Tsai Ming-liang is on a special mission at this year’s Busan Intl. Film Festival. As the dean of the Asian Film Academy taking place at the festival, the award-winning Malaysian-Taiwanese helmer has tasked himself with liberating young filmmakers from their conventional way of filmmaking, and possibly turn their worlds upside down.
“I’m here to ask questions,” Tsai tells Variety. “I want the young filmmakers to think about why they like making films and how to make films that can make them happy.”
The winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for “Vive L’Amour” (1994) and the Berlinale Silver Bear for “The Wayward Cloud” (2005) will share his philosophies and experiences in the cinematic world with 24 young filmmakers from 16 countries and regions in Asia. With him at this year’s Asian Film Academy will be Vimukthi Jayasundara from Sri Lanka, who is on board as a directing mentor, and Polish DP Bogumil Godfrejow as cinematography mentor.
Rather than teaching young filmmakers what they should or should not do, Tsai says he wants to remind them of the possibilities of cinema outside the film industry.
“The world has one Hollywood and that’s enough,” Tsai says. “Young filmmakers are taught how to survive [the film industry] in school because the film industry has become so important under globalization. The genre concept dominates. Films have become products, and young filmmakers learn these rules in order to get into the industry.
“But I’m not this kind of director,” says Tsai.
The auteur of Taiwan’s “second new wave,” known for his arthouse features and slow takes, has taken on a different direction in recent years.
“Stray Dogs,” above, which won Tsai the director prize at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards in 2013, has been on show at museums around the world, including the Museum of the Moving Image in New York and Guangdong Times Museum in mainland China. In October, Tsai will team up with Hong Kong musician GayBird for avant-garde theater show “One Zero” during the New Vision Arts Festival in the city.
“Do you make films for a general audience, or an important audience? Film is also contemporary art but young filmmakers don’t think in that direction. I’d like to share my experience with the young filmmakers but they don’t have to follow me. I just want them to think.”
Although Tsai insists that he is not at Busan to “teach,” there is one lesson he wants young filmmakers to learn.
The director has waged a copyright war against mainland Chinese websites that streamed his films without authorization. In a statement he released in August, he accused Chinese website Youku of showing pirated versions of his films “The Hole” (1998), which has accumulated 140,000 views over eight years, and “The River” (1997), which drew 149,660 views over seven years. He launched a two-year-long war of words with mainland portal Lan Ying Wang, which had been pirating his films. In August, Lan Ying Wang made a public apology and promised not to show Tsai’s films on its portal without the director’s authorization.
Tsai explains that the battle was more than just about copyright disputes.
“When I saw my works in these mainland websites, I thought my films were ruined. I’m an auteur filmmaker. How to show my film is part of the filmmaking process. My films are image-driven and they should not be watched on a TV or a computer screen. But these websites are creating a bad habit for the audience.”
Tsai says young filmmakers must learn to respect copyright in order to survive, whether they are making arthouse or commercial films. “If you lose your copyright, your market is over,” he says.