My last day in Rotterdam included a screening of the one-name Indonesian director Edwin’s Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly. The catalog description made it sound like a treatise on Indonesia’s denial of cultural identity to its Chinese minority. While that issue is certainly a component of the film (and an issue with which I am mostly unfamiliar, like most in the West I imagine) I think it became a narrative red herring for me. As a point of comparison, I find narrative and stylistic similarities - as well as a similar abundance of deadpan humor - with the work of Swedish director Roy Andersson, specifically his 2000 masterpiece Songs from the Second Floor and You, the Living from 2007.
That said, the film is a depiction of a cross-section of the country’s Chinese minority, portrayed through the loose intersection of about eight characters from different walks of life. Halim, a dentist, tells his wife he wants to become a Muslim and to find a new wife, his assistant Salma who also wants to be a contestant on the show Planet Idol. A middle-aged gay couple is having an unspecific issue in their sex life. They agree to help the dentist get his assistant on the show if he will do a favor for them (which involves, at the risk of giving too much away, the dentist becoming a quasi-therapeutic sexual aid for the frustrated couple). There’s more, but hopefully that gives one a good sense of the non-linear story. I finally got my hands on the film’s press kit which includes an interview with Edwin, an Indonesian of Chinese descent, where he explains the personal importance of the issue. (The interview, conducted by Asian film expert Tony Rayns, can be found at www.babibutafilm.com.)
Blind Pig Wants to Fly is a film supported by the Hubert Bals Fund, an incomparable initiative associated with the Rotterdam Film Festival. Past films that have received funding that you may have seen at the Wexner Center include Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant (Turkey), Carlos Reygadas’s Japón (Mexico), and Elia Suleiman’s Divine Intervention (Palestine).
From the festival’s website:
The Hubert Bals Fund is designed to bring remarkable or urgent feature films and feature-length creative documentaries by innovative and talented filmmakers from developing countries closer to completion. The HBF provides grants that often turn out to play a crucial role in enabling these filmmakers to realize their projects.
Although the Fund looks closely at the financial aspects of a project, the decisive factors remain its content and artistic value. Since the Fund started in 1988, close to 600 projects from independent filmmakers in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America have received support. Approximately 80% of these projects have been realised or are currently in production. Every year, the IFFR screens completed films supported by the Fund.
The combined program Cracking the Surface, comprised of six short films featuring “the reconstruction of a mysterious past,” was well-selected. Highlights were past Wexner guest Lewis Klahr’s The Diptherians Episode Two: The Rhythm That Forgets Itself, one of the filmmaker’s typically deliriously fragmented collage narratives, this time featuring cut-out photos of Wooster Group members like Willem Dafoe and Kate Valk in a superhero/movie serial episode; Italian artist Rossella Boscotti’s The Undercover Man, a interview with real-life FBI informant Joseph Pistone (aka Donnie Brasco) and the innovative reconstruction of events using real surveillance footage of mobsters infiltrated by Pistone; and Philip Widmann’s Destination Finale a home movie that was shot in either late 1964 or early 1965 and found in Saigon in 2005 that features a presumably Vietnamese man visiting numerous major European landmarks and cities (the Eiffel Tower, the Acropolis, etc.) and edited by Widmann to provide a sense of structure and even narrative for the viewer. I really found the latter brilliant.
Another year of frittes with virtually every meal, seeing some great films, and catching up with friends and colleagues is under the belt. This year’s festival was given a nice punctuation when I finally caught up with Man on Wire on the flight home. It deserves all of the acclaim it is receiving. – Dave Filipi, Curator, Film/Video