Cannes: Festival-Commissioned Omnibus Films Come to Prominence

Taipei Factory H

The premiere of the Directors’ Fortnight-backed "Taipei Factory" marks the latest effort for film festivals to extend their pedigrees as creators as much as curators.

Asked by The Hollywood Reporter to sum up the spirit behind Taipei Factory – the portmanteau project for which eight international filmmakers paired up to direct four shorts – Cannes Directors’ Fortnight artistic director Edouard Waintrop said it’s about “a challenge of creation.” That answer also applies to an expanding trend on the international film festival circuit, where programmers are increasingly indulging a desire to mold, shape and market their festivals with the addition of custom crafted omnibus projects. 

Bookending the Fortnight this year – it makes its bow at the Theatre Croisette Thursday afternoon before the program’s opening ceremony, and then returns for a second show on the festival's closing day, May 25 – Taipei Factory is the brainchild of Waintrop, Taipei Film Commission’s European delegate Wang Yalun and programmer Dominique Welinski. The idea was to have four pairs of directors – one from Taiwan, one from outside the island territory – to co-direct films revolving around the titular city.

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After months of discussion and preparation work, Taipei Factory was announced in its host city in late February. The four director duos: Singing Chen and Jero Yun (The Pig), Midi Z and Joana Preiss (Silent Asylum), Shen Ko-shang and Luis Cifuentes (A Nice Travel), and Chang Jung-chi and Alireza Khatami (Mr Chang’s New Address).

“This Taiwanese project matched with our will to look for the new talents all over the world and especially in areas we don’t have any connections,” said Waintrop, who began his tenure at the Fortnight last year. “For example, last year we tried hard and succeeded in discovering films from India that we hardly knew until now. This year, the opportunity to be in touch with the new generation of Taiwanese filmmakers was exactly what we wanted.”

With the Fortnight well-known for providing a platform for emerging, left-field filmmakers to showcase their talent – the 44-year-old event hosted the first works of Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, Jafar Panahi and Miguel Gomes – the Taipei Factory will certainly help secure attention for the eight participating would-be auteurs. On the other hand, however, the project could also serve as an exercise through which the Fortnight could re-establish its standing in the increasingly crowded film-festival circuit.

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Taipei Factory is the latest in a line of similar projects that second-tier film programs and festivals have launched in order to make their voices heard. While the granddaddy of it all remains To Each His Own CinemaGilles Jacob’s stellar 2007 compendium of auteur-driven shorts celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Festival de Cannes – there are also more experimental efforts from beyond the center.

Since 2000, the Jeonju International Film Festival has produced the Jeonju Digital Project, in which three directors will be commissioned to make a short film every year. Directors who had participated in the project include 2013 Palme d’Or entrants Jia Zhangke and Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, current jury member Naomi Kawase, former Cannes winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul as well as a string of aspiring and established auteurs. And the films traveled widely and won awards internationally too, with the 2007 edition becoming the first omnibus film to win the jury award at Locarno.

"It was the first time an omnibus film ever won the prestigious prize, and the Jeonju Festival became internationally known because of it,” said festival director Min Byung-lock in an interview with the Korea Times in 2009. “We received positive feedback from foreign cineastes, who urged us to push on with this project which gives filmmakers an opportunity to experiment.”

The Hong Kong International Film Festival is among those who have given Jeonju Digital Project screen time – and the festival, which remained one of the oldest and most well-known event in East Asia, itself would eventually launch its own omnibus films, firstly in 2010 and 2011 with the Quattro Hong Kong series and then, in the next two editions, the Beautiful portmanteaus.

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“We originally produced the two [Quattro] anthologies… with both Hong Kong and Asian filmmakers – for example, Fruit Chan, Clara Law, Apitchatpong, Brillante Mendoza – to promote Hong Kong by asking filmmakers to make short films about the city,” said Roger Garcia, the executive director of the Hong Kong festival. “The Beautiful collections in 2012 and 2013 so far continue this general idea of combining different points of view about one fairly loose theme. We generally see the Quattro and Beautiful projects as an extension of our mission as a film society to promote film culture, and Hong Kong’s position as a hub of Asian cinema.”

“Over the years as a film festival, we have shown works by many of the world's leading and emerging filmmakers and also through the HAF project market, helped many filmmakers get their films made. We have organic and strong links with many filmmakers -- especially in Asia -- and the Quattro and Beautiful anthologies are another way of working with these filmmakers to produce unique, artistic works.”

Like the Jeonju Digital Project, the Beautiful series have been welcomed warmly by festivals worldwide and helped the originating event expand its footprint. The 2012 series, comprising four shorts by mainland China’s Gu Changwei, Korea’s Kim Tae-yong, the Malaysian-Taiwanese filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang and Hong Kong’s own Ann Hui, was actually shown at Cannes last year as a special presentation at the Critics’ Week sidebar.

While these omnibus films were born as artistic testaments, they have also served as pragmatic marketing devices to establish these festival’s brands - with the short-film form actually befitting the consumption trends of a younger generation of viewers accessing the moving image through mobile devices.

“The Beautiful series is made with the support of Youku, the largest on-line streaming website in China,” said Garcia. “We are therefore able to achieve unheard of audience numbers for the films. For example the Ann Hui episode in Beautiful 2012 reached around 12 million views within the first month.”

He added: “The combination is a potent one for the future shape of film: to create publicity and attention for the film through world premiere at our film festival, and then on-line to a mass audience.”

The Fortnight’s Waintrop agrees. “The idea was to provoke an experience and to find all the easiest ways for the films to be seen,” he said. “And of course, a short format is the best way because it is more suitable for internet.”

Lee Hyo-won contributed to this report.