Shanghai International Film Festival – Chrono selected!
Chronesthesia got into Shanghai!
We first got the email in February, 2017. I was in the South Island on a voluntary tour of primary schools for a charity organisation called Duffy Books in Homes.
“Congratulations!” it started. “Chronesthesia has been selected for the 20th Annual Shanghai International Film Festival.” In the body of the email was this little nugget: The festival will cover in-country costs for a representative to attend the festival.
Well, there you go! My collaborator Simeon Duncombe, being so swamped with work, couldn’t commit to a festival that wasn’t happening for another four months. Same with producer Kelly (job + kid), while producer Steve Barr had business in China so was flying back and forth a bit. We decided to send the director, writer, lead actor and editor (me!). Obtaining a visa was the only thing that gave me pause for thought. And lo, this did take a few weeks.
Preparing to go
Our first challenge was to secure subtitles for the DCP of the film. These were to be in English as the festival would translate them into Mandarin. Our amazing distributor here in New Zealand Madman sent through subtitles for the hearing impaired. With the help of a post production guru in Wellington, I was able to write the subtitles into the DCP. I have since spoken to filmmakers who’ve found this process a lot easier than I. Again, Academy Cinema who helped out so much with our journey making the DCP, allowed me to test the subtitled DCP in their gorgeous cinema. After two attempts, we got it working and sent it to China!
June arrived and my Visa hadn’t been applied for yet. I was working on a TV show and the hours didn’t lend themselves to me skiving off and getting errands done willy nilly. However, thanks to my lenient and helpful bosses, I was able to sneak away and stand in line for an hour and a half. A week passed, another hour and half wait, $140 paid and I received my passport back with a shiny China visa printed inside.
Going to Shanghai
The flight was only twelve hours direct with Air New Zealand. The festival was covering some nights accommodation in the Ritz Carlton Portman hotel (FLASH!) but the flights and additional expenses were on me. Luckily, in our beautiful and small country we have a tax funded governmental organisation called the New Zealand Film Commission. One of the many incentives they provide is the Talent Development Fund. It’s a pool of money the commission grants to up and coming filmmakers for career development.
Last year, when we found out we got into Austin Film Festival and the American Film Market, Steve and I applied for the Talent Development Fund. They granted us funds for the trip, but due to visa complications I couldn’t make it. There followed the darkest two weeks of my year. Everything I’d worked toward, everything I’ve ever wanted to do, filmmaking on a global scale as my end game, and I had an incredible opportunity in front of me due to a film that Simeon and I had made. And I couldn’t go! Heartbreak. Fast forward six months and the NZFC granted me funds to fly return to Shanghai and live while there. Legends!!
I checked in, I saw the great Steve Barr, we had breakfast, then it was time for the festivities to begin. First things first, I needed to register for the festival! I had a free pass with thick lettering on my lanyard underneath a photo of my handsome face reading: FILM REPRESENTATIVE. This got me into any films I wanted to see, as well as events.
Steve and I bought some fruit and beer from a small shoppe down a side street. We paid $2NZD for 500ml cans of beer. We bought quite a few… Then we high tailed it back to the hotel to make our night’s plans. We consulted the hefty program book and found there was only one event that night. It was sold out. No tickets available. We couldn’t go. Then, what could we do? Sit around and drink in the hotel room all night? Not such a bad idea, definitely not the worst way to spend a night, but my first night in Shanghai? My first time ever in China? No way.
Sneaking into the gala
We were in Shanghai to celebrate a film that we’d spent a long, long time making. I had written this thing in the wee hours before work, we’d shot it in the weekends forgoing any chance of relaxation, and I’d struggled with the edit over countless hours on my 13″ screened laptop. Phil at Underground Sound had put in weeks of evenings, Conor had worked through the nights on the score, and Madman had backed us for distribution in Australasia. No, we wouldn’t aimlessly drink in the hotel room. We’d find a way to get into the event.
The event was the SIFF gala. A flouncy event where everyone would be dressed up watching interviews with stars followed by performances on well lit stages. Steve and I dressed up. We downed a few beers and got excited. We caught a taxi to the venue and were surprised to find a police presence outside. Reticent, we approached the barriers. And were waved through. Nervous, we approached the door. And were waved through. Tense, we rode the escalator to the third floor. And we smiled at by security guards.
We were wowed upon entering the main hall. Camera swooped overhead on cranes. Lines of chairs faced the long stage where lights blared down on presenters. We hurried down the aisle and found some empty seats. Not an easy feat but we were an hour into proceedings so there was opportunity. We realised the entire thing was in Mandarin. We couldn’t understand it. Thirty minutes passed. Still in Mandarin. So we left, giggling like schoolboys at our blind courage.
Meeting other filmmakers
We decided to take a taxi home. But before that, we wanted to walk it off. The night air was warm and wet, and we were still buzzed. A handsome white man stood speaking to a gorgeous Chinese girl at the outskirts of the event. I swung around and chanced a question, “Excuse me, are you a… do you speak English?”
“Ah, yeah, how are you man?” His accent was singsong.
“Irish?” He nodded. “Hey, we’re doing great, did you check out the event?”
Conversation flowed from there and ten minutes later we found ourselves in a taxi heading across town to join the couple (he a director, her a producer) and their younger friend (crew on their film) for a drink at a bar near their hotel. A plethora of international filmmakers also at that hotel joined us. Macedonia, Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, China, America and New Zealand were all represented in the form of drinking, chatting directors and producers and actors.
Our first night and we’d found our people.
The Chronesthesia Screenings
The screenings themselves – and perhaps we always knew this would be the case – were the highlight of the trip. A car picked Steve and myself up from the hotel and drove us an hour through traffic to the multiplex for our most important screening: the Q&A screening. A lady in clicking high heels ushered us into the building and into the crowded elevator. Up to the top floor… out we get. Led down a corridor. Into a room. A VIP room. Wow.
The festival had printed our Chronesthesia posters of multiple sizes. The table was covered in them. Three festival representatives were in the room with us and told us to help ourselves to the coffee and water and would we please sign the posters? Of course we would. We’d love to. This is what I live for. Our translator Sapphire was a gorgeous and sassy lady who tried her best to intimidate us and make us nervous for the screening. But it didn’t work – we were too excited. With the signings over, it was time to enter the cinema.
Signage about the festival covered the corridor. A large Chronesthesia poster with Chinese translation printed on it sat at the opening. More photos were taken of us, including an adorable polaroid, then we entered the cinema. It was larger than I expected. 400 seats. All full. Feeling very honoured, Steve and I watched from the staircase as the film was introduced in Mandarin. Then the MC held her arm up – our cue – and we walked to the front. Applause! Wow, that was easy.
We gave a quick introduction of the film and how it was made. It’s a strange feeling to talk to an audience who doesn’t understand your language, knowing they don’t know what you’re saying. After our spiels, Sapphire stepped forward and spoke in rapid mandarin then we saw recognition and understanding spread across the cinema. Right before we were due to start the film, I grabbed the microphone and spoke the phrase I’d been practising for the past few days: Wo xi wang ni men hua xi huan wo di dianying: I hope you enjoy the film.
The film played. It went great. The Q&A was busy. We ran over time. I could’ve talked for hours and hours to this audience. They were attentive and smart and genuinely interested. We were gifted a bouquet of flowers and a plush toy each, then we posed with the audience for a photo. Coming out of the cinema, I had a lot of things to autograph. This made me feel like a rockstar, which was a nice feeling.
All up, we had an amazing time. I could write on and on about Shanghai and the various tourist things we did, but that’s not exciting. I want to do more festivals! What a blast!
Also, check out my vlog about the trip!