Thursday, June 28, 2012

cineTALK: A New York Asian Film Festival Interview with Rufus de Rham!

For its 12th edition, there have been some personnel changes in amongst the staff that sweats and bleeds celluloid to bring us our favorite summer obsessions, the New York Asian Film Festival.  Among the new faces on board is one Rufus de Rham.  Not familiar with that name? Worry not, your viewing experience is in more than capable hands.  Rufus is no small storehouse of encyclopedic knowledge of Korean cinema, some of which appears in published works.  He is cohost of the addictively informative and banter-filled movie podcast, CINEAWESOME, as well as its review laden hosting site.  And he happens to love Asian movies.

Over the past few days, I exchanged a volley of emails with Rufus about the festival and other aspects of his film-related activity.   

This is how it went down.

Q: The NYAFF has gone through quite a bit of personnel change leading up to this year's fest.  Could you explain your role in making this year's fest happen?  What kind of things might attendees notice about the 2012 edition that can be attributed to your involvement?

A: Sure! My role is Operations Manager/Assistant basically I coordinate with the print traffic people and the reception people and help to make sure the festival runs smoothly. Of course I have help from the entire NYAFF crew, as it is a big production to put a festival the size of NYAFF on and everyone works really hard to make it the best damn festival in the city (of course I might be a little biased). I also had a vote in some of the programming but my main contribution was programming the Korean Short Film Madness which includes Night Fishing (the Park Chan-wook iPhone film) and some other weirdly awesome and awesomely weird shorts from the Land of the Morning Calm.   

Q: The Korean shorts program looks like a very interesting offering this year.  Besides Park's much anticipated iPhone film, can you give any extra insight into other films in the it people involved or back-stories behind their productions?    

A: Well all the other short films are from the Mise En Scène Short Film Festival in Seoul, which sees some of the best genre filmmaking in Korea. Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook established it, and it has turned out people like Yeun Sang-ho, who directed one of my favorite films at the festival this year The King of Pigs. I don't really know much about the backgrounds of these filmmakers or films, but I do know that The Hideout (by Lee Chang-hee) is a mean little thriller that shows a lot of style, Heart (by Erick Oh) is crazy, trippy, weird, and filled with action, The Lucky Gumboy (by Choi Shin-choon) is sweet and funny, and finally Finis Operis (directed by Moon Byoung-gon) is dark, a little mean, and is a perfect short film joke, including one of the best closing shots ever. I basically watched a ton (and I mean a ton) of shorts and slowly whittled them down and tested some on my poor friends who happened to stop by. Hopefully people like what came out of this!

Q: You mentioned voting on the program, and in past years there have been allusions to passionate, borderline violent arguments about what to and what not to show.  Were there any titles in this year's lineup that were particularly polarizing among the NYAFF team?  If you'd care to, please do weigh in on what side of the fence you were on regarding them.

A: So the voting rules is pretty much we each get one weapon and whoever ends up with the least amount of blood coming from them gets to pick the movie. Seriously though as an Assistant Programmer I wasn't voting on everything. Usually the hardest things are when we love love love a movie but don't think it would work for our audience or in this specific festival. Those are sometimes the most heated discussions. This year for the ones that made it in (that I got to vote on at least) it was fairly unanimous and easy. I would say Red Vacance, Black Wedding had some great discussion not about if it was worthy to be in the festival, but if our audience would respond to it. The film (directed by Park Cheol-su of Green Chair fame, and Kim Tae-sik of Driving with My Wife's Lover) is split into two stories about infidelity. I love this film, but there was a question if people would respond to its more art house nature. I said people should google Oh In-hye + dress and see if they want to see a film with her in it. Thats the fun of programming though. We never know what the hits of the festival are going to be! Seriously though go see Red Vacance, Black Wedding...just don't bring anyone under 17.
Q: You are extremely knowledgeable on Korean Cinema.  At what point did you decide this was an area of film that you want to pursue to such an intense degree?  What was the thing or movie or moment that pulled you into its grip?

A: I went to a boarding school during high school that had several Korean students who I was friends with. They had hotpots and rice cookers so there was always something to eat in their rooms! One day I was joking around with one of them that I was going to hide in his luggage when he left for the summer. Long story short I got a passport, left my small hometown for the summer, and ended up in Daegu, a city that is in the south west of Korea. We saw Kick the Moon in theaters and I was hooked. An entire cinema I had never heard of! We rented Shiri and Friend, which at that point had blown every box office number in Korea away and I saw Memento Mori and Yongari on tv. At this point I didn't know any Korean, and could only follow the films based on my friends' narration and the visuals, but I had found my calling. I went on to study it at NYU and just slowly tried to make my way. It makes me really happy that it has such an international following now! When I told people I was going to study Korean film when I started at NYU they looked at me like I had antlers on my head, now they just recently (last year) held an intense scholarly conference on it! Shameless plugs: if you want to see some of my writing on Korean cinema check out cineAWESOME! Some of the Korean centric episodes on VCinema Show podcast What's Korean Cinema? from the Podcast on Fire guys,  or my articles in Directory of World Cinema: South Korea which you can pre-order on Amazon.

