Maybe at the outset, Shiona was inspired by Act III scene ii of Hamlet, where Hamlet arranges for ‘a play within a play’ “to catch the conscience of the king,” his Uncle Claudius for murdering his father, King Hamlet. This version of Midsummer Night’s Dream is just that, a play within a play. In fact it is a radio-play from the 1930s presented as a play. And such a wonderful presentation it is as the staging, the props, the sound effect implements, right down to the clothing the actors wear, have been meticulously devised to fit into that past era of radio play presentations. The time was well before the advent of television, colour film, and, horror of horrors for anyone born in the computer-age, before there were computers, the Internet, websites, computer-games or X-boxes. Back in those days very few households had a telephone, radio was the common medium for all, and the closest thing to the notion of an iPhone was the sleuth detective, Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio.In my first interview with Shiona Carson, we covered the general area of teaching theatre and drama in local Chinese schools throughout Hong Kong. Moving forward, this time I want to introduce Shiona’s latest venture in the world of Shakespearean theatre particularly as a means to convey English culture and language to non-native speakers of English with her new presentation of Shakespeare’s best known comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The play covers the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta which involves the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors (the mechanicals) who are controlled and manipulated by the fairies who inhabit the forest where most of the play takes place. The play revolves around four interconnecting plots, connected by a celebration of the wedding which is set in the woodland realm of Fairyland, under the light of the moon. It takes place over a four day period and it involves each actor playing multiple roles which at times necessitates them changing roles on the spot, and then back and forth between roles. Such fast repartee in a lesser actor’s hands would lose a good deal of impact as lines need to be rapidly fired off, but in the hands of these accomplished actors the action takes place at a fast and sometimes, a furio
With each actor undertaking multiple roles, having it presented with the further level of conveying it as a radio play, the actors have even more tasks to do to create a whole audio environment, thereby putting the individual skills and experience of the actors under the spotlight. Watching them make the sound effects with a range of whistles, miniature banging doorframes, rainmakers, balloons, stone boxes to simulate running, drop weights, and so forth is almost symphonic in effect. And also the large prompt cards held aloft to get the audiences to verbally respond to action on stage-“Agh”, “Ooh”.
And in harking back to the sponsors of these radio programmes from the 1930s and right up till the 1960s where TV programmes that focused on the lives of families, became known as ‘soap-operas’ due to being sponsored by soap companies who proliferated with this type of media advertising. Well, it should come as no surprise that the Shakespeare Hour on Radio should by sponsored by Shakespeare Soup, a bit a poetic licence thrown in there, but definitely in keeping in with the times.
This filming of the play took place at its preview viewing before being taken onto the school circuit. It has proven to be an outstanding success in both the local Chinese primary and secondary schools since this time, thanks to Shiona Carson’s writing, along with her inspired direction. A good deal of the success has also been due to her co-director, Vickie Lui, who’s attention to detail with the set, props, and of course the period clothing worn by the actors. The stage has been designed to be disassembled to be moved in components so that it can be taken to each new location in order that the radio studio setting is retained for each performance.
And of course, not forgetting the brilliant and versatile acting of the five actors; Lizzi Wood, Alice Clapham, Nick Atkins, Nicholas Beckwith, Warren Butcher, and Howard Paley . There has been talk of them bringing the show to Australia if enough interest continues to grow which would make it happen from a financial point of view. Judging by the way it has been received in Hong Kong I have little doubt they will soon be doing shows in Japan and South Korea.
Last Friday, mid-afternoon I had the pleasure to interview the creators of “Sick to My Bones” in Starbucks just down from Lang Kwai Fong, the trendy up-market entertainment district of Hong Kong. And true to form, both Matthew NOMATTSLAND Leonhart, who wrote the screenplay and created the world behind the concept, and his co-director, Guy Davies, whose expertise with the technical side of film making is second to none, both were speeding at a million miles an hour between engagements to talk about their aims, concepts, development, and how they both entered into the film-making business as teenagers. Their schedule at the time, having just returned from setting up their clobber at the Third Culture Film Festival, it was time for the interview then off to take some drone footage over high-rise Hong Kong Central for use in their next movie, and then freshen up for the excitement and intense local and international press coverage for the official opening of the festival that was to take place a few hours hence.
