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How to Make a Film Festival: Interview with TIFF Programmer Giovanna Fulvi

Giovanna FulviHere in Toronto, September is known for many things:  the Canadian National Exhibition comes to an end, the kids go back to school, and there is the ever increasing hint of fall in the breeze.  However, the early days of September are also a time where the city comes alive with The Toronto International Film Festival, this year running September 8-18th.

Boasting 397 feature and short films from all over the world, including 138 world premieres, TIFF continues to be one of the most respected and popular festivals in the world.  It’s also the unofficial start to awards season, with many of the films showing here expected to be noticed for Oscar nominations.  But, whittling the almost 7,000 submissions down to the programme audiences will see is a job that starts well before September.  The twenty-one festival programers that have this job are incredibly busy year round, but for Giovanna Fulvi, who since 2002 has been selecting films for East and Southeast Asian/genre, all that work results in these ten days.

So how does a woman from Italy become programmer of Asian film? Well admittedly, Fulvi doesnt count Italian cinema as one of her passions.  For her, it all started with an interest in Language.  Says Fulvi, “I studied Chinese, I studied Mandarin, and I was on a scholarship in China when Bertolucci shot The Last Emperor, so I worked on The Last Emperor and that’s how I got into cinema basically, to the film business.” Until doing research on that film, Giovanna hadn’t really thought about working in the industry, but her path continued to take her towards the festival circuit.  “After The Last Emperor I started working with the Chinese film makers,” she remembers. “When they would come to the International film festival I would be there to translate.  So that’s how also I got into the film scene in China, and then in Asia.”

As for TIFF, she started assisting in the late 90’s with Italian films.  “TIFF back then was very different then than it is now,” she said.  “All the Italian films seemed to be going to the Montreal Film Festival and they needed someone to help them out with the Italians.”  Through some changing circumstances in Toronto, including the previous programmer for Asian film passing away, Fulvi eventually made her way to being more involved in her favourite genre.  Now she has the ability to choose what Toronto audiences will see from a region of the world that includes Korea, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The Age of Shadows

The Age of Shadows

Having that many, and very productive, countries in your region means watching a lot of films – on average Giovanna would say she watches around 260 to make her selections for the Festival.  The selection process then is inevitably is a long one.  “It’s an all year long tracking. It’s about tracking new production that’s going on, what’s coming up, who’s filming what,” Fulvi stated.  “The actual selection process starts in March, I would say after the Berlin Film festival beginning of March and then that’s when it really starts.”  It also means traveling to Asia a couple of times a year to continue her search, being there in March and April and then after the Cannes Film Festival for June and July.

In order to make the cut, Fulvi has some basic, but important criteria for her films.  “Well I’m looking for quality of course, I’m looking for the best,” she explained.  “But, I’m also trying to show as much as possible what’s happening in the film industry in the region in each country. There are certain [films] that are quite commercial… but I also have very independent, small, very interesting, new director, it’s a variety. I try as much as I can to represent what happens in the region.”

As for this year, Fulvi says Korean cinema is having a particularly strong showing.  She is especially excited for The Age of Shadows, Korea’s recently announced entry for the Oscar race.  “It’s a very good movie by Kim Jee woon. Excellent film maker.  It’s about in Korea in the 20’s when it was occupied by Japan and it’s about freedom fighters against Japanese occupation. but it’s also the film that changes… I mean it’s a drama, it’s a thriller, it’s an action movie, it’s an epic movie, it’s everything all in one.  It’s extremely entertaining and really, really well made.  And also interesting because it talks about a period in time in Korea that we don’t know much about.”

Soul on a String

Soul on a String

Her other recommendations for viewing this year include Soul on a String by Zhang Yang.  “It’s a very interesting Chinese film that is entirely shot in Tibet. It’s an adaptation of a Tibetan novel. It takes place in the present and the future and the past at the same time.”  Fulvi mentioned that the film is, “Beautiful to look at, it’s gorgeous so it’s very visually stunning. It’s very spiritual in a way but also kind of like magic realism.”  Giovanna also mentions Godspeed, “By Chung Mong-Hong from Taiwan is a black comedy and is another good movie and also a thriller.  Chung Mong-Hong is a very interesting film maker, he’s not very well known but his films always seem very well made.  He’s someone that is not yet very well known internationally but he will be one of the directors to watch.”

If you’re new to the Asian genre, Fulvi thinks that there is a little bit for everyone, representing the diversity of the region, and with high quality. “From martial arts, action, thrillers, the dramas… it’s always fascinating, very interesting, and especially for China.  China has been going through a lot of changes in the past, so there are a lot of stories to be told and a lot of great film makers, so I think that makes it a very interesting combination.”

No matter what kind of films you may find interesting, there is always a plethora of choice at TIFF.  From star-studded world premieres to Canadian indies, from Midnight Madness horror to Asian comedy this truly is the people’s festival where everyone can discover something new.  Torontonians take great pride that this festival, now in its 41st year, is seen as the gateway to great cinema and a prominent force in the run toward Oscar gold, a sentiment shared by probably all involved. Says Fulvi, “I think we can easily say that it’s the most important film festival in North America and I would say one of the most important film festivals in the world.”

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One Comment

  1. Brava Giovanna! Speravo divederti a VE ma ormai tu fai concorrenza al festival. Congratulazioni per tutto il lavoro che hai fatto in questi a
    Anni. E gran di ulteriori successi a te!

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