While other cinephiles are celebrating the latest installment of the Taipei Film Festival (台北電影節), Ryan Cheng (鄭秉泓) is using his blog (blog.chinatimes.com/davidlean) to bemoan recent changes made to the festival’s structure under Jane Yu (游惠貞), who has been in charge of programming since 2007.
At the top of Cheung’s list of what’s wrong with the Taipei Film Festival is his concern about the relatively high number of local distributors’ films shown in the festival that had or will have commercial releases in Taiwan. “Ordinary audiences don’t pay much attention to whether or not a curator puts a great amount of effort and time into building a good lineup. In my view, Yu chooses [the easy] route. The number of distributors’ films is proportionally too high,” said Cheng, a film critic and a doctoral candidate at the University of Leicester in the UK.
Ordinarily, the partnership between film festivals and distributors is tight but invisible to the audience. It may be detected though, when selected works do not fit with the festival’s themes. This is the case in this year’s Directors in Focus section, with US director Rob Epstein’s four documentaries on homosexuality, all of which will be released by Flash Forward Entertainment (前景娛樂), Kazakhstan-born Sergey Dvortsevoy’s feature debut Tulpan, to be released by Joint Entertainment International (佳映娛樂), and documentaries Bread Day and Highway, both shown at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival, which was curated by Yu in 1998 and 2000.
The section had been previously reserved for directors from the chosen country of the year.
Yu does not think working with distributors is a problem. “Unless you are talking about underground or student films, virtually all the films that exist have distributors. So why pretend that the film festival is not part of the industry?” she said.
Asked why non-German directors are being highlighted this year, Yu said she believes in taking advantage of an opportunity to introduce quality works to local audiences. “The festival is here to stay. But when you see the chance to screen the films you love, you’d better do it right away because the opportunity may not present itself in the future,” Yu said.
Cheng’s other qualm with the government-funded event stems from when the Taipei Cultural Foundation (台北市文化基金會) became the festival’s permanent executive body last year, with Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lee Yong-ping (李永萍) as its chief executive officer.
Changes that followed included the removal of the experimental film category from the Taipei Awards, an annual competition and an important platform for young filmmakers in Taiwan. There are more award categories for feature-length works at this year’s Taipei Awards, and the top prize of NT$1 million — which had previously been open to all types of films — is now limited to feature-length works.
Past winners of this prize include documentaries Let It Be (無米樂) and Farewell 1999 (再會吧！一九 九 九), an animated short, Women (女子), and experimental film Stardust 15749001 (星塵15749001).
“The spirit of the festival is openness, diversity and creativity. By favoring feature works over others, the event loses what makes it unique and commendable,” said Cheng, who has served as a jury member for film projects funded by the National Culture and Arts Foundation.
Cheng’s viewpoint is supported by the Documentary Media Worker Union (台北市紀錄片從業人員職業工會), which issued a statement condemning what it says were arbitrary changes made without public explanation and calling for the restoration of the original award categories.
“These changes can only make the Taipei Awards a smaller Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎) at best,” said Tsai Tsung-lung (蔡崇隆), an executive board member of the union and a filmmaker whose documentary Surviving Evil (油症—與毒共存) has been selected for this year’s Taipei Awards.
Yu believes a film festival should adapt to changing times, and says the Taipei Film Festival now favors feature films in keeping with the revival of Taiwanese cinema.
The award ceremony will be broadcast live online, and more attention will be given to stars and actors.
“The event is having a definite change of direction after 10 years ... the Taipei Awards is becoming the only major platform for local feature films,” Yu said, “because we hardly see [any] Taiwanese films at the Golden Horse Awards now.”
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