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Fiona Tan • Director

"Cinema is about much more than just obeying the laws of Hollywood"


- Cineuropa sat down with visual artist Fiona Tan, director of History’s Future at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam to hear more about her thoughts on cinema and the festival

Fiona Tan  • Director

Deeply influenced by painting, literature and her mother’s psychiatry books, Fiona Tan is very intellectually stimulating. A close fit with the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s interest in visual artists who make the transition into films, she will have an extra muros expo called News from the Near Future and History’s Future [+see also:
film review
interview: Fiona Tan
film profile
, a debut feature included in this year’s Tiger Competition, so she certainly appears to have a bright future ahead of her.

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Cineuropa: You’re originally from Australia, but do you now consider yourself to be a European artist?
Fiona Tan:
Oh yes, definitely. I’ve been living in Europe since… actually, it’s been so many years I’ve stopped counting. I think it’s been something like 25 years. So it’s been longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.

And what has it meant to you to be selected for 2016’s Tiger Competition?
Well, because I’m normally a visual artist, I’m not very knowledgeable about film festivals. But from what people tell me, I definitely understand that other festivals are generally more geared towards mainstream, commercial films. So I am very excited to be picked.

Do you also think the changes to the festival’s structure this year have been a good idea?
It seemed like it was a good idea to revamp the competition to me. It think it will allow them to focus on less films more tightly, but also hopefully on better quality films. That seems like a smart move to me.

What has it been like for you to move into feature films for the first time?
It’s been pretty exhausting [Chuckles.] Very exciting and very rewarding too though. Actually it’s felt like a very organic kind of development. I’ve worked primarily with film and video for many years now, so the whole production side of things is not so foreign to me.

Plus, as an artist I’ve found myself increasingly interested in narrative, I suppose. Obviously current-day cinema is very much about storytelling: it’s believed films are supposed to tell a story. So as a film artist that felt like a very logical thing to explore. Then another thing that I’ve become increasingly curious about has been working with actors. So this project offered me the chance to do both of these things.

Are you one of those directors who is committed to working against the belief that films should have to tell linear stories?
In some ways I am. I do feel it’s very important to challenge your borders and look at how far you can take something. I don’t want to just repeat something that someone else has already done, or just adhere to the rules. I think cinema is about much more than just obeying the laws of Hollywood. I think that limits it, and makes it very conservative. I find that a real shame.

I mean if you look at French films from the 60s, for example – and here I could give any number of examples – I think their desire to experiment is lacking in the kind of current cinematic discourse.

How difficult was it to get funding for this kind of boundary-pushing project, though?
I think it’s always difficult for art films. You just have to be very persevering, like one of those children’s toys that you can knock down and they bounce back up again. You have to be like that. For a year or two, anyway. It’s not fun… no fun at all.

The Irish Film Board funding you received seemed interesting to me, because I could really hear Samuel Beckett’s voice in your film.
Yeah, that’s interesting actually because Mark, who plays M.P., is also a scriptwriter. So he’s extremely well read and knows Beckett to a T. It is interesting though, because I was just thinking the other day that I should look into Beckett again. I love him. He did really great stuff. That film he did with Buster Keaton, for example. What was it called? Film? That was great.

Might his influence be seen in future feature film projects of yours, then?
Maybe. I’m in the middle of editing one another feature right now, actually. The working title is Ascend, and I’ll say one thing about it, and then that’s it. I’m trying to make a feature-length film made up entirely out of stills. That’s the one thing I’m saying.

That too has been quite spontaneous, but it’s pretty tough, I must say. It’s been good though, working on it. It’s been me trying to work out how you can make cinema with the most minimal amount of elements – and I think that is a very worthwhile thing to explore.

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