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How the Far East Film Festival Brings Films to Life

Filmmaker Erik Shirai's project was chosen for a Far East Film Festival production initiative, where industry players connect to bring new films into the world.



A panel discussion at Focus Asia, the industry section of the Far East Film Festival in Udine. (©Far East Film Festival)

The fanfare surrounding film festivals focuses on the screenings of the latest hits — or the movies that soon might be. However, an increasing number of initiatives are taking place on the sidelines of such events that actually help bring these productions to life. A case in point is the annual Far East Film Festival in Udine, northern Italy.

Its Focus Asia market program provides a platform for filmmakers to meet with distributors, sales agents, and other industry professionals to develop and complete their projects. 

In recent years, Focus Asia has helped develop films such as Chie Hayakawa's acclaimed dystopian drama Plan 75. It ran in the Un Certain Regard program at Cannes in 2022. The film was Japan's selection for Oscar consideration for that same year.

Japanese-American filmmaker Erik Shirai made the trip to Italy for FEFF 2024, which ran from April 24 to May 2. He brought his latest production How to Feed a Hungry Ghost. It was selected as part of Focus Asia's "Far East in Progress" program, which claims to be "the first and only European platform completely dedicated to Asian films in post-production seeking international distribution and festival premiere."

A Focus Asia session at Far East Film Festival 2024 in Udine. (©Far East Film Festival)

'How to Feed a Hungry Ghost'

Shirai said of his Focus Asia experience: "Talking to filmmakers, the community, distributors, and sales agents — even if nothing concrete comes out of it, it's enriching to be part of this community of people who are all doing similar things. 

"Sometimes, you just need that encouragement, that reminder that you're not the only one pursuing these creative endeavors because it can often feel that way."

As Shirai explains it, How to Feed a Hungry Ghost follows the tale of a woman who builds a successful business in the United States. She had arrived from Vietnam with just $100 USD in her pocket.

"The film explores her complex memories of home and how food evokes these memories, aiding her in finding peace with herself and her family," the director explained. 


"Inspired by a true story, this film is more than entertainment. It aims to deliver profound meaning and emotional impact. For me, creating this film was vital as it provided the main subject an opportunity to confront her past traumas and see her life from a new perspective, which proved to be a powerful experience."

The Business of Filmmaking

The film was one of six selected for this year's Far East in Progress subcategory. In total, Focus Asia received more than 100 applications from more than 25 countries for its All Genres Project Market. It provides a platform for filmmakers to develop projects "with an Asian and European co-production potential."

More than 200 industry players came to Udine specifically to check out what was being offered across Focus Asia. They had an eye on helping produce and distribute the projects. Filmmakers also had a selection of production-specific seminars to attend based around the business of making films.

"The Birth of Saké" (2016) directed by Erik Shirai.

The US-raised Shirai splits his time between New York City and Tokyo. In 2015, he won acclaim for his documentary The Birth of Saké. His latest co-production combines talent from Vietnam, the US, France, and Japan.

"I think having a film that features different perspectives and ideas is beneficial because each country has its own culture and unique way of approaching creativity," he said. "For example, working with a French editor who has extensive experience with Vietnamese films, and myself being based primarily in America, introduces a variety of perspectives."

Shirai continued, "There aren't many Vietnamese films made this way, given the diversity of perspectives and cultural experiences involved. So, I believe it's a unique and enriching way to make films. It's not the only way, but it's one effective approach."

Bringing Asian Films into the World

Focus Asia's organizers say the initiative is designed to provide a bridge between Asian filmmakers and international markets. By doing so, it aims to contribute to a diverse and culturally rich cinematic landscape.

"The energy here is nice, being surrounded by so many different creators and creative individuals all working on their own films," said Shirai. "Just being in this space and absorbing that energy is truly inspiring. And yes, I think my confidence has increased. It's good because, in our section, there were only six films, and we had to show a little sample."

He concluded, "I think that a lot of people gravitated towards and really found our films interesting based on what we've shown. That's quite affirming. It feels like we're on the right track, as people are showing interest in the films."



Author: Kanako Fujita

Kanako Fujita attended the 26th Far East Film Festival as part of the FEFF Campus for aspiring critics, writers, and film industry professionals.