The Loop is a proud media partner of the upcoming Third Culture Film Festival and we’ve sat down with co-founder and curator Faiyaz Jafri to hear his thoughts on the Hong Kong film industry. A digital filmmaker, Jafri moved to Hong Kong in 2013 and found himself disappointed with the dearth of independent and experimental films in our world city. He hopes the new festival will inspire young filmmakers and reboot the city’s independent film scene.
A little background
A true third culture kid, Faiyaz Jafri is half Dutch, half Pakistani and was born in a countryside town in the Netherlands. After studying industrial design engineering, he moved to Amsterdam, New York, and most recently Hong Kong (his wife’s hometown). He’s a self-taught digital filmmaker who specializes in animation and his avant-garde films have won several awards at festivals around the world. Jafri and co-founder Harry Oram are pressing play on the independent film industry in Hong Kong with the Third Culture Film Festival, debuting April 15-17, 2016.
5 things you should know, according to Jafri
1. Hong Kong’s independent film scene is flagging
If you go a long time back, we had a thriving film industry in Hong Kong. We had Bruce Lee, Run Run Shaw, Jackie Chan — it was a huge scene. I don’t know what happened but it’s not here anymore.
In general, you don’t see many independent films here. Sometimes when people think of independent films, they immediately assume it’s poorly funded with shitty acting, but it really just means that it doesn’t have a big distribution plan. But independent films can have amazing special effects and superior acting.
I watched all 1,800 films [submitted to Third Culture Film Festival]. My major takeaway was that independent film is thriving around the world, but maybe not so much in Hong Kong. It’s interesting to see several films from one country, and see how the styles and the messages vary from culture to culture.
2. Talented filmmakers are going the practical route
What I really miss in Hong Kong is this creative side of people who don’t care what other people think. In a city like New York, everyone wants to be different, and to market themselves as such. But here it seems that it’s considered more practical to learn a specific style — like building a portfolio that’s exactly what Pixar would want. It might be practical, but it doesn’t show any creativity.
I have been trying to figure out why that is. Are people shy here? Timid about it? There’s no market for it? Is there no talent? I don’t believe that there is no talent, and I think it’s more than just timidity.
There is this incredible sense of art in China and Hong Kong. But it’s being strangled. I have met so many creative people who can’t really express themselves because they are so concerned about paying the rent and working the corporate life.
3. Experimental and short films are on the rise
The short film is becoming more respected as a film in itself. A lot more people are embracing it because of the way the world is changing. It’s easier to put it online and get people to see your work. But it’s actually really difficult to tell a story in a compact way like that.
We’re including a lot of experimental films in the festival as well. Experimental films go way back. Dali did experimental films, Man Ray, a lot of the Dadaists and surrealists starting out made abstract films. You look at an Andy Warhol film, like [“Sleep”] where a man is sleeping for like five hours — that’s experimental filmmaking! It’s challenging for an audience.
If you look at film theory, and they discuss, ‘What is film?’ Is it just entertainment, or is it an art form? But if you look at the 70s at the films from Hollywood, they were amazing. They were dark, ambiguous, no happy endings. They don’t do that anymore, because now it’s all about making money.
4. Anyone can be a filmmaker
I think that filmmaking can seem like a luxury. If you’re from a working class family that worked so hard to put you through school, and you’re going to study film? And then what? But I want to emphasize that you don’t need an expensive education. You just have to teach yourself with the tools that are free, or inexpensive.
I have seen films shot with iPhones that have moved me to tears. You don’t need to see another US$100 million CGI special effects movie. It’s about telling a beautiful story. It’s within the limits of your time, your mind and maybe what your machine can do in the case of animation, which is what I do.
I didn’t learn this stuff in school. If you want to make a film, there’s no excuse not to. Even if it’s completely raw, it just doesn’t matter. When you’re just bearing your guts out, or telling a story that’s so real and so pure, you don’t have to cover it up with bells and whistles.
5. It’s easier to show your work too
In the old days, if you were a filmmaker and wanted to enter a film festival, you’d have to find the addresses in the book and send a video tape or roll of film. It took a long time and a lot of money. Nowadays, you can go to a website, like a film festival portal, upload your film and synopsis, and click all the festivals you want to submit it to. And just click — it’s done.
There are about six Hong Kong films that we are showcasing in the festival. We wanted Hong Kong films very badly, because you know, it’s taking place here. To be honest, a lot of the entries felt more like test-reels than finished short films.
We want people to think ‘How did they do that with no money…’ or even ‘They don’t need money, because this story just works’ and spread that passion for short films. The pacing, the acting, the editing — it doesn’t have to be a million-dollar blockbuster to be superb.
I saw a lot of disillusionment and cultural sentiments in the films that were submitted from the Middle East. We could see that in a lot of the countries that are struggling, filmmakers are trying to tell their stories. I didn’t actually see that from the submissions in Hong Kong. I would love to see those films about the mentality of the youth and the city’s relationship with China.
And looking toward the future?
I would like to see more students submitting their films and talking about their works, speaking up and having an opinion — even to the point of being annoying about it. I would like to see more culture in Hong Kong, period.
A lot of students don’t send their work to film festivals, but I hope that changes. They might not know about the film portals, but there’s also the feeling that they don’t want to be rejected, or lose face. It’s not just student films that get cut— we have only selected like 5 percent of all the films that were sent to [the Third Culture Film Festival].
I also want to see the public involved. Even if they are upset about your film, or yelling at you about it — it’s okay. If you want to be an artist, you better get used to rejection.
See the Festival: April 15–17, 2016. 22/F, Loft 22, California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Central. Tickets from $180 (per block) $360 (one day) and $1,080 (VIP three days). Available online at Pelago events: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. Includes access to awards ceremony and after-party at CÉ LA VI.