Movies with a social conscience are back at New Taipei City Film Festival (新北市電影節), which opens today and runs through May 19 at multiple venues across Banciao District (板橋區).
For the festival’s fourth edition, film critic Ryan Cheng (鄭秉泓) and curator Yen Hung-ya (閻鴻亞) — known also by the pen name Hung Hung (鴻鴻) — have put together a lineup of more than 80 features, short, documentary and animated work from 33 countries. From its roots as an obscure government-organized event, the New Taipei City Film Festival has become a must-go for those who believe that cinema is not merely entertainment on the silver screen, but an effective way to understand and communicate with the world around us.
The festival’s abiding interest in social issues comes through this year with works by French director Robert Guediguian. Born and raised in a working-class family in L’Estaque, Marseilles, the 59-year-old filmmaker has lived and worked exclusively in his hometown, making films that offer populist, lively portraits of the port city and its inhabitants. His films often use the same actors — one is his wife Ariane Ascaride — to portray the hard lives of working class people.
While rooted in social reality, Guediguian’s works are noted for flirting with different genres and styles. His most popular film, Marius and Jeannette (1998), for example, is a romantic comedy about a single mother struggling to raise her children on a meager salary in a blue-collar district of Marseilles. A l’attaque! (2000), a self-reflective satire on the act of filmmaking, starts with two screenwriters struggling to cook up a politically relevant comedy and switches back and forth between the pair of writers and the story they imagine.
Much more unsettling in tone is The Town is Quiet (2000). This film tells stories of Marseilles residents across a broad social spectrum, from right-wing politicians to dock workers, drug addicts to North African immigrants. The somber film shows that the director’s heart lies with the deprived through its vivid depiction of the suffering and hardship endured by the city’s underdogs.
This year, the festival brings in ten films from the three Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — to promote local understanding of lesser-known countries and cultures. Among them, two works by Lithuanian auteur Sharunas Bartas offer a glimpse into his world. Bartas is often compared with Andrei Tarkovsky and Hungarian master Bela Tarr, as they share an affinity for probing existential crises and the realities of life in a communist state.
In most of Bartas’ films, the loss of community is manifested through characters who hardly speak. reedom (2000) contains little dialogue and relies on natural sounds and the seemingly boundless, inhospitable landscape to portray three illegal immigrants and drug smugglers who are caught in a stalemate, unable to escape oppressive authorities and start anew.
Meanwhile, Lithuanian poet, musician and film director Romas Lileikis brings two of his film works, The Shadow of Heaven (2008) and MAAT (2013), to Taipei. The former is a lyrical meditation on the life of M. K. Ciurlionis — Lithuania’s legendary painter, composer and madman. The latter is the filmmaker’s personal reflection on the arts.
Apart from being an artist, Lileikis is also president of the Republic of Uzupis, an arts community populated with bohemians since Soviet times. Residents of Uzupis in Vilnius — the capital of Lithuania — declared the area an independent republic in 1997. Uzupis has its own national flag, currency, an army of 12 men and a constitution written by Lileikis and Thomas Chepaitis. Recognized by no government, citizens of the republic nevertheless celebrate their independence annually on Uzupis Day, which falls on April 1.
Lileikis will attend a symposium on Sunday at Fuzong 15 (府中15). A panel discussion on independent filmmaking will be held on May 11. For more information go to: www.ntpcff.com.tw.