“The festival is edgy,” said Benson Wu, Director of the Taiwan Film Festival in Australia. On a recent Zoom call, Benson said he’s all about bringing more diversity into film, whether it’s Asian representation in Western film or LGBT films to Taiwanese audiences.
“We have around 12 films in the full programme and there are 5 finalists in the short film competition. The festival entrance criteria are either that the film director, producer or writer is Asian, or one of the cast is Asian. We started the competition to connect Taiwanese and Australian filmmakers and give them a place to share their work, and a chance to be viewed by different international audiences.”
So of course I have to say here that our crime comedy short film JACKS, written and directed by Joel Stephen Fleming of 13th Street Films is a finalist! More about that and my character YANG later.
“We play some quite risky and arty films, and we encourage people to try something different,” Benson said. “I go to other Asian film festivals in Sydney quite regularly. I do wish they would play more LGBT films or show a different angle of storytelling. More often than not, the programming teams are not particularly brave in their selections or representations.”
Benson also wants more attention paid to Australia as a place to distribute and source films.
“When I talk with film distributors in Taiwan, they’re always looking to the European and American markets. I want them to realise that they can show more Taiwanese films in Australia, and watch more Australian films. I might be biased but I really like Australian filmmakers. They are so much more open to different voices, different content, different genres.”
Benson started his own festival in 2018. “I thought I would try it for one year and see if any people came. It had quite a good response. I got a lot of sinophiles and Asians, it was a really diverse audience and I hoped it would help the industry in Sydney see that diverse representation in film does have an audience and a market.”
Benson has a recurring team of 5 to 10 people, plus some 20 volunteers.
“Everyone in my team has literally 3 to 5 different jobs. One job will be doing something they like and the rest will be to make a living. I wanted this festival to create jobs for people with different linguistic backgrounds, because when I finished university (Macquarie U with a degree in Media and Marketing) it was so hard to find a job with English as my second language, even though I was perfectly capable of the work. I see the same thing in my team. I have very talented creatives who, for some reason, can’t get much employment here. So I pay as much as the festival can afford to the whole team, to help the emerging artists, designers and writers. Even if it’s just a little bit, it really makes a difference to them. Personally, I think the whole film industry should be doing that.”
Benson! What did you think of JACKS!
“I loved the film! Joel is really mature and had a vision of how he wanted the film to be shown. When you first appeared (as YANG) you were like a stereotypical Asian, but when you spoke and the way you behaved, I thought: “Hey, this is completely different.” I don’t think they were trying to present you as an Asian character, it was just you acting the character in the script. It was so good. The YANG character crossed a boundary. I think in Australian film, Asians are starting to find their own voice, their identity.”
“This year the theme is Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy, and we saw a lot of comedy. JACKS is a good film to introduce to the audience in Taiwan as well as here. Like: here is a quirky Australian comedy. It gives Taiwanese filmmakers and audiences a different perspective on how comedy can be.”
“Among the festival entries we watched, some were written by Asians and they stereotype themselves as Asian characters. How they speak, the accents, the jokes they tell – it’s like Asians making fun of Asians. It’s terrible. So when we watched JACKS we were like: Yes! This is the one!”
The 4th Taiwan Film Festival in Australia will take place from 16th to 30th September. The full program and competition juries will be announced at the end of August. For more information visit the festival website.
I’m going to finish up with an image of YANG. Blogger’s privilege.