INTERVIEW WITH SOO COLE
SOO COLE is the driving force behind the recent FIGHTING SPIRIT FILM FESTIVAL which took place at the O2 Arena in London. During a hectic schedule I was able to talk to her but due to background noise was unable to record our conversation. As a result, Soo kindly agreed to answer some questions via email....
How did you become involved in developing the Fighting Spirit Film Festival?
In 2010 while studying a Sport Science degree at UEL I was fortunate to be awarded funding for a trip to China to meet a 6th Duan Wushu practitioner and Professor at CIPE, which is a physical education institute in Beijing. While there he invited me to dinner along with 6 others, amongst them were the Head of Sports at Suzhou University, a National Champion of Chang Quan forms, and the Chairman of the Beijing Wushu Federation. I remember thinking my qualification for being there was perhaps I had travelled the furthest :) We dicussed martial arts and one of the questions put to me was how did I think Chinese martial arts could be promoted to people in the west? MMA was growing in China and there had been a surge in interest in Muay Thai since Tony Jaa had wow-ed everyone with Ong Bak. So my answer to them was through the mass media, ie film and through role models, and megaevents like the Olympics. I cited the explosion of interest in martial arts after the Bruce Lee phenomenon which really made martial arts accessible to the world. Shaolin Temple starring Jet Li did the same in China and there was a resurgence of interest in Shaolin Martial Arts after that. Ong Bak did the same for Muay Thai and The Raid to some extent has increased awareness of Indonesian martial arts. Those are just a few but there are many other films too but its the ones that either receive a cult following or a cinema release that can help increase awareness and participation of martial arts. The other thing we discussed was Wushu applying for inclusion in the Olympics. Had it been successful then that would have ensured a growth. Its interesting in recent years how many films featured archery (also in the Olympic Games), think Hawkeye in the Marvel Avengers films, Katniss from Hunger Games films, and the female lead in Disney film Brave. Would be interesting to see how many young females have now been inspired to start archery. So our discussion was what first made me think about putting martial arts and movies together. I was also considering my what I would like to do after my degree ended and was toying with the idea of studying a Masters in Role Models and Inspiration in Martial Arts.
In Oct 2014 I was on the organising team for the 2nd European Shaolin Cultural Festival. I ran a film screening of 'Shaolin' (starring Andy Lau, Jackie Chan and several actual Shaolin monks) and I also work in cinema. Along with this, I had worked with the Fightersinc guys on previous Seni events through my involvement with Shaolintempleuk for demonstrations for them. I had mentioned to Paul Alderson (Fightersinc) about what id like to do regarding my Masters study, how much I had enjoyed working on the Shaolin festival, and that I was toying with the idea of a martial arts film festival. He had expressed an interest in working together again, thought the film festival sounded like it had potential and it was left at that.
Then in Jan 2016, Paul called me, he had somewhow got a cinema screen and was running another Seni event and wanted to try to combine the it with a film festival. He remembered our conversation asked if I still wanted to do a film festival, I said yes but that I had a few ideas, one of which was to include short films made by upcoming talent and playing them before the main features and he liked them. Others we hope to do in future.
Paul came up with the name as he told me that Seni, when translated means fighting spirit. Things then evolved from there.
DO YOU YOURSELF HAVE A BACKGROUND IN MARTIAL ARTS?
I have a lot of great experiences from training in martial arts which began when I was 10 years old and had seen the original Karate Kid film. I was just about to start secondary school and it was a bit daunting so I think the story of that film resonated a bit with me. I remember watching the film with a friend and she was going to go to a different school. We decided to start karate as we could keep in touch and it looked interesting, based on our 10year old point of view having just seen the movie. I did that karate for 3 years, my friend did about 3 lessons but by then I was hooked. After 3 years I turned up for class to find the instructor hadnt. One of the parents called to find out what was going on to be told the instructor had run off with all the money. As a 13yr old I counted how many students had turned up (there were usually only 5-8 of us), and in my head I thought if that's the case he hasn't run off with much money, seems a bit of a stupid thing to do! I decided I needed to find a different teacher that was motivated with what I as a then 13year old considered to be better principles. I looked in the local paper and saw an advert and that there was another martial arts school in our town. It was a Lau Gar school run by a man called Alex Barrowman. I trained with him for 5 years until I went to University. I class him as my first martial arts teacher. Since then I've done periods of time training in Shotokan Karate, aikido, jiu jitsu, boxing, Muay Thai, kickboxing, and Yang style taiji. In 1996, I found a school in London called Steelwire Mantis where I trained for 2 years. I enjoyed it but I felt it wasn't quite me. In 1998, Shifu Shi Yanzi came to the UK and I was at first cautious about trying yet another style. After a few lessons I felt like everything I thought I knew about martial arts was actually very little and that I needed to learn again. So I trained with him at his school from then on, along the way I also studied Chen style taiji and went to China to train. He teaches us sanshou (a bit like kickboxing but with punching, kicking and throwing in the rules ), one traditional Shaolin form, qi gong and meditation. His teaching style prefers that we know a few things well and skilfully instead of a lot that are not useful to us. Occasionally I do different classes just to have access to facilities and also keep my mind open.
When programming the festival, what did you hope to present?
The three main features that have characters in them that have something inspiring about them. They all are learning and overcoming obstacles. They also cover different genres, Kung Fu Panda 3 is a family film and a recent release, Drunken Master is a classic cult film and Ip Man 3 is current film loosely based on the life story of Ip Man who himself had an inspiring story.
The idea of the short films was to replace the adverts and trailers you normally see before a feature film with a short film that contained martial arts action in it. In the same way that Pixar films have a short before their films I thought it would be a great way to give extra exposure to the work of upcoming film makers while taking away the financial risk some cinema goers might feel they would be making if they were to pay to see films made by unknowns.
There was a session especially put together for just the short films as we realised that the film makers would have friends and supporters who would come see just the shorts so to cater for that the Shorts session was added.
The live martial arts demonstrations were to show the practical side. To see the martial arts at grassroots. It proved to be popular with attendees.
So the three strands live demonstrations, shorts by upcoming talent and the main features represent a possible martial arts journey. Its not the only way but its a possibility.
I hope people had a really good time and maybe we inspired some people to take up martial arts, go train, have a go at making their own film or maybe all of that possibly more.
A week has now passed since the festival finished. Have you had time to reflect on what you managed to achieve?
I have....sort of. I'm just on my way back from Cardiff where I attended the Martial Arts Studies Conference 2016. I took some of the short films there too. I think most of how I can gauge what we achieved has come from feedback and most, if not all have said they would like there to be another film festival. I'm really pleased with the film shorts we were able to show, I think its really encouraging that there are people out there making shorts and to such a high quality and diversity. I know many people have said they look forward to seeing more from the film makers and I would love to see what they can do with a good budget and more time. I would love to be able to say 'we showed their short film in our first ever Fighting Spirit Film Festival and am proud to present their feature'. That would be really inspiring.
With hindsight, is there any element of the programme that you would change?
Yes, a few really. Perhaps too many to list. I think for future events i'm going to rethink the timing of the live demonstrations as the schedule for the films had to be strict and live demonstrations can be harder to keep on track. Will need someone specifically responsible for monitoring that in future.
Is it too early to be thinking about the next Fighting Spirit festival?
Not at all. But it is early stages thinking. So no set date just yet. Updates will be posted on social media Fighting Spirit Film Festival on
MANY THANKS TO SOO FOR TAKING THE TIME TO ANSWER MY QUESTIONS. YOU CAN FIND MY REVIEW OF THE FESTIVAL'S SHORT FILMS HERE