EAFFI Founders: ‘What we really want to achieve is doing something different that isn’t available otherwise’
(for English version see below)
愛爾蘭東亞電影節（East Asia Film Festival Ireland）小而美。雖然每屆影展只維持大約十部電影的規模，卻已經請到台灣電影的大師級人物如侯孝賢與李屏賓。現場觀察，今年的聚焦影人李屏賓的電影幾乎每場都售完，觀眾映後也熱衷提問。對的場地、對的觀眾、對的節目......除了這些，一個成功的影展背後有更多需要花心思著墨之處。舉行影展的這幾天都柏林持續地下著小雨，但是觀眾們還是一群一群地來看電影。我們的蠟燭都還沒有熄滅，我們都還在向前走。
Maria：與我的同事 Marie-Pierre 一起，我是主辦人之一，我們在2017年創辦了這個影展。去年跟我們一起的還有 Yvonne Kennedy，但她今年因為家庭因素比較退居幕後。我的角色應該是主辦人兼處理影展重要行政事務的人員。Marie-Pierre 則是策展人與節目總監。我猜也可以談談為什麼我們有分工：影展要處理的事情太多，一個人不可能做得完，所以必須分工，才能使影展順利進行。
這裡補充說一下我的背景：我之前從事法律事務多年，後來我在倫敦金匠學院（Goldsmiths, University of London）拿了碩士，在這期間修過一門中國電影的課程。那大概是14年前的事了。但我之前就一直對亞洲電影很感興趣。事實上，倫敦國王學院的裴開瑞（Chirs Berry），同時也是我們影展的顧問之一，是我當年上那門中國電影的講師。我另外又在都柏林的三一學院（Trinity College）拿了一個研究型碩士（research masters），主要研究李安的電影。所以，我對台灣電影和亞洲電影都很感興趣，但同時也關注這些電影如何被西方觀眾「接受」。我想這是我們想成立這個影展最強烈的動機之一。
Marie-Pierre：對，我們一開始只是想做一些有關亞洲電影的東西。過去二十年來我一直以獨立策展人的身份工作，2010年開始我也擔任都柏林法國影展的影展總監......這是我的背景。我、Maria 跟 Yvonne 一直都對亞洲電影很感興趣，而 Yvonne 又剛好是台籍美裔，所以我們後來決定做有關台灣電影的東西，而侯孝賢這個名字很自然地浮上來。萬事起頭難，所以我們開始規劃片單、集思廣益，這個影展就是這麼開始的。
Maria：我這邊來說的話，很明顯地，贊助頗難取得。今年我們非常幸運能拿到藝術協會（Arts Council）和都柏林城市協會（Dublin City Council）的公共資金。當然，台灣文化部去年和今年都有贊助我們。我們同時也嘗試向私人機構申請贊助———有些申請成功了，這當然很棒———但有時真的很難去說服一個私人機構或公司，透過他們對影展的贊助能獲得什麼對自身有利的價值。因為他們必須要在你的影展發生之前就投注信任，而今年只是我們的第二年。
Maria：兩個原因，第一個是精心策劃的片單，第二個是來賓。我們一開始就決定好這個影展會以來賓為主，因為 Marie-Pierre 已經擔任法國影展的策展人多年，那個影展同樣有好的片單和來賓。來賓為影展所帶來的「附加價值」，包括映後座談、特別是大師講堂等等，都為影展增添了一層額外的面向與深度。這個「附加價值」其實是無比寶貴、不能以金錢來衡量的。
李屏賓大師講堂（Photo credit: Joshua Mulholland 2018）
Maria：藝術協會是愛爾蘭藝術相關贊助的公家單位。他們的審核過程非常嚴格，但同時他們也非常樂於幫忙。我負責處理藝術協會的贊助申請，那邊的工作人員都非常樂於幫助你。我給同樣在申請資金的人的建議會是，清楚表達你影展的目標及重心，保持誠懇也非常重要。如果你有一個很棒的影展計畫、你投資你的時間與精力在裡面，你就越有可能會成功拿到資金，因為那種誠懇是看得到的。實際層面上來說，像 Marie-Pierre 說的，注意截止日期，填表格......他們明年贊助的截止日期是六天後（按：普遍來說，公共資金的贊助機構都需提前一年申請），所以為了2019年的影展我們已經在準備申請的前置作業。這對我們來說有點不幸，但同時也可以說幸運，因為我們現在正在舉行2018年的影展，所以發生的這一切我們都記得非常清楚，同時我們腦海中也充斥著影展的目標宣言之類的。
Maria：我本身來說的話，語言真的是一個很大的問題。我不會講中文，Marie-Pierre 和我都有遠大的計劃未來會學中文。去年我們有 Yvonne，她中文說的很好，這很棒。今年我們有口譯的幫忙，但仍然，這整件事對我們來說依舊有點困難，因為當我們接待來賓的時候，所有事情都需要翻譯。李屏賓的英文很好，但比起我們，情況對他來說可能會困難一點點。必須要申明的是，這並不是就不去做這個影展的原因。
註2：DCP英文全名 Digital Cinema Package，中文可為「數位拷貝」，意即將電影原始素材（底片或數位）經過轉檔或壓縮後，存於可攜式硬碟中。DCP是現在最為普遍的電影放映素材之一。
First of all, I would like to ask about your roles in this film festival and how the idea of this film festival came about?
Maria: Maria O’Brien is my name and I am one of the co-organisers with my colleague Marie-Pierre Richard. We founded the festival in 2017. Last year we ran it with our friend Yvonne Kennedy who has taken a back-seat role this year because of family commitments. My description is, I think, co-organiser and academic liaison officer, and Marie-Pierre is the programme director and curator. I suppose we can talk about why we have separate roles as well; there’s too much for one person to do, you can’t do everything, so we are working towards our scale I suppose. But Marie-Pierre is the film buff and the curator.
