Mon, Nov 04, 2002 - Page 16 News List

Movies find a new home in old house

After extensive renovations, the former residence of the US ambassador is to become the city's first art house cinema


SPOT features a ceiling display taken from Hou Hsiao-hsien's costume drama Flower of Shanghai.


It may be just another 100-year-old building, but after an extensive facelift, the former residence of US ambassador on Chungshan North Road is sporting a new look and a new purpose in life. The building, re-christened SPOT -- Taipei Film House, will officially open on Nov. 10 as an art house cinema and cultural venue.

The building, completed in 1901, when Taiwan was ruled by the Japanese, was long a focus of important diplomatic events. Between 1950 to 1979 it was home to six US ambassadors, and therefore the venue for many gatherings of Taiwan's cultural elite at a time when Taiwan was strongly influenced by the US, both politically and culturally.

"In the past, we were at a disadvantage, receiving culture and avant-garde arts from an outside culture. Now, our own artists can create avant-garde culture in this place," said Lung Ying-tai (龍應台), director of Taipei City's Bureau of Cultural Affairs, at a press conference yesterday announcing the venue's Nov. 10 opening.

The renovation of the house began two years ago under the auspices of the cultural bureau and with NT$60 million in sponsorship from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Bidding for the management of the renovated building was won by acclaimed filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien's (侯孝賢) Association of Taiwan Film Culture (台灣電影文化協會), which planned to turn it into Taipei's first art house cinema screening non-Hollywood, independent and award winning films on a regular basis.

"In the past, as a filmmaker I used to complain to government officials about our poor cultural and film environment. Now maybe it's time to take some social responsibility and actually do something about it," Hou said.

Pre-opening screenings: (Nov. 11-14)

* Amelie (2001)

* Run Lola Run (1998)

* Fireworks (1997)

* What Time Is It There? (2001)

* American Beauty (1999)

* Fargo (1996)

* The Matrix (1999)

* Spirited Away (2001)

* Vidocq (2001)

* The Kingdom (1994)

From the outside, SPOT looks like a manor house from the American south. Inside, the building has been decorated in modern chic. The living room, where champagne parties used to be held, is now a cafe with French windows and a small terrace. And the long dining room has now become a mini branch of the Eslite Bookstore specializing in film-related books.

The master bedrooms and the guestroom on the second floor are now a bar and a VIP lounge. The ceiling of the second floor is decorated with a giant poster of Hou Hsiao-hsien's costume drama Flower of Shanghai, providing a Chinese touch.

As for the 88 seated cinema, this was originally the garage.

As Taipei's first art house cinema, SPOT will screen six films each day between 11am and 2am, selected by the Association of Taiwan Film Culture. This will be a great help to local filmmakers who always find it hard to screen their films in Taiwan, even when they have won awards in international film festivals.

Screenings were originally scheduled to begin on Nov. 10, but construction delays have put the opening of the cinema back to Nov. 15.

The opening film will be Mirror Image (命帶追逐2000), a film by Hou's pupil Hsiao Ya-chuan (蕭雅全). An urban rhapsody about destiny and coincidence, it was one of the entries at the Cannes Film Festival in 2001. Also selected as an opening feature is Fast Runner (2001) from Canada, a film about an Inuit hero leading his community in a fight against evil spirits.

A program of warmup screenings will take place between Nov. 11 to Nov. 14. (These where originally scheduled to commence last Saturday.) These films were selected by asking 10 top film professionals (writers and directors) to choose their personal favorite movies from the past five years. And, surprisingly, Hou's favorite was Hollywood sci-fi thriller, The Matrix.

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