At the award ceremony at the end of the festival their efforts were roundlyapplauded as they took out the top two coveted awards; the People’s Choice Award and the Outliers Award. The first things that one notices about this dynamic pair is the unwavering commitment and direction they employ in focusing on their work. They have this infectious youthful positivity about them that radiates in the way they discuss ideas, concepts and possibilities. One gets the feeling that no obstacle too huge or implacable could be placed in their path to hinder their progress in the slightest.
Matthew began his life, and his first 18 years, in Hong Kong to a British father and a Chinese mother. There is something special about the way these two bloodlines has fused into forming his character and personality in a blending of the Ying and Yang to produce an achiever whose glory days are still way ahead of him as he sets about building on each success with another step foward in his constant journey upwards.
Educated at the prestigious English Foundation Island School on Hong Kong Island where he first began to develop his interest in acting and multi-media, the moment he finished his final year of secondary education, the stable door burst open and he was off and flying to study acting in Los Angeles at the Californian Institute of the Arts. It was here where he first gained his love of puppetry, an element of his signature work which has featured to a high degree in his films, music videos and live theatre shows. After completing his course of study at the Institute he worked professionally in films and theatre garnering his skills and experience, and connecting with a wide range of professionals employed across the theatre and visual arts spectrum.
Later he returned for a five year spell to Hong Kong where he completed a Master’s degree in Multi-media Technology and re-entered the world of visual arts where he set about curating and creating many solo and group exhibitions, some of which were toured through the Asian region. At the end of that five year period, seeking new fresh fields, ideas and experience, he was off to London where he hit the ground running involving himself in a variety of projects in film, live theatre and acting. After some time in London he was to experience that classic Robert Frost ‘fork in the road’ dilemma that was to shape his future in a really significant way. Responding to an ad for an acting job, on the morning of the day of his interview he tossed over in his mind whether he filled the right requirements for the job, or should he just give it a miss. At the last moment he decided to take the road less travelled, and it was purely through making that choice that he came in contact with Guy Davies whose film, ‘Emily’ he was to be interviewed for. Of course he got the job and the rest is pretty much history as that was the basis of their formidable and productive relationship. Soon after , Matt was on board Zebrafish Media Productions , the company established by Guy Davies and Matt Brawley, as a storyboard artist and director. http://www.zebrafishmedia.com/
Guy, who is seven years younger than Matt, actually had a much earlier start in the film industry, beginning as a child actor at the age of 11 in a leading role in a short film, “Benjamin’s Struggle”. The film was about a German Jewish boy who came across Hiltler’s manuscript of Mein Kampf, and tells of the struggles and persecution that beset Benjamin’s life, and the poetic justice it renders in the end. The story begins in 1934 while the Nazi reign of terror is running white hot, with Guy as the young Benjamin while Andrew Sachs, well-known for the Manual character he played in the British classic comedy series Fawlty Towers, takes over the role as the adult Benjamin. After premiering at the Californian Palm Springs FF in 2005, it screened at several Oscar qualifying festivals worldwide and won the Audience Award at ‘Encounters’, UK’s leading short film and animation festival. Already bitten by life in the film industry he spent his teenage years making films and being involved in many film projects. By the age of 18 he was awarded the Brett Ratner tuition grant to study at the New York Film Academy’s Cinematography programme. After graduating from this he returned to London to continue his passion of working with cameras to gain greater experience and opportunities. By 2014 Guy had expanded his range of skills to include directing and shooting his first short film, Emily, which had its premiere in New York and was then subsequently shown on the international short film circuit.
‘Sick to My Bones’ is the first film in a trilogy of films that, while not connected by storyline, are linked thematically to cover fundamental concepts of human perception and behaviour such as the struggle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ using allegory and uncluttered imagery to present a set of opposites, and by the end of the film arriving at a point of resolution. Set a billion years in the future when the earth, after much evolutionary change, is unrecognisably to the world we know today. In our timeframe, it was 570 million years ago that life forms that we are familiar with today began to evolve, and it wasn’t until 200,000 years ago that homo sapiens first started to take shape with the major religious beliefs that surround us today having their beginnings a mere two thousand years ago. Therefore as the film begins, much change both through war and climatic cycles, has taken place, and opens on an earth that has just cooled down enough to allow the two tribes of surviving humans to once again walk upon its surface. Prior to this one tribe had to tunnel into the land to seek relief and survive while the other had to live in the upper atmosphere to escape the earth’s heat. The earth people, as represented by the nine foot mole-like puppet with a demonic appearance, had to grow horns in order dig through the soil and rock to survive. Meanwhile the sky people, as represented by the aviator angle-like figure, developed wings to survive in their aerial domain. At the end the opposing forces are resolved and assimilated into the one state for, in essence there is both the good and bad in everyone and when that is acknowledged, the differences that divide them fade away and are taken over by the positive elements they share. Matthew’s deft hand at storytelling and with the extensive research he had put in on the world’s major religions and belief systems, and combining that with his visual arts and performance skills have all come together to a thoroughly plausible conceptual framework for the film.