As for my background, I worked in Law for many years, and then I did a Masters in Screen Studies in Goldsmiths, University of London, and as part of that I did a course in Chinese cinema. That was about 14 years ago. But I had an interest [ in Asian cinema] before and since then. In fact, Chris Berry from King’s College London, who is our festival advisor, was my lecturer for that course. And I also did a research masters in Trinity College Dublin on the films of Ang Lee. So I was very interested in Taiwanese cinema as well as Asian cinema, but also the reception in the West of those films as well, that really drove us.
Marie-Pierre: Yes, we had discussions and thought about doing something related to Asian cinema. I have been working as an independent film programmer for the last 20 years and since 2010, I am the director of the French Film Festival in Dublin organised by the Irish Film Institute, so that’s a bit of my background. I have always been interested in Asian cinema, and Yvonne is Taiwanese-American, so we decided to focus on Taiwan cinema and director Hou Hsiao-Hsien quite naturally came to mind. It was pretty vague in terms of how to shape things, so we started to programme, to put ideas together……that’s how we started.
Maria: We knew we wanted to do a programme on Asian cinema and as we were very guest-driven, we managed to secure Hou Hsiao-Hsien as a guest, which was just…
Marie-Pierre: It was wonderful, because he agreed to come to Dublin which he had never visited before. We opened with The Assassin, and there were Q&A sessions, a masterclass…so last year’s festival was all around Hou Hsiao-hsien.
I am curious as to what kind of processes you went through to secure Hou?
Marie-Pierre: We had contact with his personal assistant, we invited him and he agreed to come. He came with Chu Tien-wen. They were doing a tour in Europe, I think they went to Heidelberg and Prague as well.
This question is for Marie-Pierre. When you started off, was there a certain aspect of Taiwan cinema that you wanted to present to the audience, and has that changed in the second year of the festival?
Marie-Pierre: There was a big difference between the first year and the second year. The first year was really about encountering Asian cinema. We decided to show rarely screened films, like A Time to Live, A Time to Die, A City of Sadness, Boys from Fengkeui……Hou’s personal assistant helped us to coordinate his visit, as well as to secure some of the screening material for Hou’s films.
Maria: We had a lot of help from Taiwan Film Institute as well.
Through this presentation of Asian cinema, what kind of difficulties have you encountered?
