Interview Exclusive | Maria O’Brien, Co-Organiser of the East Asia Film Festival [Podcast]

O’Brien spoke to Headstuff about the festival’s special guest, it’s inclusiveness and why one of its’ screenings is making ripples in the film community. To listen to the interview, follow the link below the article

As Wes Anderson’s latest, Isle of Dogs, divides audiences on the topic of cultural appropriation, the IFI’s East Asia Film Festival Ireland (EAFFI) starts April 5. Running for four days, the event will showcase movies from China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

Perhaps the most famous of the films being screened at the EAFFI is romantic drama In the Mood for Love. A regular feature of 21st century best-of lists, the film stars acting legends Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as spouses who discover their partners have been unfaithful. As they deal with the revelations, they are drawn closer together.

“It’s a stunning film. I saw it as part of my masters I did in Goldsmiths, University of London many years ago where I did a course in Chinese cinema. I can’t wait to see it again,”, O’Brien says.


Screening at the festival in 35mm, some have been asking how the festival managed to obtain the print. “We were unbelievably lucky to get this. It hasn’t been exhibited for a while as it’s being restored and the [people working on the restoration] didn’t want to release it. Yet, my co-organiser Marie-Pierre Richard managed somehow to persuade them.”

O’Brien adds, “We’ve already received some inquiries from a film festival in London wondering how we got it.”

In the Mood for Love is renowned for its shadowy lighting. Scheduled to talk at the EAFFI about this quality is the movie’s own cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-bing. Describing him, O’Brien says: “He’s hugely popular, a cult figure in Asian cinema. His calling card is his innovative approach to use of natural light and the environment.”

O’Brien says having a guest-driven festival is the key to its success: “It gives us something new. Last year the screenings including Q&A’s with filmmakers were the ones that sold the most. [Guests] really seem to be a draw for audiences. [Audiences] want to hear somebody involved in the making of the film talking about why they did something.”

For those who may be unfamiliar with Mark Lee’s work, they can get a crash course with the festival’s opening film Let the Wind Carry Me. Described as a portrait of the cinematographer, it covers his three-decade career. “I think it’s a fascinating documentary and there’s been quite a significant number of tickets sold for that already”, O’Brien states enthusiastically.

O’Brien says one of the main aims of the festival is to attract a diverse crowd. Recalling audiences last year, she remembers: “There was diversity of age. I was particularly surprised to see what I would think of as some elder lemons. There was also many younger viewers. Plus, there was diversity in ethnicity, a lot of Irish, European and Asian people.”

She adds: “That was really great. We want to bring new films to people who won’t have heard of them or won’t have seen them. We want to have films to show them.”

According to O’Brien, a key part of attracting such a diverse crowd is having a diverse program. Thus, she is very pleased to screen Taiwanese comedy The Great Buddha+ and South Korean comedy Claire’s Camera, the latter starring Golden Globe winner Isabelle Huppert.

“I want to be really careful not to essentialise Asian cinema. I know there is a problem sometimes in the film festival circuit that only the edgy films get shown and that they are not representative of the continent. Having something like these which are fun shows that there is more to Asia than the difficult political films.”

Another fun film screening at the festival is Monster Hunt 2, a family friendly adventure which broke box-office records in China this year. However, the road to show a children’s film at EAFFI was long.

“We’re delighted to have a family film. We tried to show one last year but it’s difficult because of the subtitling issues. If you have a film for children under a certain age, you need to have it dubbed or you need to have an explainer, which could itself be very interesting.”

Expanding on the last point, O’Brien says: “In Chinese cinema [in the past] there was actually a physical person, sort of like a piano player at a silent film, who would stand and watch the movie and explain during Western films: ‘this is what they eat in the West’ and ‘I know this looks odd that they are having milk in their tea but this is what they do.’”.

Eventually, O’Brien and her co-organisers agreed to show Monster Hunt 2 with subtitles but with the proviso that only those eight and above would understand it.

As Isle of Dogs’ controversy continues, Maria O’Brien will instead be taking her children to see her festival’s kids film: “It looks great. I’ve seen parts of it, not all of it. So I’m definitely going to that one. My kids are thrilled that there’s finally something for them,”.

If you want to see Asia on-screen, one is better off going straight to the source.

The full EAFFI program can be found here. Meanwhile, Headstuff highlighted some gems of the festival here. To listen to Stephen and Maria’s conversation, click below.

Featured Image Credit