The ethereal yet foreboding voiceover that underpins the tone of the film adds a new dimension to the story. If the narration was only spoken in English, perhaps that would have, to a greater or lesser degree, lessened the impact of the film to an English speaking audience. Doing it this way, the short clipped lines of English subtitles flash on the screen to make bare simple statements on the development of the action in the story. Presented in Japanese by Reina Tokura http://www.reinatokura.com/
It adds a glow of timelessness to the film that gives it the authority of a classic morality play or a children’s classic story. Added to that is the sensational panoramic landscape scenes taken in the Scottish Highlands by cinematographer Sil Williams which bring a breath-takingly stunning location to life with mountainous terrain, ancient woods, drifts of mists, floating clouds and other elemental features.
A brilliant cinematographer, Stil Williams brought amazing depth and created beautiful shots with his talent using the ARRI ALEXA camera.
Check out his reel and past work at WWW.STILWILLIAMS.COM
Another point worth mentioning that further enhances the icing on the cake is music. That was composed by Xiaotian Shi who has written music for the Royal Ballet School, London Contemporary Dance School and the Sacconi Quartet. Xiaotian was the Winner of 1st Prize in the 6th Annual International Composition for Orchestra Competition, in LA, California, his orchestral work was premiered by the Asia America Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Benoit. He was also a prizewinner of the Sibelius Student Composer of the Year competition.
He was the youngest finalist of the Transatlantyk International Film Music Competition for 2 years running, open to all composers aged up to 35. The judges were made up of A-List composers such as Jan Kaczmarek, Mark Isham and Marco Beltrami.
Over the last few years, he has been working as an assistant composer for both Series 1 and 2 of the Discovery Channel’s Emmy Award Winning “Stephen Hawking’s Universe”. Xiaotian’s music has been used by Greenpeace International and UNICEF.
Kristina Lao, a Hong-Kong born actor and singer-songwriter gives a formidable appearance as the lead actor in the film. She studied at the London School of Musical Theatre, and has worked on a number of theatre productions, commercials and short films in the UK and Hong Kong. She is currently living in Vancouver and recently signed with Principals Talent.
As well as playing the lead role in this film, Kristina co-wrote the theme song to ‘Sick To My Bones’ with her long-term co-writing partner, Elli Parish at Spotty Snail Studios. www.principalstalent.com .
CHECK OUT THE NEXT EXCITING FILM IN THE TRILOGY, “MAY YOU NEVER DIE”. YOU CAN ADD SUPPORT TO DRIVE ITS SUCCESS BY CLICKING ON THE LINKS BELOW
This is the official selection of Films for TCFF 2016, curated by TC co-founder, Faiyaz Jafri.
In its first year, there were over 1800 submissions from around the world.
The films selected were done so based solely on merit, artistic vision, creativity, originality, professionalism. Maybe one element of the film stood out, the story, the acting, the production, the direction. What we made sure of however, is that we gave all films a fighting chance, irregardless of where they were from, or what budget they had. If the film was good, it would be considered, and in this way we strive to stay true to our desire of being a genuinely independent festival.
40th HONG KONG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL A RESOUNDING SUCCESS
The only thing missing was an Australian presence
Crowds flocked to the concluding ceremony held in the open air behind the Hong Kong Cultural Centre overlooking a resplendent Victoria Harbour last Sunday. They were there to see the actors and directors who won awards, parade before the public. Thrilled with the vast array of great films that were shown throughout the duration of the festival, there was one in particular that deeply touched a chord with Hongkongers in particular, along with international guests and film lovers, and has sent a wave of intense interest around the world. In a very real sense, the winner of the Best Film Award, is one which carries a great rags to riches, a David and Goliath message, that given the will and determination to achieve a goal in life, once the first step is taken along the path, great achievements and unexpected results can and do arise.
