Berlinale 2: cheapy award goes to DUSAN MAKAVEJEV

The Cheapy award at the Berlinale was awarded by Cheap Gossip Studio (a Berlin performance collective infused with Los Angeles exiles) to Dusan Makavejev this year. He is (was) a Yugoslavian film director who made WR: Mysteries of an Organism (1971), one of my all time favourite films, others being the Perfumed Nightmare (Philippines, 1977) and McDull, Prince de la Bun (Hong Kong, 2004). WR was shown as part of a tribute to Dusan at Berlin. Dusan, now bent and doddery was present at the screening and while the citation was read out at an informal award ceremoney at the Arsenale Cinema lobby, kept beaming at his wife.


The Citation (courtesy of Marc Siegel):

“DUSAN MAKAVEJEV is a model of joyful, political and aesthetic resistance.

DUSAN MAKAVEJEV’s life and work are marked by a determination to employ whatever narrative and formal strategies he has at his disposal in a struggle for celluloid freedom and shimmery, liberatory desire. Moreover, he does so with humor and joy. For DUSAN MAKAVEJEV recognizes joy, laughter, and erotic desire as political weapons, indeed as tools of resistance, whether one is struggling against pesky, sexless Commies and Capitalies, dour ideologues, or any other sort of institutional stupidity that plagues us all, we good-humored perverts. His movies are sweet with that dark brown taste of intelligent pleasure. They keep us going.

This Award recognizes the singular, but essential talent of hysterical collage, frenzied corporality, and ethical perversion. In other words, this Award acknowledges exceptional aesthetic nourishment in matters of sexuality and politics.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ruth Fischer CHEAPy Underground ber Alles Award for Sexualethik des Kommunismus goes to DUSAN MAKAVEJEV.”

A citation to strive for (the joyfulness part of it anyway). The Eastern European (sorry to lump them together) artists seem able to link sex, politics, resistance and joie de vivre together in a heady mix that that is so much more than a sum of the parts.

Read more about WR here , Criteron has issued a new DVD release

Berlinale 2008


Berlinale is a huge festival consisting of many parts, the monied, the red carpet stars (Rolling Stones opened the festival), the programmers, the film school (Talent Campus), the press, all 1,200 of them. The different ecosystems co-exist cheek by jowl with not much overlap. We worked hard to hop around since it was more comfortable to just settle in one’s own turf, to just hang with our posse
In 7 days, I watched a total of 3 movies, attended 3 Master Classes at the Talent Campus and sat through three of my own screenings. The rest of the time was filled with conversation. Caught between a film and a chat, I found myself choosing the latter, preferring to connect with people rather than projections of them.

Made time though to catch Thai film Wonderful Town. Its director Juk (Aditya Assarat) is an old friend whose work I have been following since 2001. Its now winning prizes all over, garnering rave reviews. Critics hail that they have discovered a new talent. New talent my foot! Juke has been plugging away for more than 10 years and he is finally getting the break he deserves. Wonderful Town opens in France in April. Its a love story set in a post-tsuami Southern Thai town. It is an utterly pleasurable viewing experience, a smoldering and sexy film with not a shot out of place.


I also caught Drifting Flowers (????) by Taiwan director Zero Chou (her Chinese name is more prosaic, ???) who also directed Spider Lillies ?? and Splendid Float (SIFF 2004) I promised Zero that I would be there for her world premiere. It consists of three inter-twined stories about working class T-boys. It wasn’t perfect. At parts it was so melodramatic it was funny. Still, I felt it was made from her heart. Zero knew her audience and this film was for them.


Finally, RR, by James Benning. It consists of shot after shot of trains coming in and going out of frame, the frame unmoving. It is a structural film, a lesson in framing, of using screen space and of pacing. The rhythms and repetition created its own anticipation since there was no plot to speak of. Invisible City was originally set up to be a Benning-esque film of Singapore spaces until I realised that I enjoyed people too much to bear with the solitude needed to make a Benning-esque film. Every screening I attended was packed to the gills. For these last two, I had to sit on the stairs.

My own screenings were full. I am bewildered how this came to be (certainly not from our posters which were torn down every time I put them up) Was it because the Forum have been cultivating their audience for 38 years for this kind of fare or Berlinalers really trust their programmers?

The Q&A moderators knew the film inside out and they raised the broad themes of forgetting and the audience latched onto her groove. (how the Japanese cope with the memory of their occupation, the role of Ivan Polunin as a central figure in the forgetting etc). Of course, the irony that Invisible City, about the insurmountable gap between the present and the past, was screening in a glass and steel plaza on top of what used to be no-man’s-land between the east/west Berlin was not lost on me.

The screening facilities were top notch. Before Invisible’s screening, I asked the projectionist not to turn on the lights until the credits ended because there was an epilogue. She looked at me, offended that I should think she might want to do that. “We don’t turn on the lights during the credits here at the Arsenale”, she smiled. I have a strong memory too of the technician who stood by to adjust the audio real time during the screening so that sound levels would be just right.

Too many films I did not catch, people I did not meet

My last day, Oi Leng suggested that we take a tram, any tram all the way to nowhere. So we hopped onto the M4 tram and took it all the way to an East Berlin burb. This is a shot from the top floor of a block of public flats. It was a wintry day


Don’t jump

Singaporeans in Berlinale

Filmmakers going: Anthony Chen (Haze), Tan Siok Siok (Boomtown Beijing), Lillian Wang (Talent Campus).

Distributors Gilbert Lim, Yuen Ping?, Thomas Chia and journo Douglas Tseng on a junket

I think the papers missed this. Eva Tang’s short film Londres-London won The Akira Kurosawa Memorial Short Film Competition Award and Han Yew (“Unarmed Combat”) Kwang won the Audience Award at Lyon’s Asian Film Festival for his short 18 grams of Love. Wow Audience Award.

Invisible City screens at the Bangkok Fringe Festival today as part of a Southeast Asian film programme curated by Chalida. Read in the Nation what she has to say about the programme

“Undeniably, there has been a phenomenal awareness on the international film festival circuit of independent film-makers from Southeast Asia. Names like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Garin Nugroro and Lav Diaz are no longer strangers. In this program, I would like to introduce the next wave. They are names that might not be too familiar today, but you will hear more and more of them in the near future.” More

At Berlin, I would like to catch James Benning’s RR (after reading so much about his films, I should see it), Aditya’s Wonderful Town which I missed at Pusan, Bunuel on film for a change. I hear Bruce La Bruce is screening or did I imagine that?