West Kowloon museum M+ could put the art back in film: Tsai Ming-liang

Director Tsai Ming-liang hopes West Kowloon's M+ can provide filmmakers with an alternative platform to the mainland, mainstream market

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 2:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 March, 2014, 2:58am

West Kowloon visual culture museum M+ could provide a new platform for Asian filmmakers who want to work outside the mainland-influenced mainstream market, according to acclaimed director Tsai Ming-liang.

The museum, to open in 2017, plans to focus on moving images in addition to visual art, design and architecture.

By giving weight to film and video, the museum could help steer the art form back to a creative focus, away from commercial influences, believes Tsai.

"The mainland market is big and everyone wants to go to that mainland market. But it's exactly because of this that people are now making films like they were blindfolded," he said.

"Maybe some directors are trapped and have to supply films for that market. But not everyone makes films that way."

The director was speaking yesterday at the Asian Film Awards in Macau where he was nominated for best director for Stray Dogs. Wong Kar-wai won for The Grandmaster.

Tsai said that while film festivals helped promote films that might not get picked up by commercial cinemas, the short-lived events were not enough to create a quality audience that could appreciate the variety of cinema.

"When the festival is over, it's all over," he said. "A populist mindset [is now normal] among audiences. 'Just give me the stars and entertainment, and I will buy the ticket.' They don't really care what awards you have won."

Tsai has now set his sights on showing films at museums.

"I began making proposals to museums a long time ago. But to go to museums, your films must meet the qualities for a museum setting," he said.

A multiple winner at the Venice Film Festival, including top honour Golden Lion for Vive L'Amour (1994) and the Grand Jury Prize for his latest offering Stray Dogs (2013), the Taiwan-based Malaysian Chinese filmmaker is recognised as one of the most important directors in the world.

The 56-year-old is often classified as an art-house director because of the slow pace of his films and long takes with powerful visuals. He said his work often attracted only a small audience but the recent best director prize at Taiwan's Golden Horse Film Awards for Stray Dogs had given a different impression.

"People say I'm doing commercial films now," he said.

Despite promotional efforts, Tsai said, his films could usually only stay in cinemas for a month at most. But he decided to do things differently for Stray Dogs, which tells the story of a struggling single father. Tsai organised 50 screenings for his fans in Taiwan. "I didn't spend a penny on promotion, doing press interviews or any administration costs, and I still got as big an audience as I did doing the same marketing stuff in the past," he said.

After the cinema release, Tsai will take his film to museums.

Stray Dogs will be shown for three months from August at the Museum of National Taipei University of Education, with a related installation exhibition.

Tsai said he was tired of making films and Stray Dogs would probably be his last feature film. He will do a theatre show, The Monk from Tang Dynasty at Wiener Festwochen, a cultural festival in Vienna, which will also show Stray Dogs in May.

"Film festivals must keep going, but the state needs to do something to protect the making of art from the populist mindset," Tsai said. "When you are grooming an audience for arts and culture, you are making your citizens better people."