The film that won the Best Film Award, ‘10 Years’, was made on a peppercorn budget of HK$500,000. While this amount might be considered petty cash in production terms as other contenders in the field had outlaid far greater amounts to get their films into theatres to be included in the awards. Not that this should be any yardstick to judge other films by as the field contained a huge range of high quality and leading edge films from many countries in Asia and Europe. However, in ‘Ten Years’ case, it appears political pressure was brought to bear to stop major commercial cinema complexes from giving it exposure.
The film is made up of five short pieces each focusing on changes to Hong Kong society ten years into the future. There are scenes such as uniformed army cadets raiding shops accused of selling banned materials, Mandarin (Putonghua) becoming the major language taking over and displacing the native tongue, Cantonese (Guangdonghua), and an activist self-immolating in a fight for Hong Kong’s independence. All up, the content flies in the face of the way Beijing wants to exert its control over any form of dissent.
The film was released without hullabaloo in late 2015 and surprisingly became something of a box office hit earning over HK$6 million, before exhibitors felt pressured to remove it from their screens. Only a week ago, the film was shown at some 30 public venues such as public halls and even in closed-off streets for the occasion, drawing huge crowds in a rush to see it.
One of the 30 community locations for the screening of ’10 Years’ last Friday
Many reports describe teary-eyed viewers leaving screenings in droves apprehensive over Hong Kong’s future. Following the spontaneous uprising of the Umbrella Revolution that took place in the later part of 2014 and lasted for several months causing a significant impact to daily life in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, key areas of commerce and government in Hong Kong, this film has a similar resonance with the local population because of concerns of what is happening to Hong Kong. The creeping influence of Beijing overriding the Basic Law, which was set in place to guarantee HK’s independence by the British in 1997, is becoming more evident since the new Chinese leader Xi has taken control of the CCP. The disappearance of the five Causeway Bay booksellers who published and stocked a small portion of penny-dreadfuls highlighting the sexual perversions and unreal lifestyles of the political elite, has turned into a political farce with the booksellers disappearing across borders and countries, reappearing, disappearing again, and making staged televised admissions of ‘guilt’. The clamp down and jailings of human rights lawyers on the Mainland, and the difficulty of doing business in China due to the opaque nature of its political and financial regulations, have all added to the feeling of uncertainty.
As the rapacious process of development continues to relentlessly push forward at all costs, the fear in people’s minds is creating an exodus of intellectual and arts-based culture to other countries that is taking place as a counterbalance to unbridled capitalism and development. Most of this development is fuelled by mainland cash being put into real estate as a safe haven, and a good deal of it has uncertain origins. By putting it into real estate, it is put at arm’s length from being caught up with the anti-corruption drive currently taking place in China. It follows the same pattern of the way Chinese cash is buying up property in the US, Africa, Australia and other countries. Meanwhile many locals, those that can afford it, are leaving to move abroad to find more stable lifestyles and give their children a better chance in life. While those who through limited financial resources, or are reluctant to leave because of family commitments, are left to face this ever-present fear of being subsumed into a more ordered, controlled and less equitable society.
Although it is difficult to ascertain how much pressure was applied to cinemas to stop it being shown commercially, it is certainly clear that Chinese authorities are dead against the film. Many rants have been directed towards it from on-high with a typical example being from the Chinese tabloid newspaper The Global Times who dumped on it as being a “disease of the mind.” And when it was announced as a HKFA contender, mainland Chinese state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) immediately withdrew from its normal live broadcast of the awards show. Mainland Internet giant Tencent quickly followed suit and refused to stream the ceremony on the web in China. Ten Years trailer: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M4zebygSaZE
Getting away from dystopian views of the future, a documentary by director Funahashi Atsushi added great excitement for audiences mainly due in large part to Hong Kong’s love affair with everything Japanese, from fashion, food, travel and of course the newest fads in music and culture. Director Funahashi Atsushi, whose films and documentaries include Echoes (2002), Big River (2005), Deep in the Valley (2009), Nuclear Nation (2012) and Cold Bloom (2013), has previously given visual perspective to such harrowing events as the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. In this documentary, Raise Your Arms and Twist – Documentary of NMB48, he presents a behind-the-scenes view on the life and struggles of the band members of the NMB48 Idol band and what it takes to reach the idol and goddess status of Japanese girl bands. Link to Idol group NMB48’s music: – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ig9q9UyvamQ
Reaching pop and cult status in Japan is notoriously difficult, and the way that NMB48 have managed to break through the glass ceiling largely put in place by management control and domineering recording labels calling the shots from on-high, makes this group’s ascension a noticeable exception to the general rule. Sawao Yamanaka, leader of the Pillows rock band, who many refer to as the ‘Japanese Beatles’, provides a good insight into how difficult it is to break through to the top of the musical spectrum in Japan. The Pillows started in 1989 and went on to become very successful both in Japan and with touring in Europe and the US to the point they are still releasing new material and remain at the top of the charts.
