NYAFF 2017: Interview with Executive Director Samuel Jamier

Subway Cinema’s New York Asian Film Festival enters its 16th year in 2017, still going strong at Lincoln Center. The festival starts tomorrow night (June 30) with one of the strongest Thai films I’ve seen in years, the school thriller Bad Genius, and closes with Korean actioner The Villainess on July 16.

Cinema Strikes Back will be providing coverage throughout the festival, but to start things off, here’s an interview with NYAFF Executive Director Samuel Jamier, who’s has been involved in the NYAFF for years now in addition to his work with the Japan Society and their Japan Cuts festival. We discussed recent developments in Asian cinema, Bad Genius, and some of his favorite films in this year’s festival.

The NYAFF is now in its 16th year. What new trends or changes do you see emerging in pan-Asian films and regional industries since the last festival?

It’s a pretty broad question, and I think I can only skim the surface here. I see two things mainly, aside from the overall, global shift towards digital platforms that’s affecting the film industry worldwide.

1: China’s definitely upping their game when it comes to genre cinema, action, crime thrillers, horror (though we haven’t picked any horror films from China). They’ve assimilated the code and the tropes of the genre very fast; it’s pretty astonishing to witness. Visually, you have some really exciting films, fuelled by new ideas. Some of the storytelling might be a bit rough, or not always very polished, but it’s definitely going somewhere, and I guess it helps that some of these films are directed by Hong Kong filmmakers, or Taiwan (Leste Chen), or even Korean directors. It shows a certain pragmatism, and at some level, it always make it hard to pinpoint exactly what Chinese cinema is, at this point: it’s evolving in many different directions.

2: Southeast Asia, particularly The Philippines, are becoming an idea factory. There’s a wealth of new stories and new storytelling there that’s begging to be discovered. It’s a very exciting time, in this sense.

Bad Genius in particular shows a new level of maturity for Thailand’s film industry, and is every bit as polished as a big budget Hollywood film. Do you think that is an exception or the sign of new things to come?  Any word on the inevitable American remake?

There’s a few remakes in the works, I hear. We don’t have a direct hand in the deals, but we certainly played our part in bringing the film to the attention of the industry in East Asia. Right after the announcement in Cannes (that the film would open NYAFF), people started flocking the booth of the company that handles Bad Genius. As you say: I think the American remake is almost inevitable. I’m not sure anything’s official yet, though.

You’ve brought in some legendary guests over the years, like Sammo Hung and Simon Yam, and continued that tradition this year with guests like Eric Tsang and Carrie Ng. Who would you love to get that you still haven’t been able to land?

Let’s see… Chow Yun-Fat, Andy Lau (who was supposed to come.. till he unfortunately fell off his horse.). Song Kang-ho. Fan Bing-bing. Not just actors. I would love for more star directors to come to the festival. I’d love to bring Kudo Kankuro, truly a comedic genius. So many people.

And then there are people who I’d love to bring AGAIN. Choi Min-sik, Masami Nagasawa, Tsui Hark, Toyoda Toshiaki.

The NYAFF always has a great selection of action, horror, comedy and crime thrillers. What are your picks this year for your favorite crowd pleaser, favorite art house film, and favorite straight-up bizarro head-scratcher in the vein of past picks like Funky Forest?

For crowd pleasers, the opening and closing films: Bad Genius and The Villainess. And Extraordinary Mission (sorry, I can’t just pick up one).

Favorite arthouse: A Quiet Dream

Head-scratcher: Kfc. A warning: it’s a bit extreme and not for the faint of heart.

And finally, what’s one film from the this year’s festival that you think audiences might overlook that they definitely should not?

At the top of this list:
Kfc. Very strange film. Quite grotesque in many respects. And from Vietnam: as I was saying earlier, the Southeast Asian markets and industry are becoming exciting, and some genuinely original filmmaking is emerging. But I don’t know how ready New Yorkers are for this: people still tend to stick to what they know: films coming from countries with strong national brands, like Japan and Korea in particular.

Also, audiences might overlook Eternal Summer: great Taiwanese movie. Already a classic, but overlooked, I would say (for various reasons).  Leste Chen is an extraordinary filmmaker that really deserves more attention. I hope people also get to see Battle of Memories, which he made in China.

Thanks to Samuel Jamier and Emma Griffiths for their help.  Audiences can buy tickets to NYAFF now.  The full schedule can be found here.

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