In 1991, at the age of 21, Thomas Bertacche start working for Centro Espressioni Cinematografiche in Udine, an association that managed the art-house movie theater Ferroviario and hosted a festival called Udine Incontri Cinema. Together with Sabrina Baracetti, Thomas run the 1995 edition, entirely dedicated to 1950s Italian cinemas. Among the guests, Alberto Sordi, Mario Monicelli, Claudio Gora, Marina Berti, Franco Interlenghi, Antonella Lualdi, and Silvana Pampanini. Many of the movies they presented had not been on the big screen since their date of release. A year later, once again with Sabrina Baracetti, Thomas Bertacche run the edition dedicated to protest films and, in 1997, the one dedicated to European western.
In 1998, the festival focused on Hong Kong filmmaking and, since 1999, has taken up the name of Far East Film Festival, exclusively dedicated to contemporary productions from the Far East. Since then, it has represented the most important event in Europe to get to know Asian (whether popular or genre) cinema and, this year, it will reach its 19th edition.
In 2008, following the viewing of the pre-edited version of “Rumore bianco” by Alberto Fasulo, Udine’s CEC and Pordenone’s Cinemazero decided to set up Tucker Film, a production and distribution company, where right from the start Thomas have held the CEO role. Tucker Film focuses on local productions and takes advantage of the inputs coming from the Far East Film Festival to theatrically release Asian masterpieces (from Academy Award Winner “Departures” to Korean “Poetry”, to Hong Kong “A Simple Life”).
Thomas Bertacche specifically handle local productions, following them from development to distribution: “Tir” by Alberto Fasulo (winner of the Rome International Film Festival), “Zoran, il mio nipote scemo” by Matteo Oleotto (winner of the International Film Critics Week at the Venice Film Festival), “L’estate di Giacomo” (winner of the Pardo d’Oro at the Locarno Film Festival), where Thomas also served as co-producer, and “The Special Need” by Carlo Zoratti (presented at Locarno and winner of many awards at various other international festivals, among them the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas).
In 2013, Thomas developed and co-produced “Parole Povere”, a documentary by Francesca Archibugi, dedicated to Friulian poet Pierluigi Cappello, and in 2014, he followed and distributed Tucker’s first Slovenian movie: “Class Enemy” by Rok Biček (presented at Venice and selected for the European Parliament LUX prize).
CFM: Please give us a general introduction to films will be screened at FEFF 19. What are the special events and films during this year’s festival?
A: This year we celebrate the 19th edition of the Udine Far East Film Festival. But this is actually the 20th year we honour Asian cinema. The Zero Edition of our Festival, in fact, that took place in 1997, was mostly dedicated to the glorious HK movies of the 90’s, a pre-Handover look at that very dynamic film industry.
This year, the 20th anniversary since the Handover to China, we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate Hong Kong cinema from the last two decades, as the continuation of this journey.
In this regard, one of the most important events will be the screening of the 4k restored version of the classic “Made in Hong Kong”, which is part of a larger retrospective of ten great Hong Kong titles that marked the past twenty years.
Remaining in Hong Kong, we will also present one of the most interesting recent debuts, “Mad World”, together with Eric Tsang, one of the main actors in the film. As our guest of honour, he will be presented with our Golden Mulberry Lifetime Achievement Award.
The other recipient of the award will be the great Chinese director Feng Xiaogang, already our guest in 2005. He will introduce his latest masterpiece, “I am not Madame Bovary”, to our audience here in Udine.
Of great interest will be the Chinese film “Someone to talk to”, based on a novel and script by Liu Zhenyun, the same author of “I am not Pan Jinlian” on which “I am not Madame Bovary” was based. The film is directed by his daughter, Liu Yulin, who will be in attendance at the Festival.
One of the highlights will also be the presence of one of the most popular actresses of the moment, Ms. Zhou Dongyu, a young Chinese promise who stars in three of the selected films of this year.
This year we have managed to include productions from almost all countries of Far East Asia. Beside the usually large number of diverse Japanese and South Korean features, we are excited to show films from Thailand, Cambodia and our first film from Laos.
CFM: Would you tell us how to choose the films for FEFF? What are the favourite film genres for Italian audience?
A: Our film selection begins with our periodic trips to the Far East, with our participation in a network of film festivals and film markets, and develops thanks to the invaluable contribution of our consultants, all of them based in Asia.
The major aim of our film selection is to showcase popular films that have been appreciated by local audiences in their respective countries all across Asia, and bridge them across the world by sharing them with a curious, diverse international audience.
Despite the fact that the most appreciated and well-known Asian genres amongst Western audiences are thrillers, horror and martial art films, our selection is certainly not limited to these as we always make sure to include romantic comedies, dramas, black comedies, and those Asian films that usually have a harder time getting distribution across the world.
CFM: What kind of Chinese films do you prefer to introduce to Italian audience?
A: We always aim for a healthy balance between large and successful productions with strong box office records and smaller, independent features that sometimes happen to have had a limited run in their respective countries.
This is particularly true with China, where smaller and more modest productions such as the aforementioned “Someone to talk to” or “Mr. Zhu’s Summer” – that our festival president, Ms. Sabrina Baracetti, instantly loved and for which she immediately invited newcomer director Mr. Song Haolin – can reflect a more niche state of film production in the country. That said, we still strive to include larger box office successes in our Festival, such as Kung Fu Yoga, directed by and starring Jackie Chan. The cross-section of the various selected films reflects our commitment to align ourselves with the ever-growing and ever-developing state of film production in China.
CFM: We heard one thing about FEFF was that there was no single festival director. It was organized and programmed by a group of people who work year-round. Are you still working in this way? Why you use this way to program the festival?
A: Our selection begins mostly with our consultants and coordinators based in Asia. Well-informed about the local film industry in their respective countries, they draw our attention to exciting features and we usually proceed with an initial pick from there.
After that, our Italian committee continues the process by coming to a consensus of quality films, agreeable to both parties local and abroad. Our festival president, Ms Baracetti, who oversees the discussion, will then complete the process by bringing together different points of views to whittle down a list of final films for official selection.
This is a long process, but we truly believe that only by committing and living in the place itself can one have the knowledge and the awareness of the actual state of local film production in that country.
On our end in Italy, having organized the festival for many years, we have a more accurate perception of how a film will be received by our international audience.
CFM: Now there are many film festivals in the world, what are the unique things about FEFF? What’s the most difficult part when you programming the festival?
A: We remain the only genre film festival completely dedicated to Far East Asian cinema in Europe. Our festival continues to welcome a large number of guests annually. Recently, with projects such as Ties That Bind and Focus Asia, we are expanding our film industry and market section with a strong dedication to genre films and Asian genre cinema.
In order to maintain our reputation, we always strive to present our audience with international premieres, a task that can occasionally become difficult as our festival takes place a little before Cannes Film Festival. However, we have recently postponed our film submission deadline (as many festivals do nowadays) to guarantee our audiences with the latest, most exciting features from the Far East.