Sawao’s older brother, Hidetoshi Yamanaka, is an equally accomplished singer, songwriter and musician as Sawao, and despite being an active musician in bands before his younger brother started, Sawao had a trouble free ride to the top where he remains in the super realm today. Hidetoshi, on the other hand played in many bands, initially in the capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo, close to his home town of Otaru, then spending many years playing bars and clubs in Tokyo. He even came to spend a year in Australia on a working holiday to check out the music scene in Sydney and Melbourne. While he was in Melbourne he spent time working for me and staying with my family which gave me the chance to take him to various venues where he played his own compositions and cover songs jamming with local musicians.
His musicianship was readily acknowledged by all those he came in contact with and he went on to be influenced by such indelible Aussie bands, and their unique styles, as INXS, Hoodoo Gurus, Crowded House etc. When he returned to Japan he was able to spread these new musical sounds to Tokyo musicians and audiences. At one stage both brothers had a successful act together as the ‘Thirsty Boys’, but Sawao’s record label quickly put a stop to that so as to not have things impinge on the Pillow’s image. However, while Sawao’s trajectory was always on the rise, Hidetoshi, despite everything he did and his wealth of musical knowledge and experience, had to give it away in the end, and several years ago he returned to Otaru to live in hibernation with his elderly parents.
A similar story based around the pitfalls and hardship of making it to the top in the pop music area in Japan where bands and artists have to gain the attention of the essential record label producer without whom success becomes almost impossible, was well detailed in the 1988 movie, Tokyo Pop,
starring Carrie Hamilton (the daughter of US comedian Carol Burnett who unfortunately passed away at a young age) and Diamond Yukai (aka Yutaka Tadokoro). The movie, which covers many fantastic songs, tells the story of a girl from the US, a Japanese boy, and a briefly successful pop band. The movie contrasts American customs with Tokyo lifestyles, as it presents an evolving love story between the two main characters. Tokyo Pop was used extensively for the cultural component of my Japanese studies at RMIT between 1989-1991 as it provides a strong insight into the lifestyles of people working in the art and music fields and everyday life in general, in Tokyo and other major cities in Japan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6OUlCuciBY
At the press conference for NMB48 on Sunday 3rd April before the showing of his documentary later in the day, the director Funahashi Atsushi, was clear to point out that with every new project he undertakes, he approaches it with a completely open mind so that he doesn’t allow any preconceived ideas to cloud his vision on how things should evolve. It is with this clear perspective in mind that he set about uncovering the labyrinthal trials and tribulations these girls go through in their quest to become idols to the millions they are today. Press conference link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_BkC25tWf8
After the closing of the most successful Hong Kong International Film Festival to date that screened over 280 titles from 50 countries in 11 major cultural venues in Hong Kong reaching an audience of over 600,000, and 4,500 business executives attending the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market (FILMART), one was left with a lingering thought. With Australia being so central to the Asia Pacific countries both in South East Asia and further to the north to include China, Japan, Korea etc, and being so reliant on these countries for both exports and imports, the lack of presence from the Australian film industry came into stark contrast. There is a lot spoken about the difficulties and the poor state of support from government and corporate sources the industry faces at home, however by not competing in the HKIFF, suggests that initiative is not being used to take on new challenges to remedy this problem. As stated, the film ‘Ten Years’ which was crowned the best film of the festival was made on HK$500,000 budget. That translates to around AUD$100,000 or less. One can only hope that next year’s festival will see more Antipodean involvement.
Perhaps if Aussie filmmakers take inspiration from the national Japanese figure and quasi ‘patron saint’ of Sapporo, William S Clarke who, in the 19th century, established the first agricultural college (now Hokkaido University) in Japan, in Japan’s quest for modernisation following the Meiji period. A number of statues of him are set in prominent positons in Sapporo bearing his famous words, “Boys be ambitious!” Sawao Yamanaka heeded his advice to go on to achieve much greater things in life. Why can’t we, similarly, take that positive step to move forward and seek new markets for our films?