“If you truly want to be a professional director, you will stick to filmmaking in all weathers. That’s all. That’s the only thing I want to tell you.”
– Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Dean, Asian Film Academy 2009
Oct. 1 to 17, 2009 was a time of Asian pride for 24 young Asian filmmakers privileged to collaborate for the Asian Film Academy (AFA) of the Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) in Busan, South Korea. It felt surreal. There was that surge of excitement learning who our mentors would be: Kiyoshi Kurosawa of Japan, Dean; Park Ki-yong of Korea, Deputy Dean; Ho Yuhang of Malaysia, Directing Mentor; and Mahmoud Kalari of Iran, Cinematography Mentor.
Asian Film Academy
AFA’s vision was made up of tough words: “Be the Future of Asian Cinema.” As one of the fellows, what was racking in my head was that I was just a young struggling Filipina filmmaker who probably got lucky… And there’s just too much pressure, hoping at best that I could keep up with it. It turned out, all of us relatively felt the same thing…
It readily dawned the 24 of us that we were pretty much on the same page in so many ways, no matter how much we differ in language and culture. As the program started, we also began to feel how human we all were. Back those times, we were dreamers, we were storytellers. Then we realized, even our mentors who were already known as pillars of Asian cinema, just felt and thought the same way. They were just as human… And during those 17 days of filmmaking, master classes, workshops, one-on-one and group mentoring sessions, along with the drinking and other bonding sessions here and there, we realized that filmmaking indeed entails that certain kind of emotionality. That sensitivity to human nature, varying relationships, intercultural interactions, and communication beyond words. And above all, that passion to sincerely tell a story in audio-visual form.
Kurosawa as a Film Mentor
As our dean, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, also known as the master of Japanese genre films, promoted a fresh and very open paradigm where the art film meets popular art to allow more people to get touched by a film’s story. According to him, “Whatever art it is, to create is something to be scared of. How hard an artist tries to hide… one’s work embarrassingly lays bare… what the artist thinks and how s/he perceives the world just as it is. You can’t run away from the responsibility of being a director only because you are a young director. As an author of your work, you inevitably expose who and what you are through your work.”
Kurosawa’s presence at our time in AFA allowed young Asian filmmakers coming from various parts of the world, from those based in Asian countries to those based in as far as America and Europe, to observe the present state of filmmaking in a global scale. Contemporary filmmaking showed how commercial values affect, threaten, help, influence, or strengthen artistic and emotional values. He also shared how handing down the master’s wisdom preserves the universal value of filmmaking.
Kurosawa’s first master class reiterated how a director generally works with a script. He briefly dissected issues about what the script requires and the challenges a director has to keep up with when mounting a story.
Throughout the course of the mentorship, Kurosawa reiterated that: “As a filmmaker, it is that ‘authorship’ that will empower you from within yourself, while you’re working, and until you present the film to your audience.” It is always best that a person with passion for filmmaking leads himself/herself to what can allow him/her to continue creating, no matter how much adversities are met.
My View of Kurosawa’s Words During AFA
Film is worth doing for a true director who is not just there to make money for the work. For those who are only after money and fame, s/he will leave filmmaking as soon as s/he finds out it’s not allowing him/her to earn enough money anymore. Others will lose the intention to make more films as soon as they realize that they have failed to attract the world’s attention. However, true filmmakers will find their ways through, even if such would mean that they have to prioritize other works fist to keep up with their economic needs, then still go back to making films they can truly call their own, as soon as they can.
Kurosawa adds, “You will get to know the world through your films, and in the same way, some people will get to know the world through your films. More often than not, the whole world will oppress you in the name of the film. Many will pull you down. Many times, you will feel ultimately depressed and torn apart. You will be crushed over and over again. Yet, if you sincerely find something from your inner core saying that you want to continue the struggle, you will find that spark of confidence. That confidence grows in your heart slowly but surely… And that is where the “authorship” I mentioned truly comes. That’s where a true, passionate filmmaker rises to the challenge.
Making a film is always worth it. For a true filmmaker whose world revolves around this art form, the need to be in this profession goes beyond the money and the public recognition. It’s about being an artist, a collaborator, and a storyteller.