LtoR: Bede Cheng, Program Director at Hong Kong International Film Festival, Keanu Reeves, filmmaker Yonfan
The Jockey Club Cine Academy (JCCA) is a 3 year film education programme presented by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society (HKIFFS) and funded by The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust, that aims to foster film literacy among the youth in Hong Kong. And this year, as part of the extension of actitivies to the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2 free programmes are organized that bring audiences closer to renowned filmmaker Peter Ho-Sun Chan, and actor Keanu Reeves who was here earlier this afternoon to present and talk about the latest film he helped produced, Side by Side, written and directed by Christopher Keanneally.
Moderated by Bede Cheng, Program Director at HKIFF and filmmaker Yonfan, the event started with an onstage discussion followed by a Q&A Session with members of the public, some of whom had queued as early as 11am (or even before that) to ensure they get the best possible seats in the house when doors opened, or getting ahead in the standby queue. A No Photography (ahem) and Videography rule meant no verbatim presentation here, but I'm sure one day the proceedings will probably be made public.
In any case, Keanu Reeves almost skipped on stage after the screening of Side by Side (I'd swear he's got a fountain of youth stored somewhere, because from where I'm sitting, he doesn't seem to have aged), and you can feel his enthusiasm as he engaged both the moderators and the audience in very surfer-dude laid back fashion, nevermind if some questions were not related directly to the movie, as was required, but he was in perfect spirits to address them all in any case. A number of eyebrows were raised when he was first revealed to be conducting a master class - "Whoa, seriously? Keanu Reeves in a MASTER CLASS?", but I'm sure after today's session these doubts will be unfounded as he's here to share one of his latest passions developed while embarking on this documentary project, where he served as narrator and interviewer for Keanneally in engaging the prominent filmmakers featured in discourse. Sure he could have taken the easy way out with One Worded replies (which he almost always did at the end in jest), but full marks for trying his articulate best to provide detailed responses.
Keanu Reeves spent 1.5 years on this film project, and continued from where the film had left off on a point about film cameras not being made anymore, and not only that, it's also to do with the stop in film stock manufacture, and film development as well. He shared his first digital film experience as an actor in Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly, where he remembered the longer takes involved, since filmmaking will have to stop after each can of film runs out, but in digital filmmaking, one can go on longer than that 10 minutes, which he then shook his head in mock disbelief recounting how the director just carried on without that break he was used to.
He went on to discuss in a little bit more detail about the two different camps of thought in the film with James Cameron questioning him over when was filmmaking ever real, and Martin Scorsese's on how everyone is interpreting what they see as real through a lens, and brought on an entirely different philosophical discussion on film itself, whether digital or the traditional photo-chemical process. One of the reasons why he embarked on this project was that he had never produced a film before, nor made a documentary, so this served as a learning process, as well as having "great conversations with these really cool cats", referring to the mind boggling array of filmmakers being interview subjects. It served as a great adventure to discover the history of digital cinema, and felt that Christopher Keanneally did a great job here with a film that can appeal to both film lovers and general audiences.
Inevitably a question was asked by one of the many waiting patiently for their turn, about his new film Man of Tai Chi, which Keanu Reeves mentioned it's his first time directing a film, and in it he would be playing the villain. I suppose he's fairly focused on this project, which in response to another question he got cornered into saying that he's on the side of digital filmmaking for this one for a whole host of reasons, from resources available or lack thereof, which means he will be shooting it on the ARRI Alexa Studio camera.
You can sense that if unmoderated this session could have gone on forever as a few more questions about Youtube, independent filmmaking and distribution got thrown into the mix, by a captivated audience made up of locals and foreigners (I'm sure there's more than just me, and the Russian dude who got a question through), if not for some other programmes lined up for Keanu Reeves in Hong Kong before his needing to be back in Beijing this very same evening to continue work on Man of Tai Chi. The session had to close even before things could get warmed up, and like the Matrix, he got the Exit he wanted, leaving high and dry the many who stayed behind outside the theatre hall to get another closer glimpse of the actor. He came, he saw, and he conquered.
Side by Side will screen at the HKIFF again on 24 Mar (Sat) 1745hrs at UA Cityplaza. But no, Keanu Reeves will not be there.
"OMG these guys are asking all the tough questions!"