Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sapna Samant & 'Kimbap'

I feel very proud that a New Zealand film, Kimbap, written and produced by Sapna Samant and directed by Alex Kyo Won Lee, won Best in Show and the Audience Choice Award for the best film by a male director at the Bluestocking Film Series this year and then travelled with the Bluestocking selection to the LadyBug Festival in Sweden. This all feels special, because Bluestocking is the influential showcase for provocative, well-produced short fictional films featuring complex female protagonists – and the only film event in the world to require female protagonists. Submissions must also pass the Bechdel Test and Bluestocking is the first United States film event to receive Sweden’s A-Rating, which informs consumers that films pass the test.

Best in Show judge, Thuc Doan Nguyen from The Bitch Pack, which advocates better representation of women ‘on the page’, said this about Kimbap
I chose the film because of the excellent acting, the relationship between mother and daughter (also the one between the two children), and the handling of racial and cultural differences as subject matter. All the elements came together well and were refreshing to me.
Kimbap’s writer and producer is Sapna Samant, of Holy Cow Media, which she set up in 2006 to tell stories across all media. She produced The Asian Radio Show, a contemporary and irreverent show about the Asian diaspora in New Zealand from 2008-2012, the only such show on commercial radio. Sapna was a freelance producer for Radio New Zealand before that, and on the WIFT Auckland board for two terms. She also won second prize in Auckland University’s short story competition in 2013.

Kimbap is about a migrant family and how they make their place in New Zealand through food and love. Kimbap is Korean sushi. It also symbolises inclusion.

Broadcaster Sapna, with Liyen Chong

Where did the idea for Kimbap come from?

I was inspired by a true event in Christchurch, New Zealand. A Korean family, a mother and her two daughters, committed suicide and one of the issues that came out of the discourse after was the loneliness and isolation of non-English speaking migrants to New Zealand. I felt great empathy with this family. Here I was, someone who spoke fluent English, and yet I had experienced isolation and loneliness as a migrant to New Zealand. The other issue I learned was the concept of the goose family. These are families where the father lives and works in Korea while the wife and children migrate to an English speaking country for the sake of the children's education. Of course such distances would compound the alienation of any migrant. However I wanted to tell a sweet, simple tale rather than a dark, desolate one which many New Zealand films are. For, if a migrant comes into a host society and feels an outsider, there are also many opportunities to come out on top of the situation in a positive way.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How Can 'Female Directors in European Films' Help?

So Mockingjay had a big opening.  And here's @licoricehazel's immediate response–

That' s all terrific. And as a New Zealander, I'm especially proud and delighted because 'our' Lorde curated the music. And wrote and performed some of it too.

But I'm also remembering that men wrote almost all the Hunger Games scripts and directed all of the films. And I'm reflecting on that depressing data on women who make films and about the (mis)representation of women and girls in films. It continues to pour out. A storm. A flood. A tsunami. It's almost overwhelming.

In September, the European Audiovisual Observatory released Female Directors in European Films: State of Play and Evolution Between 2003 and 2012 – the first substantial study to measure the director 'gender divide' at pan-European level.

Since then I've been thinking about the various recent reports and their interrelationships, in an attempt to understand where and how women writers and directors might best choose to work and what might help us to do that, especially those of us who live outside the United States, in countries where the government funds films. Because I fit into this group, the data speaks to me most strongly when it illuminates or confirms ideas about how we might resolve our local 'gender problems', with more films written and directed by diverse women and more films that represent diverse women and girls. I'm also interested in the bigger picture, for the many American women filmmakers I know, working in a country without government film funds.

But it's important to remember that whether or not we live in the United States our practices are as diverse as we are. Some of us want to tell our stories independently, outside the United States and for the world, to reach the audiences we know are there but are largely ignored. And/or to reach audiences unfamiliar with entertainment that comes from outside Hollywood– audiences that may believe that this kind of entertainment consists only of 'arthouse' films. Some want to use film to explore an idea, to experiment, to make an 'arthouse' film. Some of us want to be assimilated into the patriarchy of Hollywood as directors-for-hire. Some of us want to work with Hollywood only if it welcomes our own stories and/or more diversity among its workers and within the stories it chooses to tell. Some of us want to combine elements of several of these options. Some of us want to make a living from writing and directing films. Others don't. Some of us will always put women and girls at the centre of the story. Some of us won't.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Investing in Love: Jacqueline Kalimunda's 'Single Rwandan'

Jacqueline Kalimunda
Jacqueline Kalimunda's Single Rwandan Seeks Serious Relationship asks ‘How do people love after genocide?’ It uses new technologies to explore the rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict and will introduce us to Rwanda’s new generation, using the internet to find love and enhance resilience. In three languages –  Kinyarwanda (Rwanda's official language) English and French – it's the first participatory film on love in Rwanda.