Q: Speaking of Cineawesome, I've been catching up on some episodes of the podcast. There's a real rapport between you & your cohosts as you breakdown some easily overlooked genre films.

How did you all come together to do the podcast? Has it changed much since you 1st set out?

A: Thanks! It is something we feel makes the show work. James and I have known each other for a couple years now. We were working at Borders together and we started a genre-book site called Paper Spaceships, which is still around but is pretty much defunct. We started writing a bunch of film reviews and decided to split those into another site. Thus cineAWESOME! was born. We actually started with NYAFF 2010! A podcast was always talked about but didn't coalesce until last year also coinciding with NYAFF. Episode 5 was on Japan Cuts, 6 was NYAFF and we had a bonus interview episode with Grady Hendrix which is insanely long and filled with tangents. Our main format has always been to cover two films that are (tenuously at times) thematically linked. Early episodes also have extra sections like voicemail, viewer comments, what we've been watching, etc. We added our 3rd host Billy Ogawa. Check his sometimes NSFW art site here for Episode 14 where we covered Squirm and Slugs. We just clicked, Billy is the naysayer (generally) to James and my over enthusiastic praise and it makes for an interesting dynamic. It helps that we are all friends in real life. Now the show is leaner. We only cover the films and we have better equipment. We used to share one mic and now we each have our own, but we still tell off color jokes and go on crazy tangents. We are also weekly now, having been sporadic with our releases previously we now release every Wednesday. You can search for cineAWESOME! on iTunes or on Stitcher Radio and enjoy the show.

Q: You have some amazing guests at this year's fests, standing out perhaps are Choi Min-Sik and Donnie Yen, both major iconic actors.  How does the festival go about getting the likes of them?

A: Well NYAFF has been running for 11 years now and they have always been about bringing guests to NYC that might not get a chance to interact with people otherwise. Honestly though? I have no idea how they did it! Especially this year with the caliber of our guests. The rest of the Subway Cinema crew are amazing and I've been honored to work with them. As the new guy it has been a crash course education for sure. They work hard all year round, and I know sometimes we get guests based on films we program , like Grandmaster Y.K. Kim who is coming to do a 20 minute Taekwondo demonstration before Miami Connection. Or we build side panels around guests, like Choi Min-sik and Donnie Yen. The Star Asia Awards have also played a big part in the guests as well. Donnie Yen will be getting the Star Asia Award before the screening of Dragon this year, Michelle Chen will receive the Star Asia Rising Star Award before You are the Apple of My Eye on July 1st, Masami Nagasawa will recieve her Star Asia Rising Award before Love Strikes!, and Chung Chang-wha will recieve the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award before the screening of King Boxer (aka Five Fingers of Death). 

Really though, I like how major stars and indie directors from various countries can be brought together in one festival. Plus after working with some people for a while they become friends of the festival and you can get them to do things like when Pang Ho-cheung is going to give live commentary on two short films he shot when he was 14! Seriously people should buy tickets for Pang Ho-Cheung's First Attempt... it will be a lot of fun. I guess I kinda answered that question? hahaha

Q: You've been on many sides of the festival -- being in the audience, writing about the films (which are not necessarily exclusive)  and now helping to program things. Based on experiencing things from all ends, can you tell us what might be different about this years than others?

A: Well it is interesting having been on all the sides for sure. It sure is easiest being just in the audience! Writing was hard, last year cineAWESOME!, VCinema and Stan Glick combined forces to try to review everything and I think we almost made it. With my involvement with the festival this year though cineAWESOME! isn't doing as much. But you guys know how hard it is to see all these films and get the reviews up for your readers. I think every year this festival grows and gets better. It really is a labor of love. Anyone who thinks Festival life is glamorous needs a reality check! We work really hard to make sure we have a great lineup. I think in general we are seeing a greater acceptance of asian film in America in general than ever before. I mean think about even 5 years ago how hard it was to see Korean films. Now they are screening at AMC theaters, not to mention the Korean Cultural Service's Free Korean Movie Night at Tribecca. This makes it hard to get big exclusives for festivals but I think its good for the industry in the long term. I'm excited to see how it will grow from this year to next. Personally I would love to see more retrospective series during the festival, but that is my training as an archivist!

Q: OK, my last question is a hypothetical...supposing one is dropped off on on the curb outside of Lincoln Center, after a mysterious, lengthy confinement, with a wallet filled with only enough money for an Economy Buster combination from Gray's Papaya and tickets to see 3 New York Asian Film Festival movies.  Which 3 movies do they see?  (Sorry, it's my lame way of spicing up the standard ‘what are your must see recommendations?’!)

A: My three must see movie choices are Miami Connection, Nameless Gangster, and King of Pigs.


So, when you see Rufus or any of the dedicated NYAFF crew running around the theater in the next few weeks, be sure to say 'hi,' be sure to thank 'em for keeping the amazingness going!


Subway Cinema New York Asian Film Festival website

CineAWESOME website

CineAWESOME on twitter = @cineAWESOME

Rufus de Rham on twitter = @Rufushderham

me on twitter = @mondocurry

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