Online movie site spurs budding filmmakers

By any standards, this year’s most-talked-about movie in Hong Kong is short, poorly filmed and grainy.

However, what it lacks in production values, the 10-minute home-made clip—candidly shot of an elderly man berating a youngster on a bus—makes up for in drama, dialogue and humour.

The expletive-riddled so-called Bus Uncle clip took on a life of its own when its maker posted it on the internet video site YouTube.com.

Within days it had been watched by more than a million people worldwide and had spawned a cottage industry of T-shirts and other items bearing the Bus Uncle’s image and his oft-repeated phrase: “You’ve got pressure, I’ve got pressure.”

Testament not only to the speed of communications in the digital age, the huge success of “Bus Uncle” has also alerted many to the promotional potential of YouTube, inspiring wannabe filmmakers to pick up a camera and start shooting.

“It has provided a platform for people to show their movies,” says Isaac Leung, the artistic director of Hong Kong’s avant garde video-installation troupe Videotage.

“Before, you only really had the TV companies and festivals to distribute your films, and that limited the work shown to those produced by the people with the money and equipment.

“Now everybody can do it. It really has widened the spectrum of people who make films and also the kinds of films they make,” Leung adds.

Although most of the Asian content on the site consists of clips from Westerners’ holidays to the region, a browse through YouTube’s current selection reveals a treasure chest of pieces shedding light on the lives of ordinary people in the region.

Some are politically charged, such as an artfully edited mini documentary attacking the media’s response to scuffles in Hong Kong during December’s World Trade Organisation summit, in which South Korean protesters clashed with riot police.

In another clip that claims to have been smuggled from Thailand after censors banned its broadcast, heavily uniformed officials violently beat unarmed men in what appears to be a sickening display of police brutality.

Other films have a humorous or dramatic narrative that reveals a generation of burgeoning digital movie masters.

In a pastiche of Seventies disaster movie Jaws, a splatterfest short from Thailand tells the story of a swimmer attacked by a shark, complete with realistic blood and gore.

The Tokyo-based GaijinPot Japan Video Contest tells the brief story of a philandering foreigner caught out by his girlfriend, while Hong Kong’s Sexy Soccer is a Benny Hill-style football match featuring a team of scantily clad women.

Thai filmmaker Thunska Pansitttivorakul, who developed the Thaiindie.com website, says sites like YouTube have become fertile grounds for upcoming auteurs.

“The portal is good for underground artists because it provides a huge space for anyone like us to show our products.
Everything is free and convenient,” says the young movie maker.

Importantly, he adds, it is increasingly being trawled by film-festival curators for new stars to show.

“Film competitions might pick the movie most visited in YouTube for an audience award. The Singapore film festival four years ago gave such an award by using its own website,” he said.

Like Bus Uncle, the quality of movies shown on YouTube leaves a lot to be desired.

But Videotage’s Leung says that by unburdening new filmmakers with the need to shoot high-quality glossy productions, they have more time and resources to develop and exchange ideas and themes.

“These are amateur people who have a love of film, and that’s the important thing—the passion,” he said. “If you can harness that passion you will create interesting art.

“Away from the constraints of commercial outlets that necessarily impose certain conditions of filmmakers, young directors can shoot what they like how they like. It’s a very creative process.”—AFP

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