What follows is an edited version of a conversation between Julian Ross & Maryam Tafakory and Goran Topalovic & Eric Choi, first published in Issue 4 of the magazine (pp.112–114).
FADE IN: CINEMATIC INSPIRATIONS
Maryam Tafakory: Could you tell us a little about the Issue and your chosen theme?
Goran Topalovic: The idea was to explore the influences within Asian cinema. Everyone is familiar with Kurosawa Akira and Ozu Yasujiro and how big of an impact they have had on the region. But we wanted to dig deeper. And try to uncover influences that may not be obvious or that people may not be familiar with. And, in the process, highlight that the concept of “Asian cinema” transcends nationalism and ethnocentricity. As scholar Stephen Teo stated, Asian cinema is a step forward from the limitations of national cinema. If you’re growing up in one country in Asia, you can enjoy and be influenced and inspired by works from other countries in the region. It’s an ongoing interaction of creative processes that knows no boundaries. And it’s just as exciting for us to discover about the previously unknown influences and connections, as I hope it will be exciting for the readers.
Eric Choi: What I think is most intriguing about working on a topic such as inspiration is that we can give a platform for filmmakers to not only talk about their own work but also to talk about other filmmakers and their films. Personally, I find discussions between filmmakers to be the most interesting; when it comes to interviews we are given an opportunity to see how the mind of one filmmaker would interpret the filmography of another.
GT: And I guess another objective is, especially as we’re also talking to some of the young filmmakers in Asia, we want to bring attention to their own work as well.
MT: How did you go about choosing the filmmakers?
GT: Both Eric and I, we have certain filmmakers whose work we like and whose work we admire. So that was really the starting point. It’s hard to be objective when you talk about cinema. From the curatorial standpoint, you always try to champion the works of directors whose work resonates with you. At least for me, the starting point was, hey, here’s the list of directors that I think would be great to ask and to approach. And we’re also trying to strike a balance as much as we can, to have a good representation of different countries and gender and so on.
Julian Ross: Did you ask filmmakers to choose other Asian filmmakers that have inspired them? Or was it something that happened organically, that they just chose Asian filmmakers?
EC: No, this being an Asian cinema magazine, we did request they provide Asian filmmakers. And on top of that, we also asked them to be as specific as possible, talking not only about a film from that filmmaker’s work but also, if they can, a particular scene from that film. Our hope is that the more specific we can get, the more interesting and in-depth their comments and analysis can be.
MT: One thing that Julian and I were at times struggling with, while working on the present Issue, was the structure.
EC: Things are still in a bit of flux. But our general idea is that we would conduct a short interview with each filmmaker specifically discussing their inspiration. And then, from there, we would jump to the inspiration. Or, alternatively, we would hopefully be able to arrange an interview between the filmmaker and his or her inspiration.
GT: Assuming, of course, that the filmmaker that’s cited as an inspiration is still alive.
EC: Yes indeed. Alive and willing to do it! If that is not possible, then we’re hoping to commission writings from critics about those inspirations, and maybe ask them to re-analyze their work in this new context. That’s the current plan.
JR: Did the filmmakers often choose a filmmaker from their own country? Did you observe certain tendencies between the filmmakers you approached?
GT: One thing that we’ve noticed is a lot of the filmmakers that we’ve interviewed so far, who are not Japanese, have mentioned Japanese filmmakers that have influenced them. I think that’s the closest that we’ve come so far to a bit of a pattern.
EC: Hearing these initial responses, the feeling we got is that it’s not necessarily the nationality that is important to the filmmakers. It was the work. It was what they felt watching the work itself. They weren’t tethered to the nationality where it was made. That was quite interesting.
MT: Did they mention any filmmakers you didn’t know of?
EC: Yes, that has happened several times. As an example, there is a young Korean filmmaker named Jeong Gayoung, and she picked as her inspiration another Korean filmmaker who I felt was a very intriguing choice. I was delighted since the reason that I wanted to reach out to her in the first place was because she has been constantly referred to in the press as the “Female Hong Sangsoo.” That was the derivative moniker they labeled her with and it honestly felt like she was being pigeonholed. So I was particularly curious about who she would find influential and whether it would actually be Hong. And while she did acknowledge Hong as a major source of inspiration, she chose to talk about a completely unexpected filmmaker, completely unexpected film, and completely unexpected scene.
JR: Was it a filmmaker you knew?
EC: It was a filmmaker I had heard about and was mildly familiar with, but I had unfortunately not seen any of his work. This is the kind of experience that hopefully will also happen from the reader’s perspective, a process of discovering.
JR: And where/how were these filmmakers watching these works? Did they talk about seeing them at a film festival or cinematheques or DVD or online?
GT: That will probably come up once we conduct more detailed interviews, which will consist of about five to six questions. Initially, as part of the research phase, we just wanted to get a list of directors and related films that were the influences and based on this we’re now in the process of making the final selection of filmmakers and their inspirations that we want to feature in Issue 5.
EC: I have a question if you don’t mind. Our next Issue will be about inspiration. Who do you find inspirational?
JR: Ah, that’s a really good question! Perhaps you want to start Maryam… (laughs).
MT: It’s one of those questions that a filmmaker is asked often in so many different forms. And I must say, whilst apologizing for it, that it’s a question I truly hate. Your work is a collage of things that you’ve been exposed to and they become internalized and it’s difficult to see how much of these parts of me is from this or that filmmaker, or what had a more profound impact on me than this or that… and so on. How much is me and is there a me at all that is not influenced by the outside? Impossible. I’d refuse to answer! (laughs).
EC: That’s still a pretty good answer.
JR: I was so disappointed by the Japanese filmmakers in your working list because they only chose fellow Japanese filmmakers. It felt so insular. That said—and being half-Japanese myself—when I’m asked the question, I can also only think of Japanese filmmakers! It’s really disappointing!
MT: That is indeed another reason why one should not respond. When I’m asked, I can only think of Iranian filmmakers. That is soooo embarrassing. I can only think of easy options that come to my mind at that particular time and place. The people I know. The films I was brought up with, you know? It sounds like a simple question, but actually it’s a tough one.
GT: In some cases, we may not even be consciously aware of all the specific influences. Because it’s all part of the environment where one grows up. Whatever we’re exposed to, either consciously or unconsciously, it becomes part of us.
MT: Absolutely. It’s a bit reductive in a way... It’s a matter of who you remember at the time that you’re asked that question. It all has to do with your memory. Later, you may think, “Oh no, why didn’t I mention so and so?!”
GT: Basically, we have just reached the point where we have proven the futility of the current theme for Issue 5! (laughs)
JR: You should change your topic. (laughs)
MT: New topic. Start again. We’ll do another interview tomorrow!
GT: It would be good to discuss this in our introduction, to acknowledge the limitations of the question about influences.
JR: But I think what you’re going to do is to open it up. If you just ask 20 filmmakers those same sets of questions, I think it could be rather simplistic. But what you’re doing is conducting in-depth interviews, staging encounters between the filmmaker and their inspiration, and having a critic write about their influences. And I think that’s where it’s going to be exciting.
EC: Yes, exactly!
GT: Because it’s about the dialogue. And the initial question is just the starting point to drive the conversations, and hopefully open up doors to worlds unknown.
MT: Perhaps in your introduction you can criticize this very question... and the impossibility of an answer that is not reductive. And I think this impossibility should be there.
EC & GT: Yes, great suggestion! Thank you.