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Meihodo 2023 is here! We were lucky enough to speak with James Zhang and gain insight into how the festival has come to this point and what is next.

Interview: James Zhang of the Meihodo International Youth Visual Media Festival 2023

Everything Everywhere All At Once is the one movie that put some of the biggest smiles on audiences’ faces at the majority of film festivals this past year. It made it all the way to the Oscars stage, winning Best Picture and Best Actress for Michelle Yeoh, and Asians worldwide had something to swell with pride over. Now we have another way to celebrate that film’s impact, as well as the next wave of great Asian movies making their debuts. 

Yeoh recently served as the Guest of Honor and Advisor at the Fifth Annual Meihodo International Youth Visual Media Festival. At the April 28 ceremony, she shared a message to congratulate the winners, including the Grand Prize victor, “Warrior,” a drama from Kyrgyzstan filmmaker Amanbek Azhymat that took home a total of $15,000 and an NFT trophy.  Since launching in 2018 in Fukuoka, Japan, Meihodo, which serves as a platform for budding young artists, has become one of the largest and most popular short film festivals in the world. This year, the festival received a record 3,533 submissions from 122 countries and regions around the world. 

In addition to the winning films (which also included honorees in the genres of documentary and music video), the festival bestowed three special awards to some very special guests. Producer and visual effects supervisor Stephen Castor (the “Spider-Man” franchises) received a Lifetime Achievement Award; stunt coordinator and director Andy Cheng (“Rush Hour,” “Shang Chi”) received a Career Achievement Award; and Zhigang Su was given a Special Contribution Award.

We were lucky enough to speak with James Zhang, the Vice Chairman of the Meihodo Festival, and gain insight into how the festival has reached this point and where it’s headed next.

Academy Award Winner Michelle Yeoh served as Guest of Honor and Advisor at the Fifth Annual Meihodo International Youth Visual Media Festival.

Academy Award Winner Michelle Yeoh served as Guest of Honor and Advisor at the Fifth Annual Meihodo International Youth Visual Media Festival.

The focus of the Meihodo International Youth Visual Media Festival is to shine a light on up-and-coming visual artists. What has been the biggest challenge in making festivals like this happen?

We continue to be amazed by the high caliber of contestants. Since 2018, the festival has enjoyed tremendous growth, in terms of the number of submissions and the countries and regions represented. This year, we received a record-breaking 3,533 submissions from 122 countries. 

Our judging panels also represent a record-breaking eight countries from four continents with a variety of backgrounds in academia, industry, and past winners. The biggest challenge comes from the fact that the quality of work is so impressive, which makes judging more difficult. 

With the rise of short film popularity and social media platforms–which propel the medium’s reach to large populations around the globe–the sophistication, professionalism, and skills reflected in the submitted works is breathtaking. 

To respond to this, we have developed a highly efficient virtual framework and infrastructure for screening and judging, which facilitates close collaboration among panel members and is spread out across four continents. 

Another challenge has been finding an annual theme that will resonate with young filmmakers. “Dream big in the digital revolution” has been our slogan lately, calling on the participants to embrace new waves of technology that present new opportunities. For example, we are the first short film fest in the world to award winners with NFTs and cryptocurrency.”

What have been the most memorable submissions you have witnessed at previous editions of Meihodo so far?

Our Grand Meihodo Award Winners of the past three years stand out: ‘CoExist’ (2021), ‘Refugee by Mistake’ (2022) and ‘Warrior’ (2023). They all explore conflict, confrontation, war, peace, harmony, balance, and deep discussions about mankind and the struggles of society. 

One of my personal favorites is ‘CoExist,’ directed by Komeil Soheili from Iran. It’s a documentary and I’m a documentary film lover, and while watching ‘Coexist,’ I was mesmerized by the idyllic life it portrayed of a blind captain living in Southern Iran. The vibrant colors and beautiful landscapes are vividly portrayed, and Soheili also uses indigenous music to add to the unique local flavor. 

The film provides a fresh perspective on the theme of “peaceful coexistence.” Another masterpiece is one of our Gold Award Winners of 2021: ‘Heimat Europa,’ directed by Isabel Jansson of Germany. It’s about a young girl who retraces her grandmother’s escape route at the end of World War II, and Jansson makes a bold, artistic call for reconciliation to heal historical trauma.”

Stunt coordinator and director Andy Cheng (“Rush Hour,” “Shang Chi”) received a Career Achievement Award at the festival.

Stunt coordinator and director Andy Cheng (“Rush Hour,” “Shang Chi”) received a Career Achievement Award at the festival.

What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence in visual media? In what ways would you encourage the youth to take advantage of this technology?

Image is power. Youth is the future. The Meihodo Festival is for young filmmakers. AI will lower entry barriers, cut production costs, improve efficiency of allocating resources and make filmmaking more accessible at your fingertips. We encourage youth to embrace AI responsibly, take advantage of its ability to assist creative efforts, and leverage it as a tool to explore filmmaking possibilities. 

The price for filmmaking used to be prohibitively high; with AI, you can attempt for as many times as you would like and experiment options as varied as you wish. Just like other historic waves of technology (e.g. the invention of Kodak film), AI will broaden content creators’ horizons and afford them opportunities to realize dreams grander, faster, and on a budget.

 The Meihodo Festival will continue to be a premium forum – an exchange platform and a leading film and media industry force for young creators worldwide. It’s a place for them to apply AI in making films, bounce ideas off one another, showcase works to global audiences, and investors, and share their AI techniques and experiences.

