One of the most common themes discussed in global cinema is the quest for identity in an uncertain and unpredictable world. Globalisation, emigration, economic and political asylum, war, famine, escape, ambition – myriad forces blow us about the planet, perhaps in search of new worlds, but potentially losing our souls to what we have left behind.
Like many filmmakers working in an international milieu, Rachid Bouchareb’s films take the question of identity as a starting point for his narratives. His heritage goes some way in explaining this deep fascination with identity and the concept of home: Born in 1953 in Paris, to Algerian parents, Bouchareb regards himself as a French citizen, yet remains consistently intrigued by his Algerian roots. His personal journey towards an understanding of his place in the world is echoed repeatedly throughout his oeuvre, which moves from the intensely personal to the wider world at large with an assured fluency and compelling style. As an award-winning producer, writer and director, his international reputation is formidable, as his impressive collection of awards from Festivals and film institutions worldwide attests.
In some of his best-known films, his characters are moving through adversity and difficult circumstances, painfully trying to make sense of their surroundings and reach a ‘home’, be it physical, spiritual or emotional. This is superbly demonstrated in ‘Cheb’, in which the young protagonist goes back and forth between France and Algeria, restlessly trying to find himself between these two worlds which each have a claim upon him, yet finding himself alienated in both.
In ‘Little Senegal’, he neatly subverts the usual paradigm of identity-seeking Westerners by having an elderly man from Dakar travel to the US in the footsteps of his ancestors, who were slaves on the plantations of South Carolina. Again, Bouchareb examines not only the journey of his central protagonist, but also the multitude of attitudes and viewpoints of those he encounters on the way.
An example of the impact this filmmaker has made on society comes from his 2006 film, ‘Indigènes’, which examined the plight of soldiers from French colonies, who played a crucial part in the fight against German occupation during World War Two, yet who remain almost forgotten today. The day the film was released in France, then-President Jacques Chirac attended a private screening with Bouchareb. Hours later, the French government announced that the pensions of those veterans from colonial territories would be raised immediately, to the same level as their French counterparts. A small act maybe, in a world of uncertainty and inequality – yet proof, if any were needed of the sheer, enduring power of his work.
It’s time to pause and consider the long, strange career of Terry Gilliam. The notoriously expansive director, with an imagination that should carry some sort of government health warning, continues to vex studio executives and delight fans in equal measure with films that inspire, infuriate, confound and delight. Forty years on from his surreal animation segments for ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, clumpy, chunky collages that delighted baffled viewers with their whimsical charm, Gilliam is still working at full-tilt, as zanily inspired and cheerfully acerbic as ever.
Having racked up a clutch of critically-acclaimed features, ranging from twisted fantasy epics such as ‘The Time Bandits’, ‘Brazil’ ‘Twelve Monkeys’ to outright lunacy (‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas’), his name is still an instant evocation of unfettered invention and creativity, an instant, anarchic dismissal of convention. A rich streak of satire runs through his finest work, as in ‘Brazil’ and ‘Twelve Monkeys’ where the absurdities of society and power are gleefully skewered through grotesque extremes of reality.
Lesser talents, upon arriving at middle age, would have carefully toned down their more idiosyncratic quirks, perhaps softened their stance and bowed to commercial demands. Gilliam blithely ploughs on, rushing ahead into uncharted realms of the bizarre. Consider the title of his next upcoming film – ‘The Imaginarium Of Dr Parnassus’. Comfortable, safe and cosy retirement is still some way off.
It’s this vision that we celebrated at DIFF 2008. Whatever the weather inside Terry Gilliam’s head may be up to at any given time, luckily, in the shape of his films, we’ve been granted access-all-areas passes to that magical, kaleidoscopic world.
Writer, producer and director Tsui Hark began his career directing the ‘Wuxia’ TV series, ‘The Gold Dagger Romance’ in 1979. Hark has defined ‘Wuxia’ – a critical element in his work –as the expression of an ancient Chinese tradition of chivalry, where knights battle for justice, heroism, and humanity against evil opponents. That tradition has morphed into the Kung Fu film genre, and owned by Tsui Hark like no other.
Tsui Hark is often referred to as ‘Steven Spielberg of Asia’, and credited with igniting the careers of people like John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, Chiang Siu-Tung and Brigitte Lin, and is acknowledged as the creator of many major Hong Kong film genres of the 1980’s and 1990’s – the heroic gangsters, fantasy swordplay, and period martial arts.
‘Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain’ (1983) shot for Golden Harvest Studio ignited the fascination for special effects in Hong Kong. ‘A Chinese Ghost Story: The Animation’ (1997) is credited with single handedly building the Hong Kong animation industry.
In 1984, Tsui Hark formed the Film Workshop Production Company, with Nansun Shi. The Film Workshop quickly became a maelstrom of activity, with work that was visually stunning, highly commercial and shot with unique, distinctive camera styles. He is famous for mining Chinese folktales and resurrecting classic genre films, as in ‘Shanghai Blues’ (1985), ‘Peking Opera Blues’ (1986) ‘Swordsman’, (1990), ‘Green Snake’ (1993), and his landmark series, ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ (1994).
It could said that the spirit of Kung Fu, embodied in Hong Kong Cinema, became the custodian of mythic Chinese culture as it reached across the Chinese diaspora. None have taken this curatorial position more seriously than Tsui Hark.
OUTSTANDING FILMMAKER OF THE YEAR - CHARLES ROVEN
Despite a career spanning almost thirty years, based at the very heart of Hollywood, Charles Roven’s face may not be as recognizable as any of the countless stars he has helped propel into the spotlight. But this talented and industrious producer has, over the years, blazed a dazzling trail through the global film industry, generating a succession of box office smashes and independent classics, that add up to billions of dollars in revenues.
After a successful career as a talent manager, Roven moved into producing, on films such as “Final Analysis”, the Oscar®-nominated 12 Twelve Monkeys’, ‘Fallen’, the fantasy romance ‘City Of Angels’, which made over $200m, and the highly-acclaimed post-Gulf War tale ‘Three Kings’.
Within the past year alone, Roven’s domination of Hollywood has been forcefully asserted with the staggering global success of two of the summer’s biggest films: Warner Bros. Studios’ critically-acclaimed ‘The Dark Night’, directed by Christopher Nolan, which has broken box-office records around the world and has grossed over $1bn worldwide so far; and the comedy blockbuster ‘Get Smart’, inspired by the hit TV show, directed by Pete Segal. Earlier this year, Roven also produced the Lionsgate Film ‘The Bank Job’, directed by Roger Donaldson, which opened at number one in the UK box office and is one of the best reviewed movies of 2008.
Roven is currently in post production on Sony Pictures’ ‘The International’ starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts, directed by Tom Tykwer, which has been selected to open the Berlin Film Festival in February 2009. Most recently Roven began production on ‘Season Of The Witch’, starring Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman, and directed by Dominic Sena.