Behind the scenes at the East Winds Film Festival
The following is an article written for EasternKicks.com and reposted here.
Andrew Daley gives a sneak preview on what to expect from the East Winds Film Festival this weekend, and his previous experiences as a member of CUEAFS
As of this morning, there are 5 working days left until James Mudge and Myself of the Easternkicks team descend into Coventry for the yearly edition of the East Winds Film Festival, hosted by the Coventry East Asian Film Society (CUEAFS). Being a previous/graduate CUEAFS member, as you can probably tell by my Easternkicks bio; it's not just a time for celebration and film appreciation, but also one of homecoming.
Why would, you may ask, a group of students in the West Midlands host the UKs biggest festival (outside of London) of Asian cinema? It's a perfectly reasonable question! And its not too unsimilar from a story I was told two years ago, far away in a family ran pizzeria in a quiet corner of Italy, of a young lad in Birmingham (well before the turn of the Century) who's first experiences of East Asian films were bootleg VHS copies scavenged from shops in Birmingham's chinatown area. I can't now help but think of that same boy, now a man; who I've sat with countless times over the past three years, stressing repeatedly over countless elements (Will the films play? Will anyone come?) that the film festival brings. There will be students, no doubt fulfilling their assignment for the weekend, attending the screenings in a similar manner of naivety and with a fresh blank canvas just like that young boy so long ago in Birmingham. What is the East Winds Film Festival, if not a gateway into the unknown, and an opportunity for experiencing something new?
Over three years ago I had my first experience in Asian cinema through CUEAFS; an unforgettably erratic drive to London crammed in a minibus combined with Third Window Films UK Premiere of 'Underwater Love' at the Richmix Cinema. I'll never forget being told in revered tones that the film had included elements by both Wong Kar-Wai AND Christopher Doyle, mainly for the fact I can look back now and appreciate my naive questions of "Who are they, are they important?" with some humor, not to mention meeting a very drunk Doyle at the premiere and having a photo taken with this unknown cinematographer. It is precisely those occasions, whether a seasoned veteran or a new screen aficionado, that both CUEAFS and the East Winds Film Festival cultivates and actively promotes for the benefit of all involved. It is not some massive red carpet affair in London’s Leicester square (though indeed we had a red carpet for the 3rd edition of East Winds last year, however I distinctly remember it got discolored in the rain, though that did match the purple colour scheme of the festival. Something about clouds and silver linings...), and the organizers aren't some elite team from the BFI or frequent Cannes-attendees. Every VIP and ticket holder is treated warmly like a friend, by students who have put their passion and soul (on top of stress and work building separately on their University work) into an event to create new experiences and lasting memories for all in attendance, under the masterful organization of Spencer Murphy (the Don, or godfather if you will, of CUEAFS).
Two years ago, Herman Yau noted that East Winds wasn’t like other festivals he had attended, the smaller budget and ‘closeness’ of the organizational team creating a friendly atmosphere that caters purely for the passion of the fans, not the palate of the press. Out of all the festivals I’ve attended, the only one that matches East Winds in that attitude is the Udine Far East Film Festival held in Italy; and if East Winds is modeling their actions upon those of the FEFF then there isn’t a higher body they could be proud to replicate.
A lot of people would ask me “Why do you like Asian cinema?” or “Why are you part of the East Asian Film Society?” whilst at University. It was easy to dodge some questions, using my Media degree as a valid excuse, however the actual reason was more than that. The passion of CUEAFS is easily recognizable, with the society having a global recognition from critics and festivals because of their actions and the strength of the commitment to Cinema. Festival preparation would absorb your free time, and members would be busier than sin during the days of the Fest, however I can guarantee you every single one would be running around with a smile and be enjoying every moment.
Partnering with Third Window Films, and bringing renowned names such as Satoshi Miki, Herman Yau, Dustin Nguyen, Michelle Wai and Banjong Pisanthanakun; stars from all corners of East Asian Cinema are brought specially to Coventry just for the film festival. You’ll find that each year the team may rotate members as people graduate, but there are still the core organizers (One backed by a very patient but hard working wife) and you’ll find Ex-Members or ‘CUEAFS graduates’ still returning to lend a hand; whether it be with pre-event promotion, the creation of online trailers (my contribution this year), assisting with ushering or just attending to watch films and show support.
I may no longer be a student member of CUEAFS, but the pride and happiness felt through watching the current membership working hard to succeed and be better than last year is astounding. The East Winds Film Festival is not your London Korean Film Festival or Busan; it’s an event hosted BY students with that typical student mentality of “grab a beer and let’s have a great time, leave your problems at the door, you’re with friends now”. That ideology is precisely the reason I’m going back to East Winds this year, and will probably continue to go back and lend a hand in the year’s to come. You are not ‘just’ a festival attendee, as soon as you go through that door you’re treated like a friend by all; and for me personally it feels like I’m returning home to the family, for at least 3 days anyway.