East Winds Film Festival after the curtain’s fall

East Winds Film Festival has been a long journey, sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth, but as all journeys, it had to come to an end. It has been a great opportunity for me to be a part of a film festival, as the film world is where I want to work in the future.

While East Winds Film Festival may not be Torino International Film Festival or the Cannes, it was the perfect start for me. I understand now, that one can only walk down the red carpet after one has already gone through the lions’ pit and swamps, metaphorically speaking, but the gratification is amplified by all the obstacles and problems one had to surpass. So when one, I, finally walked down the red carpet one feels like a true champion, looking over his triumph, but work, and nerves, stress and pressure are far from over. After enjoying a few seconds of glory in the flashes of the cameras,  every staff member has to run back to his/her “arms”, because even when everything is in its place, the week of the festival is the actual challenge.

I could discuss how film festivals are what keeps cinephilia alive in an era of films at a click distance, enable meetings between film lovers and film artist… or between star lovers and their idols, about how the last category seems to be taking over the film festivals, thus putting the famous actors in the spotlight and leaving the films in the corner, or how both categories are essential for the life of a film festival; about how a film festival transforms cities in touristic areas, helps the development of certain regions by being major cultural events, or raise employability, at least for a certain period. There could be a whole discussion around the fact that, while film festivals, are or should be about films, they promote and help to establish stars which are mainly actors, in some cases directors, thus reinforcing the false idea of films belonging to certain actors or front faces. Cinematography might just be one of the most complex arts but is also a collective art in which some names might be more resonant than others, but everyone from the director to the cameraman, from actor to set and costume designer, from the soundtrack composer/s to the editing team are playing a very specific and, why not, equally important role in the making of a film, but in many cases, due to the media and film festivals, actors or directors are crowned as the most important figure in a film. Even so, in the end, film festival are about films and the way they were made to be experienced, in the dark of a cinema hall, not on the tiny screen of a computer or even worse a cell phone screen (about which, by the way, David Lynch has a pretty vehement opinion). As an on-point example, there is the latest debate from Cannes 2017 about Netflix and films which are only streamed online, and which in the opinion of Pedro Almodovar, the jury president of this year, should not be admitted in a film festival. The whole argument led to a change in the festival’s rules.

And as every festival out there, no matter it’s scale, what East Winds Film Festival tries and succeeds to do is to present films on a grand screen, to bring popular Asian cinema to a European public, to the heart of the United Kingdom. I take myself as an example, being a film lover, and I still knew close to nothing about Asian cinema, except a few major films which broke the borders and the renowned film master Akira Kurosawa. I do not dare to say everyone is as ignorant as I am, but I did encounter, at least from my friends, mixed reactions; the one which surprised me the most was: “Asian cinema? But that is such a niche”. Is it? When only the Chinese population is over a billion, or is it just us being a bit narrow-minded? With such a multicultural audience as Coventry offers, thanks to Coventry University, the festival has a propitious development environment. While still a growing event, what makes East Winds Film Festival unique is the fact that it is run by students, but it is not a student festival, with a 7 years tradition and 5 editions its development is astonishing when considered that besides the director and co-director, the people running the festival don’t have much experience with film festivals. Doing, the festival is more than a film showcase or a display of stars, but an educational mechanism, which trains students to become professionals. I remember now an interview with Shinya Tsukamoto, who also works mostly with (inexperienced) volunteers, because of monetary concerns, but also because he is interested in the ideas of fresh and “taintless” minds could bring to the table, and of course the enthusiasm and passion of volunteers, and I believe that the involvement of student works pretty much the same way for East Winds Film Festival.

This year was our (Communication, Culture and Media MA students) to shoulder East Winds Film Festival 2017. From my own experience, I can only say it is an incredible opportunity, not only to be a part of the “behind the scenes” group, and to see what makes a festival tick, and actually make it tick, but also to be confronted with different issues of teamwork and their not so pleasant outcomes. I found out, which was not much of a surprise, that the concept that sums up all the efforts behind an even of such amplitude is “teamwork”, because no matter how much an individual strives, if the rest of the team does not share the same passion and dedication, efforts are in vain. For my team, that being Communications, it was slightly easier, as we had to deal with written pieces, which were, pretty much, individual tasks, but when only 2 or 3 (at the best) in a team of 8 accomplish their tasks on time and of a good enough quality to be made public, those few “good workers” end up doing all the work, especially when other teams are counting on each other.

Time was, of course, against us, but the worst enemy of the festival was, at times, ourselves, and our lack of professionalism. The fact that the festival was embedded in a module was both an advantage because, besides the evident outcome of an event, we were juggling with our grades, and a drawback when not everyone was as passionate and as involved, and when grades seemed more important than the actual event. But then, a successful festival was to be rewarded with some good grades anyway, and with the joy of having accomplished something more than just a high number. This approach, as if it were a “school thing”, could be seen even in the number of mobile phones lights in the cinema hall during films.

All in all, East Winds Film Festival did run smoothly, or at least it looked like it did from the outside. With a history of 4 previous editions and a short break, it was more than the usual challenge of standing up to the previous years’ standards. It was about the reinventing and relaunching a festival that seemed dead for the last 2 years and the revival had to outshine the previous editions. If it did, I could not exactly say, as I had not been present to the previous editions. There is also a place for improvement, for more, and better, and this is how it should be. There are always things which went wrong when they should have gone well, there are always mistakes that could have been avoided with little more effort or attention, but on the other hand, there are always things that went perfect, that were exactly on time, and to the highest possible standards, but that could have also gone terribly wrong. Most important, as I have learnt after hearing this more than a few times and experienced it on my own skin, is that: “if (and I may add when) you fail, fail fast” (Thamu Dube, 2017) and get back on your horses because the world does not stop for you to lick your wounds.

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