/Fran Walsh model to follow and that helps. There’s also Lippy Pictures, writers/producers Donna Malane and Paula Boock, whose telefeature Until Proven Innocent this year won a slew of awards, including best television drama. There’s Mike Riddell’s adaptation of his own novel, Insatiable Moon, that he’s co-produced. They started principal photography yesterday, with Rosemary Riddell—also a judge—directing (I love his blog, see the blog roll at right). And now One For the Road where writers Kelly Kilgour & Jamie McCaskill and director Sam Kelly appear to be owning their own work too, with their dynamic producer Bonnie Slater.

All these artist-controlled projects are a long way from the old paradigm of “the producer [and distributor] gets the money, the director gets the credit and the writer gets the blame”. And a long way from one collective term for a group of writers: “A whinge”. (Thanks to the Australian Writers Guild’s Storyline for these examples, just arrived in the mail: yes, info can also arrive in a green wooden letterbox.)

The ongoing INK story reinforces Ted Hope’s message and shows how fast things are moving. Here’s what INK’s writer/producer/director Jamin Winans says in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine. (Thanks Linda Nelson, for posting the link on Facebook.)

Here's the irony. We got completely screwed by the people distributing our first feature film, 11:59. We didn't get paid at all from one distributor, and barely from another. In the last five days, we've made more money from donations from "pirates" than we've ever made from a distributor. You tell me who the crooks are. Everyone is concerned piracy is going to destroy the indie film world, but I can say unequivocally that the distribution world is already destroyed because it's primarily made up of scam artists and thieves. If someone's going to rip off our film, I'd rather it be our fans than some sleaze bag feeding on struggling indie artists.

So here we go with Development-the-movie. Artist controlled. Writer and performance artist as producers. Directors, actors, and the other artist collaborators. Part of indie film’s fast-arriving future. Scary. Yes. And exciting.

PS I've never heard of a scam artist or thief in the New Zealand distribution world, and the only time I heard a New Zealand distributor speak, he enchanted me with his mix of commitment, knowledge and humour. And, I thought, integrity. Now there's the distributor I want, I thought.

PPS There's an interesting article in this week's Observer, headlined 'Artists cast as saviours of British cinema' . I've got no idea about the outcome of the Film Commission Review, but one way to go, given the current complexity of film delivery, is with a single state funder for all screen work, combining New Zealand on Air, the New Zealand Film Commission and Creative New Zealand's Independent Film Fund. That could provide a new and more focused funding niche for our artist films, the ones to compare with a British 'essay' film like Steve McQueen's Hunger about Bobby Sands in the Maze prison, or with Sam Taylor-Wood's Nowhere Boy about John Lennon.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Week in Wellywood

Last night at Park Road Post, a big crowd for the WIFT-organised showing of The Vintner's Luck (opening tomorrow) and a Q&A with Niki Caro. Tonight, two events, one after the other. First, a discussion of the cinematic, at the New Zealand Film Archive:

Here's what organiser Script to Screen says about this event:
Scripts are often rejected or critiqued on the basis that they are not ‘cinematic’, and are therefore unworthy of the big screen. But to writers the term is often unclear, meaning different things to different people. Is the term merely used as a weapon by arbiters of taste, or a catch all for any number of perceived deficiencies, or is it a way of defining the appropriate medium for a story?

Scriptwriter and teacher Ken Duncum will lead a rigorous discussion with producer John Barnett (Whale Rider, Sione’s Wedding), NZFC Head of Development Marilyn Milgrom and scriptwriter Graeme Tetley (Out of the Blue, Vigil) about what they believe are the defining elements of a cinematic story.

6.30 drinks, 7pm start, The New Zealand Film Archive, 84 Taranaki St, Wellington, $5 koha appreciated, all welcome.

Then, at 8.15, round the corner in Courtenay Place—at the Paramount—another great event, Guillermo Del Toro in person, interviewed by Joanathan King, whose Under the Mountain premiered at Toronto and opens here 10 December.

This is a fundraiser for One For the Road, Kelly Kilgour and Jamie McCaskill's film adaptation of their successful stage musical, It's a Whanau Thing. Sam Kelly —like Kelly Kilgour a former student of Ken Duncum, at the Institute of Modern Letters— will direct One For the Road.

Here's more details from the Paramount:
Oscar-winner Guillermo Del Toro may be a big guy in Hollywood circles but the director of The Hobbit is only too happy to help some of the local film industry's "little guys". He has pledged his name and support to a question-and-answer fundraising event for Wellington producer Bonnie Slater and director Sam Kelly's first feature film, One for the Road. Billed as New Zealand’s first musical drama, it's slated to shoot early next year and follows the fortunes of a struggling, small town band.

"We're thrilled to have Guillermo's support," Slater says. "He has not done any event of this kind in New Zealand and it’s a coup to have attracted him to headline our fundraiser and help promote our cause. "I would have asked Guillermo to help make the film, but I know he's overworked with projects abroad and, of course, that little low-budget film he's shooting here soon called The Hobbit!"

"I've been pretty busy with various projects," Del Toro acknowledges, "but talent lies in your choices. And I believe in Bonnie so I'm happy to help her where I can."

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Starting draft number 4?

I love this drawing from Lisa Gornick, accompanying her post on Starting on feature film number 4.

Today I printed out the "Development" script for (I think) the first time since May, when I started writing the other parts of my thesis. One copy for a woman I will visit tomorrow, hoping she'll agree to play Iris, hoping she's old enough to play Iris. The other for Rebecca, who's working on our Facebook page.

And I saw a dreadful typo. I saw lines I wanted to delete IMMEDIATELY. AAAAGH. So Lisa's image is timely. It reminds me of the pleasures in that heft of pages. And that I need to start work on the next draft, always very scary and exciting after leaving it for a while. To hold the pages and let them calm my mind, enter that world again.

Thanks, Lisa.