Maria: Problems that I can see from my point of view, obviously funding is quite difficult to get. We have been really lucky this year in securing public funding from the Art Council and from Dublin City Council for the festival department which has helped a lot. We also had funding from Ministry of Culture in Taiwan last year and this year. But we also tried to get some private sponsorship. We had some success with that which has been great, but it can be difficult to tell a private company what value they can get from our festival because they have to trust you before the festival happens and this is only our second year. So we are happy with how that’s gone, it’s gone as well as it can I think, and we are hoping every year we will be able to increase the amount of funding we can get. Obviously, as film festivals go it’s relatively expensive because we have guests travelling from Asia, to secure the flights, secure the films, and the transport fee as well.
Audience wise, I think we haven’t had difficulties. Marie-Pierre has curated a really strong programme both years; and we’ve attracted a very diverse audience. There is a large Chinese/East Asian/South East Asian population in Ireland, and a lot of them are centred around Dublin. But we have been very diligent in wanting to attract not just an Irish audience but also a Chinese-language audience as well, and I think we have been really successful with that. With the numbers at our opening film last night, you could see a significantly diverse mix from all ethnicities, all countries and all ages as well. This year we have a family film as well, so we are hoping to get some kids there, which would be really good.
What do you think are the reasons that your festival attracts such a diverse audience?
Maria: I think there are two reasons, one being a strong programme and another the guests. We made the decision before we started, that it would be guest-driven because Marie-Pierre has run the programme for French film festival for a good number of years; and that is very strong and had guests as well. The “added-value”, which is a real accounting term to use, but having a guest who can do Q&A sessions, and particularly the masterclass, adds this extra-dimension and extra level to a film festival which is invaluable. We can see in the numbers for the opening night and also last year that the films which had Q&As with them sold more than the other ones. I think the Irish audience, by which I mean the people in Ireland, recognise that getting to hear a cinematographer or a filmmaker or a director actually talk about their craft is irreplaceable, it’s once-in-a-lifetime and I think it’s absolutely fantastic. Therefore it’s a great dimension that we have and we certainly intend to continue with it.
Marie-Pierre: Yes, I think it is important when you organise a festival, to always have a focus on something, for example like classic films. When you have a guest, especially someone like Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who has been making films for over 30 years, you can actually show his early films as well as more recent ones, and you have a meeting point there.
What about securing screening materials?
Marie-Pierre: Last year we screened the restored version of A Touch of Zen on DCP, which was perfect. You have to check whether it’s a DCP or print, does it have English subtitles, theatre rights etc. You just have to research. And if you cannot secure one film, you have to think of alternative.
Maria: I think there’s also a balance required as well, which is difficult. You have a plan and then you don’t get one film and it may affect another film you’re considering having as well, so it is a very complicated process.
Marie-Pierre: Yes and you have to keep the balance between genres as well, you don’t want it to be all comedies or all action films. So this year we decided to expand our festival to be an ‘East Asia Film Festival’ showing, for example, a family saga from Singapore, Ramen Shop. And also we are showing adventure films like Seventy-Seven Days, which is an Irish premiere and the latest work by Mark Lee. This is another reason as to why to have guests, somehow it helps you to build a stronger programme. Another benefit is that having a guest would help you secure the films more easily as the distributor knows the person who worked on this film would be coming to your festival.
Mark Lee Ping-Bing Masterclass (Photo credit: Joshua Mulholland 2018)
Can you talk about how you secured the public funding from both Art Council and Dublin City Council? How did you persuade them?
Marie-Pierre: Watch the deadline!
Maria: The Arts Council is the public body in Ireland responsible for funding the arts. Their application process is very rigorous, but they are also very helpful. I conducted all the dealings we had with the Arts Council and they have been absolutely wonderful. I think the advice I would give to people doing it is to be clear about the aim of your festival, the focus of your festival, and also be very honest as well. If you have a strong festival and if you put time and energy into it, you are more likely to be successful as well, because the honesty shines through. On a practical level, as Marie-Pierre says, watch the deadlines, fill out the forms……the deadline for next years festival is this coming Thursday. We’ve been working on that for our 2019 festival. It is a little bit unfortunate timing for us, but at the same time quite fortunate that we are having our festival so it’s all very fresh in our minds, and we are thinking about our mission statement and stuff like that.
