Friday, May 24, 2013

Robin Lung and 'Finding Kukan'

Kukan is a 1941 documentary made by Rey Scott that highlights China’s resistance to Japan during the early years of World War II. It received an honorary Academy Award that cited Rey Scott “for his extraordinary achievement in producing Kukan…under the most difficult and dangerous conditions.” It was then lost for fifty years. Ling-Ai Li, a Hawai'i-born Chinese woman, worked with Rey Scott.

Robin Lung discovered Ling-Ai Li, found Kukan, now being restored, and is in post-production on Finding Kukan, her feature length doco about Ling-Ai Li and the filmRobin is a 4th generation Chinese American raised in Hawai'i, a graduate of Stanford University and Hunter College in NYC, and has been producing short films and documentaries for the past ten years.

In the present, Finding Kukan is the story of Robin’s travels and search for evidence about Ling-Ai Li and the film. To flesh out the historical story, it uses interviews with historians, family members and friends, a 1993 interview with Li Ling-Ai herself, archival newsreel, sound recordings and home movie footage of Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott and actual color footage from Kukan.

The Kukan duo

In addition, an innovative technique combines theatrical readings by actors filmed in high contrast black and white with abstracted shadow plays enhanced by animated special effects, to offer direct 'emotional entry' into the past. It brings to life intimate or especially harrowing historical scenes from the point of view of the protagonists, to encourage audiences to activate their imaginations and bring their personal frames of reference to the historical story. These staged readings are drawn from Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott’s letters and interviews, multitudes of newspaper and magazine articles, David Selznick’s papers and John Huston’s letters and autobiography.  Extreme close up shots of the physical copy of Kukan being assessed and restored will act as a visual time machine or bridge that transports us from one thread of the story to the next. And lushly colored HD footage of Rey Scott’s grand-daughter, Michelle Scott, creating her mixed media 'Kukan' pieces will act as interstitials and a visual metaphor for the resurrection and re-telling of the story.

I fell over the Finding Kukan Kickstarter campaign (now over, having reached its goal) and loved it, including Michelle Scott's art work. I'm enchanted by the extended teaser (below). This interview is to learn more about the story to date.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Jane Campion at Cannes

Jane Campion & her Carosse d'Or
It was a proud moment for New Zealanders and Australians last week when Jane Campion received her Carosse d'Or at Cannes. The Carosse d'Or (Golden Coach) prize is a tribute by directors of La Société des Réalisateurs de Films (SRF) to one of their own, chosen from the international filmmaking community for the innovative qualities, courage and independent-mindedness of his or her work.

Jacques Rozier was the first winner when the prize was created in 2002. Subsequent winners were Clint Eastwood, Nanni Moretti, Sembene Ousmane, David Cronenberg, Alain Cavalier, Jim Jarmusch, Naomi Kawase, Agnès Varda, Jafar Panahi et Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

Here's the SRF's list of Jane's films. It helped me to reflect on the full sweep of her work. And then to appreciate, all over again, that while making these films she's also strongly supported other women filmmakers. And then to feel deep gratitude for the way the SRF-identified qualities in her work have spilled over into her activism. Globally, there's no other director who's managed to do this.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

CampbellX and her 'Stud Life' feature

I was very excited when I saw CampbellX’s Stud Life in New Zealand’s Out Takes Film Festival programme. I’ve been longing to see it. And wanted to see it for the first time on a big screen because when I’ve seen some of Campbell’s earlier work online it’s seemed very cinematic. Too cinematic for my laptop.

An actor, cinematographer, curator and writer, Campbell's directed BD Women (1994), Viva Tabatha (1995), Ragga Gyal D'bout! (2006), Legacy (2006), Fem (2007), Paradise Lost (2007) and Broken Chain (a collaboration with writer Mark Norfolk 2008). She also collaborates with other directors, including Cheryl Dunye and Lisa Gornick.


For me, Campbell is also a visionary. Her Radical Film Manifesto has inspired me and her social media practices have provided me with models to follow. And as I write this on Mothers Day, I'm reminded that there are diverse definitions of 'motherhood' and that we need to keep track of our filmmaker matrilineage; Campbell's certainly in that lineage as far as I'm concerned.

Campbell was the first woman filmmaker I knew of who crowd-funded for a feature and who built a strong community around that. The tagline for her Blackman Vision site is the breathtaking ‘when the lioness can tell her story, the hunter no longer controls the tale’. I love Isis Asare's Sistah Cinema interview with Campbell and two actors from Stud Life, T'Nia Miller and Robyn Kerr. It's embedded below – comprehensive, beautiful, illuminating and inspiring. I strongly recommend it as the go-to watch, especially if you're a filmmaker yourself. But here’s a little Q & A as well.

Q: You’re a writer of fiction and non-fiction, a curator, and have made non-fiction short films. What drew you to long-form work and to fiction? Why a feature film rather than a novel or a webseries?

Monday, May 6, 2013

Nathalie Boltt, Clare Burgess & 'The Silk'

I love it when New Zealand women make short films outside ‘the system’ and find success. The Silk is one of these successes. It's Nathalie Boltt's adaptation of a Joy Cowley story, co-produced and co-directed with Clare Burgess. The Silk's been accepted at eleven festivals* where it's won seven awards: five Best Narrative Short Film awards, a Best Acting Award and a Best Cinematography Award. I also have an ongoing interest in actors as writers and directors because it seems to me that they often move behind the camera with real ease; and Nathalie’s a hugely experienced actor as well as a writer/director, so that's another reason to interview her.

Nathalie Boltt
Q: What drew you to The Silk and inspired you to adapt it for the screen? Is it your first script? Were there any particular challenges?