When it finally hit me that we were going to Cannes, the first thing I thought was, what are two tourists like us doing going to one of the world's most prestigious film festivals? The second thing I thought was, well, Afdlin is no small thing (in all ways) in our industry and if I were to represent anyone from Malaysia, there would be no one I would be more honoured to represent than Afdlin. Then I thought, what business have I feeling honoured to be representing anybody!?! Little ol' virgin assistant producer me...
One thing I do understand though, is how powerful movies can be to individuals and peoples as a whole. And despite how Sumolah has done at the cinemas, it's effect on almost all its audience has been powerful indeed.
So why did we go? Because Sumolah was always intended to travel beyond the shores of Malaysia. And although pre-registration did not get Afdlin into the Producer's Network, we decided we would go anyway and stick our foot in whatever door we could find.
Concurrent to the Festival de Cannes is the Marche Du Film (Film Market). While the films are all screening all over Cannes, there is a bazaar of sales going on under the market tents, where indie producers, production houses, sales agents, distributors etc all meet from all over the world and try to buy or sell films from each other. Some films are still only at the script stage, but it doesn't matter. If you can convince someone of the value of your project, it just might get picked up. Unfortunately, because we were not on the Producer's Network, we did not have access to these discussions, meetings and speed-dating (literally, you spend half an hour at each table just pitching your movie before moving on to the next table).
So we had to approach some people cold, some through contacts given to us or made prior to the festival. Believe me, it was a very scary thought for me to have to do that. We arrived with a load of promotional items and of course I packed too many clothes... We spent the first day walking through the "markteplace", staking out all the booths and wondering how to be certain who was a buyer and who was a seller! It's all in the books you get when you register but they're thicker than the yellow pages!
Sometimes we would strike up a conversation with the people at the booths, or would see them because their contacts were given to us by associates before we left Malaysia. Towards the end, we would just go up to them and introduce Afdlin as a director from Malaysia and would they like to look at his film? Most were eager to see it because it was the director himself they were talking to or because it was Asian or because it was another potential film to pick up. Everyone we saw was interested and asked us to follow up once we returned to KL. Of course, we have yet to see whether the follow ups will bear fruit.
It was disappointing to find almost every nation represented by their Film Commissions, but not ours. Malaysia has a long history of film with some real gems. Even if there was a little booth with all our posters and a brochure hocking our beautiful locations only manned by a someone who gives out pamphlets and takes messages, THOUSANDS of industry professionals walk past the booths over the ten day festival period and almost always pick up something as they pass by. Visibility and presence is what we need at fests like these!
We only watched three films, one of which we had to walk out of because we were so tired from travelling. But there were so many screening theatres, some, actual cinemas taken over for the ten days and only showing festival films, some, little theatrettes located within the Palais at which the Marche booths were located - and each screened a few different titles at various times during the day and during the week. The scale of the organisation is amazing. Prior to each of the major films, they screened 3-5 minute short films directed by 60 selected directors from all over the world, and we were privileged to watch the Coen Brothers' short prior to Ocean's 13 (which was very very funny).
I can't help thinking now that if there were some support like a Malaysian booth or even a desk with a pamphlet stand where a producer or director at Cannes from Malaysia (on their own ticket) could go to to get help or even have a place to put their flyers, cards, brochures, whatever... what a diffferent festival experience it would have been for us. Then we could say to people we meet, check out our goodies at the Malaysian pavillion/booth/desk and show that we have a presence there because our country is proud of our industry.
Oh, yeah, I forgot, our country sort of looks down on the entertainment industry. It's not really legitimate for a living, is it? No matter how silly we may think our silliest films may be, or how bad we may think our worst films are, they all have value because they are a reflection of how Malaysians view themselves. How important this concept is I cannot stress. If we love films where the hero is always ugly, has no talent and isnt really acting, then it shows that we love to see someone hamming it up. What's wrong with that? We also have films that are very depressing, highly stylised, poorly executed, sublimely executed, happy, dumb, pure, emotional, flippant... just like any other movie industry in the world. The other film we saw was pretty bad in my opinion, but it showed me a little part of how the culture of the filmmaker views itself, and that, to me, brings us closer and opens up avenues of understanding. So, maybe the filmic value was bad for me, but I still got something out of it (and a whole lot of laughs!).
We have had some comments from websters about wasting time and money going to the festival. Well, I can only say if you are going to go all the way with the movie production of a film like Sumolah, why would you stop selling after the first attempt? Hello? What kind of faith are you putting in the product if you give up before the race is run? Nokotta, people!!
Anyway, those are notes from a few naysayers and we have learnt early on in this business that there is always someone who gets unhappy and we cannot always understand why, nor can we make things better for the poor diddumses.
See you at the top, fellow fighters!