INTERVIEW: Film Director Midi Z on the 'Taiwanese Dream' in Myanmar (Part Two)

INTERVIEW: Film Director Midi Z on the 'Taiwanese Dream' in Myanmar (Part Two)
Photo Credit:趙德胤 Midi Z

What you need to know

This is part two of TNL’s interview with film director Midi Z. He talks about current obstacles, motivation, and Taiwan's New Southbound Policy.

Midi Z sips his coffee loudly in between questions. His eyes always turn down as he listens intently. Though he appears to be shy, the director has come prepared, just like how he was ready to face the media in Myanmar.

“I’m always ready,” says Midi Z.

But he was not always this way.

The 33-year-old Myanmar-born director, who is based in Taiwan, received the award for Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year at the 53rd Golden Horse Awards on Nov. 26.

The director says he started learning about films through making movies, which is different from how most directors work, at least to his understanding.

“They usually prepare themselves before doing something, but I came into the movie industry completely unprepared,” says Midi Z.

“The preparations I made were very simple; for example [all I did for] my first film was buy three plane tickets, round up three people, and start randomly filming how Myanmar is changing,” says the director. “That was it. ”

At that time he was not concerned about box office revenue or prestigious awards. All this changed when it came to his most recent and sixth feature film “Road to Mandalay.”

“You have to be prepared when someone is giving you NT$30 million (US$1 million) or NT$40 million. You can’t just randomly grab three people and start filming,” says Midi Z. “Shooting a film isn’t just a job where you simply hold a camera anymore. It involves marketing, audience reception and how you film.”

However, the director admits he is still “not very confident” when it comes to the audience reception and commercial success of his films.

“But it all comes down to whether or not people buy tickets to your film,” says Midi Z. “The audience is still unwilling to spend two hours in a movie theater to watch a story about a non-mainstream society.”

Photo Credit: Olivia Yang / The News Lens

Midi Z’s motivation for making movies has also shifted; in the past, the director’s sole intention was to make enough money to get by, but this changed after his third feature drama, “Ice Poison” (2014).

It was not that Midi Z had become rich, but rather his financial difficulties were pretty much solved by then, and he is content as long as he has enough money to pay his employees.

“I don’t really know why I’m making movies [now], but I just feel like the [current] movie industry is too boring and that gives me the drive to stimulate the industry,” says the director. “But I’m also scared of losing the essence of filmmaking if I'm too focused on this.”

While Midi Z says he thinks all his films will be about Myanmar, he is trying to make one that is not because “it’s too tiring.” The difficult part of making films about Myanmar, says the director, is not securing funding but having a good script. This is what he believes all investors and actors are waiting for.

“But up to this point, I haven’t met a person that fully understands what I want to do and has the same ambition and sensitivity as me,” says Midi Z. “There hasn’t been a person that I can hand over my observations and personal stories for writing a script.”

In terms of government support for the local industry in Taiwan, while Midi Z is not looking for government funding, he believes there is a lot the government can do to help the film industry, for example increasing communication between local and international artists and boosting interaction between different industries.

“It’s very easy for the government to settle for slogans and words without actually doing something,” says the director.

The Taiwanese government is currently trying to boost connections with Southeast Asia, via the New Southbound Policy, which is part of a plan to lessen Taiwan's economic dependency on China.

Midi Z points out it is important for the government to specify what the new policy will do for the film industry. For instance, will the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival invite representatives from Southeast Asia? Will the government provide a subsidy for them? The director says this is crucial because every time a reporter from these countries covers an event in Taiwan, it means the Taiwanese culture is seen as making a mark across the region.

“Is the government willing to pay for these five plane tickets and hotel rooms [for media from SEA]? It’s not that difficult, but no one is doing it,” says Midi Z.

The conversation wraps up as the director gives his coffee a final slurp. We talk about random things and Midi Z mentions he is a bit of a “hygiene freak” and cannot stand the feeling of sweat, but this, of course, does not apply when he is filming.

As he stands to leave, he slings his backpack over one shoulder again, gives a final nod, and with a half-smile and eyes down Midi Z says, “Until we next meet.”

Part one of TNL’s interview with film director Midi Z can be found here.

Editor: Edward White