Michelle Yeoh is the latest superstar to attend Meihodo. What kinds of qualities are you looking for when it comes to choosing honorary guests?

“We were very attracted to Yeoh’s can-do and never-give-up attitude. She champions hard work, perseverance, and overcoming age and race limitations. She pursues her dreams – and that’s something we’re always looking for in a guest. 

She evolved from a ballerina to Miss Malaysia to a global superstar who’s now been crowned as an Academy Award winning Best Actress – the first Asian actress to receive that honor. Her career and life are all about breaking stereotypes, which we also always appreciate. 

She is an inspiration to young people worldwide, and she said herself in her acceptance speech that her award “is for every little girl and little boy who looks like her.” Meihodo has roots in Asian cultural traditions and is a leading voice in world cultural diversity, driving change for a better world. 

Yeoh has successfully promoted martial arts to prominence on world stages, acting as a bridge between western and eastern cultures. In past editions, the Meihodo Festival has partnered with legendary figures like Michael Douglas and Juliette Binoche, both of whom carried similar honorable values.”

Award-winning producer Yue-Sai Kan served as Honorary Chairperson of the festival.

Award-winning producer Yue-Sai Kan served as Honorary Chairperson of the festival.

When it comes to Asian representation in the film world, what kinds of progress are you still waiting to see?

Movies like ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and ‘Shang Chi,’ which feature predominantly Asian casts, are steps forward in the right direction in popular filmmaking. And seeing Asian actors in leading roles, like Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” is a welcome change that we want to see more of. 

Meihodo strives to be the cradle for the next Ang Lee or Chloe Zhao, both of whom are Academy Award winners for Best Director. The Meihodo Foundation provides funding and resources to the next generation of creative leaders for their film projects, so we can play a part in enacting the change that we want to see. 

Asia is now at a crossroads of cultural revitalization and renaissance, and as a region, it is eager to contribute more to the cultural prosperity in the world. Film is an important component of world culture, and Meihodo aspires to devote itself to promote cultural exchange, which will create greater representation.

As vice chairman of this festival, what in your opinion makes a solid criteria for judging these categories?

We advocate for short films created by young artists. We value independent thinking, professionalism and passion. The work must be original and reflect the creator’s deep thinking about the world and its societies. The work must demonstrate short film’s unique attributes: speed, high quality, current affairs, trends, independent spirit, competitive production cost and highly persuasive subject matter. 

Short films have a significant advantage when it comes to reporting ongoing news, time-sensitive materials, and topics. Creators can quickly put together high-quality short films to convey diverse angles and perspectives and engage audiences in deep and thought-provoking conversations about societal, natural, or cultural phenomena. In contrast, long films require too much time and preparation. 

The world is a global village, a mix of old and new, modern and traditional. Short films are locally made yet have a global reach, playing an instrumental role in helping people around the world understand each other’s diverse cultures and points of view. We seek positive messages, high quality, beautifully made films, and brilliant and creative use of technology.

When it comes to Asian films of the last decade, which films in your opinion are required viewing?

“Some of my favorites include Academy Award-winning and -nominated standouts like ‘Minari,’ ‘Parasite,’ and ‘Drive My Car.’ Other great recent Asian films include ‘Shoplifters,’ ‘The Handmaiden,’ ‘Ash Is Purest White’ and last year’s ‘Decision to Leave.

Oscar-winning composer and producer Tan Dun served as Honorary Chairman of the festival.

Oscar-winning composer and producer Tan Dun served as Honorary Chairman of the festival.

What are your thoughts on the rise of the metaverse and how visual stories could be told in the future?

The rise of the metaverse has created a need for large quantities of high-quality, creative content, even though the technology is still in its early stages. The metaverse film arena is an uncharted space with many gaps waiting to be filled. Whether we like it or not, the metaverse theater will become the inevitable, mainstream, and primary venue for film watching. 

The metaverse is the perfect platform to showcase young people’s works, providing an immersive and enjoyable experience, great flexibility and mobility, accessibility, affordability, and most importantly, the freedom of information and the unlimited exchange of ideas, particularly for content creators in authoritarian countries with limited access to the outside world or underdeveloped regions with inadequate resources or funding. 

It is a revolution, and Meihodo is poised to lead this revolution. We are in a similar situation to the great Wild West during the early 1990s internet revolution.”

What have been some of the most exciting innovations you have seen in the world of visual media lately?

Well, certainly AI and its advances on visual platforms like Midjourney and DALL-E. We’re also excited by audience engagement with state-of-the-art computer hardware, such as VR and AR devices and even smart-home tech. ChatGPT, of course, is enabling everybody to code programs and demands, which will inevitably influence new film technology as well as the sci-fi genre. 

This year, the Meihodo Festival witnessed a 20% surge of films focused on topics of sci-fi, animation and surreal or fantasy genres – all of which have long been favored by young people, and are surely influenced by today’s technological breakthroughs. The Meihodo Festival is already contemplating a stand-alone category for sci-fi next year.

The poster for “Warrior,” this year’s festival Grand Prize winner, from Kyrgyzstan filmmaker Amanbek Azhymat.

The poster for “Warrior,” this year’s festival Grand Prize winner, from Kyrgyzstan filmmaker Amanbek Azhymat.

What is the biggest message you want to share about the industry to those who are young and trying to make their mark?

From our Chairman, Qing Su: “Dream big in the digital revolution. Anything is possible. Young people are the driving forces for the future. New technology and new information will afford everyone the grandest opportunities ever. Film and visual content is the medium for advancement and progress of mankind.”

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