A scene from Lilting, the first feature film directed by Hong Khaou.
A scene from Lilting, the first feature film directed by Hong Khaou.

Several filmmakers took the time to speak with the International Examiner about their films presented at the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival.

Local filmmaker John Jeffcoat’s third feature film, Big in Japan, loosely based on true events, captures the often humorous adventures of real-life Seattle surf-rock band, Tennis Pro (David Drury, Sean Lowry, and Phillip Peterson). Jeffcoat originally encountered the band while working on Lynn Shelton’s MTV series, “$5 Cover.”

The band members play semi-fictionalized characters of themselves traveling through Tokyo, on barely any money, in an effort to gain fans in Seattle. Some of the film is scripted by Jeffcoat and some of it is improvised, but much of it is based on real events that happened while shooting in Japan.

“It was like sketching out a coloring book,” Jeffcoat said.

Most of the crew only knew English when they arrived in Japan. Jeffcoat said that a lot of the communication they made was through body language, as most of the people they encountered in Tokyo only spoke Japanese.

“It was intriguing to me to throw people into a new environment and see what happens,” he said.

The cast and crew encountered an eclectic mix of bands—some were naked on stage, others were dressed like Michael Jackson.

“What we found was this really warm acceptance,” Jeffcoat said. “Everyone was just psyched to see live music.”

“Tokyo was very over-stimulating and exciting in a good way,” added Peterson, noting that the band’s first trip there was in 2010. “Experiencing it is of course nothing you can really prepare for.”

Jeffcoat said he’s looking to premiere the film in Tokyo in the fall in addition to possibly having online distribution.

“The main thing that I take away from this whole experience is that if you have an idea that everyone thinks is crazy, you need to go for it,” Peterson said. “You have to follow your dreams or you’re going to spend your life wishing you’d followed your dreams.”

For more information about Big in Japan, visit www.bijthemovie.com. For more information about Tennis Pro, visit www.tennisproband.com.

In Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, office worker Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi), is convinced that she will uncover the buried treasure shown in the movie, Fargo. An outcast, she plots to escape her day-to-day life in Tokyo and head to Minnesota.

Austin-based filmmaker David Zellner has made numerous award-winning shorts and feature films over the past decade with his brother, Nathan Zellner, but this was their first in Japan. They started writing the film over a decade ago, and in addition to shooting in Minnesota, they spent over six weeks shooting in Japan.

“It was amazing. I loved it. I love Japan,” said David Zellner. “I loved it and can’t wait to shoot something else there.”

For more information about Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, visit www.kumikothetreasurehunter.com.

A film about communication and loss, Hong Khaou’s first feature film, Lilting, follows Junn(played by Pei-Pei Cheng), a first-generation immigrant mother who speaks little English and lives in a London nursing home. She grieves over the death of her son, Kai (played by Andrew Leung in visions and flashbacks). After Kai’s death, she is visited by Vann (played by Naomi Christie), an interpreter, and Richard (played by Ben Whishaw), her son’s roommate and “best friend.” The script also has moments of humor, as Junn strikes up a romance with Alan (played by Peter Bowles), a co-resident at the nursing home who only speaks English.

With a BA in Film and Video at Surrey Institute of Art of Design, Khaou worked in theatres, such as The Royal Court, Polka Theatre, Dende Collective, and Yellow Earth Theatre to develop his skills as a writer. Originally written as a stage play over a decade ago, he noted that Lilting was very much influenced by his own family.

“What’s in the film is incredibly personal,” he said. “It’s always stronger when you write from what you know.”

Born in Cambodia, Khaou grew up in Vietnam and has lived in London (where the film was made) for over 30 years. His mother, also a first-generation immigrant, does not speak English. Khaou said he thought of her when writing the script.

The film had two weeks of rehearsal time and was shot in 17 days. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Khaou’s two short films, Summer (2007), and Spring (2011), were also selected for Berlinale and Sundance film festivals. Khaou is currently in the process of writing the screenplay for a new film set in present-day Vietnam. He noted that identity, the human condition, and culture are a big part of his scripts.

“These themes are very dear to me,” said Khaou.

Lilting is expected to return for a wider release in the fall.

For more information about Lilting, visit www.facebook.com/liltingmovie.

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