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Festival News
Soo Lyu: Who needs critics?
Canadian director Soo Lyu reflects on critical reviews, screening snafus, and what she's learned during her debut at the TIFF for her first feature film, Rub and Tug

September 14, 2002

Soo Lyu reflects on her first experience at the Toronto International Film Festival

Rub and Tug director Soo Lyu reflects on her first experience at the Toronto International Film Festivalvideo link

The last minutes of the premiere for Soo Lyu's Rub and Tug were less than ideal. The film wobbled off the projector and threw the screen out of focus during the story's crucial denouement. The ensuing mad scramble to restore it left Lyu just a little bit frazzled.

Festival organizers apologized for the snafu before Lyu left for her after-show premiere party. But as her friends and colleagues at the party congratulate the first-time feature director, Lyu seems to have forgotten about it for the moment. She's still thinking about the audience.

"Seeing an overflowing theatre was quite emotional for me," she says quietly, appearing a little dazed. "It's a rare thing for a first-time Canadian film director."

Lyu says all she had hoped for at the premiere fell into place. The theatre was packed, and the audience gave her exactly the response she'd wanted, laughing at the right places and cheering at the end.

"A lot of directors came up to me beforehand and said, 'You'll see. At the end of the day, it's really the audience who responds that counts the most.'"

For Lyu, the audience's opinion is paramount. Which is perhaps why she's shrugging off the critical reviews. Some of Rub and Tug's reviews have been lukewarm, at best. Lyu says she's not concerned. She came to the festival not to be heaped with praise, but to get the film out to the people.

"Showing the film to a general audience is a far more crucial process than anything else," Lyu maintains. "I know that the reviewers, they have their job to do and, obviously, they are absolutely entitled to their own opinion. But it's the audience who decides."

So the critics didn't love it and Lyu says it doesn't matter. But is it fair to dismiss the opinions of professional filmgoers who watch dozens of films a year and know how to spot the great ones?

Lyu responds by pointing to the example of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The critics didn't warm to that movie either and Tom Hanks's company had to fight to get it out into theatres. As we now know, it's been a sleeper hit -- despite the opinions of the professionals.

Still, doesn't Lyu wonder if maybe some of the critics had a point, that there were things she could have improved in her film?

"It will take a very long time for me to say it was the right decision or not. But right now I feel that what I did was absolutely the best that I could have done with this film, the way the film turned out, because of the limited resources we had. I think it's the best it could be. I have absolutely no regrets."

As for the whole film festival experience, Lyu says she's not sure yet what she's learned. Her cast say she's blossomed as a schmoozer, learning how to turn on the hard sell and to keep her sense of humour and her head on her shoulders.

"She's a smart, together woman and she's been a total pro," says Rub and Tug star Lindy Booth.

With the film festival over, Lyu's looking forward and thinking about her next film. Many industry veterans have been telling her it's going to be just a little bit easier the next time she makes a movie, with the knowledge she's gained. But Lyu says she doesn't feel that way at all.

"I think that this film only got made because of passion. [Rub and Tug star] Don McKellar was telling me the other day that this was the cheapest film he ever worked on, including Roadkill. Everyone got involved because of passion, nothing else," the director says.

"And I think the second film, or third film, it will be the same. It will be as difficult and in fact, it'll probably be more difficult."

Lyu says she's been convinced on Rub and Tug about the importance of a strong story to a good film. So her first priority is obvious: find a good story. But ever the businesswoman, Lyu says, her next concern will be getting financial backing.

Canadian directors have long bemoaned the film funding problem in this country. Even the esteemed David Cronenberg was heard lamenting at this year's festival about the difficulty he had in getting stable funding for his new feature, Spider. And that was with British star Ralph Fiennes already on board.

"Getting funding for a film, no matter how many films you've done is a challenge for everyone," says Lyu. "Just because you've made your first film, people will not just give you money. Your script still has to be strong, it still has to have all the angles of marketability, strong character development, very focused direction - all those things. So it's the same challenge."

Lyu says her other concern is her legacy. "My job is to evolve, to become better at every stage of filmmaking. When you make a second film you need to think about: where do you see yourself in 10 years, what kind of films do you want to make?

"So now I will have to go back and think and really figure out, and have a very clear vision of what kind of story I want to tell."

"But every film I make I'll now know it's passion that gets a film made and nothing else. People respond to passion."

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