I found Single Rwandan's crowdfunding campaign on Twitter. And then watched Jacqueline's pitch clip and some clips she’s shared from the project (below). Jacqueline and the clips enchanted me, made me think and feel deeply. As an exploration of the 'rebirth of love in a society that’s coming out of conflict’, Single Rwandan is extraordinary, I believe, something profoundly important for all of us.

In the English-speaking world, we’re most familiar with Rwanda through films made by other English speakers, who are not Rwandan. And when I googled Rwandan filmmaking I came across, almost immediately,, which Leah Warshawski helped establish, the Kwetu Film Institute and its festival and the Rwanda Film Institute. And I wondered, 'Who are the Rwandan filmmakers?' and 'What’s it like to be a Rwandan woman filmmaker today?' When American investment is involved, are there issues like those in New Zealand, of a new kind of colonisation? But Jacqueline’s responses to my questions attuned me in a different way. Many and warm thanks to her.

Single Rwandan is a four-unit transmedia project on many screens and in many voices: a documentary, a participatory web documentary, a book and an art installation, each looking from a different perspective at the search for love in today's Rwanda and how that search uses the internet and other new technologies. Why did you choose this way to work instead of making a fictional feature film, a documentary or a television series?
I've been making films for 12 years and my two main issues have always been– how do I do to make the movies that I imagine? How do I present my films to the audience I expect to reach? To speak of love in Rwanda after the genocide isn't a story that just belongs to me. If I have a personal interest in it and the will to carry out this project, I nevertheless understood from the beginning that this story is a conversation with many voices. This project belongs to all of those who seek love in Rwanda. It also belongs to all those outside Rwanda who have an interest in, or empathy for, the subject, and, finally, also to those who seek inspiration or insight from this story for their own situation.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Aussie Emma Rozanski's Sarajevo film, 'Papagajka'

Emma Rozanski, writer/director Papagajka
I’m convinced that it’s essential to follow crowdfunding campaigns to learn what’s new and exciting about women in film, that women-directed and crowdfunded films are the most likely to change the gender imbalances, not films that women direct for Hollywood, with its profound ambivalence (at best!) towards women who make films and towards women and girls in films. Crowdfunded and women-directed films are where we’re most likely to experience complex women and girls and exciting stories about them. That's also where we'll be challenged and engaged by experimental work that makes us think and feel, I reckon.

For me, it's easiest to access crowdfunding campaigns on Twitter. That’s where I first heard of Afia Nathaniel, whose Dukhtar (Daughter) premiered at Toronto this year, because she created such a beautiful campaign. I first heard and loved Ana Lily Amapour’s distinctive voice when she tweeted about A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, during her campaign. Jennifer Kent crowdfunded for The Babadook, too.

When I can, I contribute the price of a ticket to projects that attract me and as often as possible I add the campaigns to my dedicated Pinterest board and tweet at least once, at a time that I think will work best.

I fell over Emma Rozanski’s campaign for her first feature, Papagajka. As you do.

Live or be lived.

Short Synopsis

A stranger arrives in Sarajevo and barges into Damir's reclusive world. Little by little she takes over his life, even absorbing his dreams, until finally he ceases to exist.
According to Emma–
Papagajka is a cautionary tale about apathy. Thematically I’m interested in exploring how people transform under psychological conflict, and how the mind adapts to survive in different environments. We all change in fundamental ways under society's scrutiny.
Intrigued, I learned that Emma’s an Aussie, from the Queensland Institute of Technology, where she studied stage and drama. Saw that she’d been through a bunch of talent labs. Looked at the pitch clip, read the rest of the info, enjoyed her mood boards. I saw that Emma’s doing her masters in Sarajevo, being mentored by Béla Tarr at his Film.Factory and by an astonishing group of others– Palme d'Or recipients Cristian Mungiu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, award-winning auteurs Carlos Reygadas, Guy Maddin, The Brothers Quay and Fred Kelemen. (I also learned that she was at the Reykjavik TransAtlantic lab with the lovely Matthew Hammett Knott, whose own feature, Bonobo, is out any day.)