It has been a year since Anthony Chen flew Singapore’s flag high by winning the Camera d’Or award for Best First Feature at Cannes Film Festival.
It was a huge milestone because it was the first time a Singaporean filmmaker has won an award at the world’s most prestigious and biggest film festival.
A year on, how did Asian and Singaporean filmmakers fare at the event from 14 to 25 May? inSing offers a post-festival roundup.
Singapore filmmaker Kaz Rajagopal on the Cannes red carpet
Although no Singaporean feature films were selected this year as compared to the previous few years – Eric Khoo’s ‘My Magic’ was in Official Competition in 2008, Boo Junfeng’s ‘Sandcastle’ was in International Critics' Week in 2010, and Anthony Chen’s ‘Ilo Ilo’ won Camera d’Or in 2013 – there were some Singaporean filmmakers attending the festival for the first time.
Veteran and award-winning filmmaker K Rajagopal was invited to present his debut feature project-in-the-making ‘A Yellow Bird’ at L’Atelier section of Cinéfondation – a programme that picked 15 filmmakers from around the world to present their work to professionals, producers, distributors and institutions that funds filmmaking.
While pitching his film to various professionals in the international film industry, he received constructive feedback that would help to strengthen his script.
Rajagopal said: “Cannes is a very good platform to expand our minds and to raise our standards in filmmaking”.
La Selection, the other section of Cinefondation, focuses on films made by students at film schools. Out of more than 1,631 submissions from 320 different schools, 16 selections were made, and two of them were from film schools in Singapore.
Han Fengyu’s ‘Last Trip Home’ was submitted by Ngee Ann Polytechnic and made the selection. It tells of two homeless Chinese immigrants contemplating and preparing for their
The writer, David Lee, on the Cannes red carpet
Han went to Cannes with a producer and his key production team members, including Lee Sze Wei (director of photography), Yuka Kamamoto (sound designer) and Faraz Hussain (editor).
The other film selected was ‘Oh Lucy!’, directed by Atsuko Hirayanagi from NYU Tisch Asia, about a middle-aged Japanese office woman who has an awakening of sorts with a new-found blonde wig, English name and identity.
‘Oh Lucy!’ picked up the Second Prize awarded by a jury headed by acclaimed Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami.
FEW ASIAN ENTRIES
Among the entries from Asia, there were just seven feature films, and only Japanese arthouse darling Naomi Kawase’s ‘Still The Water’ was competing in the Official Selection, while Wang Chao’s ‘Fantasia’ in the Un Certain Regard category.
The remaining five features were a Japanese anime from Studio Ghibli – Isao Takahata’s ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ – a South Korean remake of French thriller ‘The Target’, and two more South Korean movies, the thriller ‘A Hard Day’by Kim Seong-hun and crime drama ‘A Girl at My Door’ by first-timer July Jung.
Trailer of Zhang Yimou's 'Coming Home'
All these films were dwarfed by Zhang Yimou’s period drama ‘Coming Home’, which reunited the auteur with his long-time muse Gong Li. It was screened out of competition at its International premiere at Cannes Theatre Lumeire, which culminated in a 10-minute standing ovation by the Cannes audience.
The seven Asian films is a low representation, and it was in 1996 that only five Asian films were being selected for Cannes.
This is a huge turnaround from the past years, such as when Apichatpong Weerasethakul won the Palme d’Or in 2012, or even last year when, besides Singaporean Chen’s historic win, the Philippines alone had five films at Cannes.
The poor showing of Asian films led to some concerns and questions from critics and industry observers, since it runs contradictory to trends showing a fast-growing industry and talent pool of East Asian filmmakers, especially from China, South Korea and Japan.
Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan
As you can already tell, the Cannes Film Festival is comprised of several competitions (Un Certain Regard, Short Films Competition) and non-competition sections (Directors’ Fortnight, International Critics’ Week, Cannes Classics, Out of Competition Special Screenings).
But the bulk of the attention always falls on The Official Selection, where the selected, competing films will vie for the Palme d’Or, the highest honour awarded at the festival.
In line with earlier critical buzz, the jury awarded the Palme d’Or to Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ‘Winter Sleep’, a three-hour-16-minute epic depicting the story of a wealthy hotelier and his family residing in central Anatolia.
Director Ceylan is no stranger to Cannes, having twice won the Grand Prix awards in 2002 and 2011, a Best Director in 2008, and the FIPRESCI prize with his previous three films.
This year also happens to be the 100-year anniversary of Turkish cinema, and Ceylan made use of the opportunity to make a statement, dedicating the win to the youth of Turkey as the country undergoes political turmoil.
Filmmaker Jane Campion, a former Palme d’Or winner herself, and Jury President, said: “If I had the guts to be as honest about his characters as this director is, I’d be very proud of myself.”
Ceylan received the Palme d’Or award from the hands of Quentin Tarantino and Uma Thurman, who were also in Cannes to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ‘Pulp Fiction’, which won the Palme d’Or back in 1994, launching Tarantino’s career.
This year, the star-studded jury is made up of mostly actors - Carole Bouquet, Willem Dafoe, Gael Garcia Bernal, Jeon Do-Yeon, Leila Hatami as well as filmmakers such as Nicolas Winding Refn, Sofia Coppola and Jia Zhangke.
Quentin Tarantino, Cannes Film festival director Gilles Jacob, actor Timothy Spall, Best Actor award winner for his role in the film 'Mr. Turner', actress Uma Thurman, and screenwriter Bruce Wagner, Best Actress award winner on behalf of actress Julianne Moore
Other major winners at Cannes 2014 included Bennett Miller winning Best Director for ‘Foxcatcher’, the Grand Prix (equivalent to second-placed) going to ‘The Wonders’ by 32-year-old Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrwacher, and Best Screenplay went to Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for the Russian film ‘Leviathan’.
The Best Actor award went to Timothy Spall for his incredible performance in the well-received biopic of marine painter ‘Mr. Turner’, directed by acclaimed British filmmaker Mike Leigh.
Best Actress went to Julianne Moore for her uncanny performance of an aging Hollywood star in David Cronenberg’s ‘Maps to the Stars’.
It is also symbolic message sent by the jury when they split the Jury Prize between the youngest nominated filmmaker Xavier Dolan (at age 25) for ‘Mommy’, and the oldest filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (at age 83) for ‘Goodbye to Language’.
It underscored the festival’s deference to veteran filmmakers, while also signalling that its doors are open to new talent.
The Camera d’Or for Best First Feature this year went to ‘Party Girl’, which is co-directed by Marie Amachoukeli, Claire Burger and Samuel Theis from France.
A film buff, David Lee lives and breathes cinema. The former TV producer and writer is the vice-chairman of the Singapore Film Society.