October 21, 2008

Tokyo International Film Festival, Day Two: The Mechanics of Movie Promotion

On the second day of the Tokyo International Film Festival, due to bad timing and bad organization, I found myself unable to attend a single screening. Deploring my situation, I nonetheless kept busy, hopping from press conferences to Q&A sessions. While I felt guilty covering films that I either had no interest in seeing or would not be able to see, I got to witness firsthand the mechanics of promoting films.
First up was a pre-screening event for The Other Boleyn Girl. A visit to Tokyo by co-stars Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson would have brought the house down; alas, director Justin Chadwick turned up solo. 
How do you go about selling a film that has already been deemed a critical and commercial failure overseas? Show up (relatively) young, charming, and British, that's how. Mr. Chadwick had a puppyish energy and easygoing demeanor, and quickly endeared himself to the audience and the interviewer. He played the game with ease, praising Portman and Johansson for their "intelligence and integrity". He appealed to the audience by stressing the presence of strong female characters in the film, and excitedly slipped in, "I met [popular Japanese singing group] Chemistry last night!" It was not until later that I found out that Chemistry had recorded a new theme song for the film. 

From the youthful to the professional: I attended next the post-screening, Q&;A session of Aide-toi et le ciel t'aidera (With a Little Help from Myself), the new film by François Dupeyron, director of Monsieur Ibrahim. Lead actress Félicité Wouassi was there to represent the film, in a chic black dress and hot magenta boots. She stood in the middle of the stage and enchanted the audience with three warmly-spoken words: "Bon soir, Tokyo."

Wouassi spoke of how she was sent the script after the director had seen her perform in the Roman Polanski-directed play Doute (Doubt). Struck by the sheer political incorrectness of the film, which deals with minorities in the suburbs of France, she phoned the director in the middle of the night to confirm that he was not going to shy away from the subject matter. Having worked in theatre and film since the age of fourteen, Wouassi is well aware of the dearth of minorities in French cinema. In fact, she called Aide-toi one of the few films in recent years to focus on black characters.

Perhaps due to her background in theatre, Wouassi had a strong, clear voice and a commanding presence. At the end of the session, photographers gathered to take her photo, prompting, “Smile!” Ever ready, she threw back her head and laughed, "You don't have to ask me that!" 
Immediately after that was the main event of the day, the stage appearance of the cast and crew of Blindness, the latest film by acclaimed director Fernando Meirelles. One by one, the cast and crew filed out: producer Sonoko Sakai, her partner and fellow producer Niv Fichman, screenwriter Don McKellar, cinematographer César Charlone (he is also a member of the jury), director Fernando Meirelles, actor Yusuke Isetani, actress Yoshino Kimura, and Julianne Moore.

They each spoke a few words about the film. Meirelles noted gravely, "We are living in a crisis period, and I hope you can learn from [the film]". Moore praised the film's "forward thinking", and added, "I think it's time for a movie like this". Isetani joked about McKellar constantly trying to fix his English (all the better to honor the words that he had written), while Kimura, who also discreetly translated for Moore, cleverly tied the film with the film festival's "green" theme by revealing that Meirelles planted trees to offset the amount of carbon used to produce the film.

It goes without saying that Julianne Moore was the most famous in the group, perhaps the biggest celebrity at the festival this year. She seemed no more or no less beautiful than she appears in films and magazines, and effortlessly, gracefully handled the extra attention. It was unprofessional, but I couldn’t help it: I was starstruck. So fascinated was I by the sight of her laughing the same laugh as in the movies, I almost forgot to take photos, take notes. Now that’s the power of a real star.

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