Wen Tien-hsiang is one of the few film festival bosses who have been able to go ahead with an in-person event this year. He spoke with Variety to describe the challenges that remain.
Variety: What are the conditions that have allowed the GHFF to go ahead as an in-person event this year?
Wen Tien-hsiang: Good control of the COVID-19 situation in Taiwan has enabled this. And with fewer new-released films in theaters, the Golden Horse Film Festival offers an even better chance to see many new films. Therefore, we are attracting bigger audiences. But we still have to obey the strict rules of mask-wearing and body temperature checking.
Has the GHFF adopted any practices from the virtual or online festivals that have been held in other territories.
All of our films are still screened in theaters, with approximately 60 Q&As with filmmakers attending in-person. And there are three online Q&As. Thirty overseas filmmakers have undergone mandatory 14-day quarantine in order to attend the festival.
This year’s Golden Horse Master Class features 5 video conferences (with Ken Loach, Roy Andersson, Andrey Zvyagintsev, etc.) and 13 physical events. There were also online meetings between financiers and project representatives at the Golden Horse Film Project Promotion.
Who is the GHFF for?
We have sold nearly 70,000 tickets this year, with 126 nominees for the 57th Golden Horse Awards participating in the group photo project. Over 100 of those will attend the Awards Ceremony on Nov. 21. To the audiences in Taiwan, the Golden Horse Film Festival is the biggest annual cinematic event of the year. And for filmmakers, especially those working in Chinese-language cinema, a Golden Horse Award is still the most crucial indication of their achievement.
The Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival is executed by an independent organization – The TGHFF Executive Committee. Only 40% of its total budget comes from the central and local government support.
Do you expect as many spectators as in a non-COVID year?
This year, we are welcoming more! Last year, the festival sold approximately 66,000 tickets. This year, ticket sales reached 69,000 after ten days, and we expect the final total to exceed 70,000.
Describe the editorial direction of the GHFF selection?
Take this year, for example, we screened 176 films; one third of them are Chinese-language films (63 titles). We also showcase the latest award-winning titles from major film festivals, Asian cinema, classics restored, queer cinema, movies about music, fantasy. This year, in light of the pandemic, we also curated a session on travel.
How has the boycott of the GHFF by mainland films and filmmakers affected the GHFF’s cultural aspirations?
We stick with our free-minded, open and inclusive attitude. And our goal of being the beacon and discoverer of great Chinese-language films remains intact. In the past two years many fresh Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysian movies received recognition at the Golden Horse; and some great ones from Taiwan. Most Chinese movies are still following the approach of their government. Still, there were 160 movies from Mainland and Hong Kong submitted to the Golden Horse Awards, and some of them squeezed into the nomination list. The Golden Horse Awards have been held for 57 editions and in that time we were never short of challenges. For example, no one would have imagined such a pandemic that impacted the whole world on such a grand scale. But we have a firm belief in movies.
Do you see a return to normal in the future?
The industry has already changed. This year, the Golden Horse Film Project Promotion has added projects for TV series. We also screened the first two episodes of the ‘Detention’ series at our festival. A film festival still plays a crucial role in showcasing excellent visual works in the future.
How do you assess the current health, or otherwise, of Taiwan film-making?
The pandemic caused most movies to cease production in the first six months, but most of them resumed production in the latter half. Golden Horse Awards-winning director Chung Mong-hong has finished shooting his latest film, while Ho Wi-ding is still in production. There are many more exciting Taiwanese films to expect in next year.
Many Taiwanese movies have hit the big screen since summer and got very positive feedback, both from critics and at the box office. It is a promising sign. But if next year, Hollywood blockbusters return to theaters, there will be fresh challenges.
What are the influences on Taiwan film-making’s current direction (China boycott, streaming video, COVID-related stories, etc.)?
The Chinese market is tempting, but the influence of their politics on the direction of filmmaking is also obvious. Taiwanese directors have the freedom to choose whether they want to give it a try or stay here to make the films they want. Whatever their choices, they have the freedom of filmmaking in Taiwan. The emergence of streaming platforms indeed attracts many film directors. But one more choice doesn’t mean they cut themselves from the movies, especially those for the big screen. Therefore, a film festival must also stay open-minded. As to stories related to the COVID, we already see a film project ‘Masks’ at the Film Project Promotion.