I think cinema is a strong art in Ireland. It is recognised not just as an industry but as a cultural and art form as well, so running a festival is really seen as being something very important. We have been really lucky to get funding for that and hopefully will continue to get funding as well.
Marie-Pierre: I think we are lucky to be able to work with Irish Film Institute as well, because it is a top-niche venue with great programmes, it is just great that we have the trust and support from them. You can have a big project and sponsors and all that but if you don’t have the right venue, it can be really difficult as well.
What do you want to achieve through this film festival?
Marie-Pierre: The goal I guess would be try to open a window to Asian cinema, showing classics as well as contemporary films, focusing on one particular filmmaker. At the same time, trying to keep the scale reasonable as well, because you don’t want to make it too big as there probably won’t be too many people coming…you have to be able to judge that as well.
Maria: Yes, I think what we really want to achieve as well is doing something different that isn’t available otherwise. I think the films we show, as well as the masterclasses, Q&As, and having guests, constitute something that would not be happening if we didn’t do it. Of the programme we’ve picked, maybe one or two might be shown in other festivals, but we are quite focused on getting new things.
We also have a small animation programme as well, I don’t know if you noticed that, which is a really nice thing to do. That’s from Taipei National University of the Arts, a really really strong animation programme as well.
Marie-Pierre: So we are showing six short animation films. We have been working with them since 2017 and we hope to continue working with them in the future. The Animation Short Film Programme is organised in collaboration with Dr Chi-Sui Wang, Associate Professor at the Animation Department, Taipei National University of the Arts, and Curator at KuanDu International Animation Festival (KDIAF). Dr Wang is responsible for the initial selection of shorts for the festival, from which I select six to seven films and pairs them best with a film to play before a feature of the main programme. This is an exciting addition to the programme and a wonderful occasion to partner with an institution, as well as to be able to support emerging talents by showcasing works of animated filmmaking and exposing audiences to innovative animation techniques.
What do you find the most difficult about promoting East Asian films in a foreign environment, Ireland, in this case?
Maria: For me, it’s the language issues. I don’t speak Mandarin, Marie-Pierre and I both have grand plans to learn Mandarin at some stage in the future. Last year we had Yvonne Kennedy, who is a fluent Chinese speaker, which was great. It’s a little bit difficult for us of course, because we need things translated for us when seeing our guests; Mark Lee speaks great English, but still, It’s a little bit more difficult for him. But that’s not the reason not to do the festival.
Marie-Pierre: For me, it’s finding themes that are universal so that people don’t find them too foreign or don’t relate to. You need to keep in mind when selecting the films as well, how universal the film is.
But I think a good film should be universal, right?
Marie-Pierre: That always helps you to select the films.
You expanded your festival from ‘Chinese-language’ to ‘East Asia’, can you talk a bit about this decision?
Maria: We wanted to broaden the festival because firstly, it is guest-driven. When we secured Mark Lee as our guest, obviously a lot of the films he has worked on, while he is Taiwanese, are not necessarily Taiwanese; secondly there are too many good films to pick from as well. I think if we had continued with the focus on Taiwan every year, our audience might have dwindled a little bit as it is so specific and so niche. There isn’t another East Asian film festival in Ireland; there are for example Japanese festival and other very good festivals, but there isn’t one that is focusing on inside East Asia. So we thought, well, if we cornered this market, then we have so much scope we can keep going for 30 years. And also because we wanted to show In the Mood for Love. Which is from Hong Kong!
I saw it at the opening night with this absolutely beautiful 35mm print. Thank you for bringing it to Dublin!
My last question is, can you tell me anything about next year’s festival?
Maria: We have some plans, but we don’t know yet……
Marie-Pierre: We will have to go to Cannes [to do programming] as well, but we will see.
The third edition of EAFFI will take place in April or May 2019 at the Irish Film Institute, Dublin (exact dates to be confirmed soon)