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[SIN]efest - Interview with Boo Junfeng
Before the screening of SANDCASTLE, I was able to catch up with the film's director and festival curator, Boo Junfeng.
Tania: How does it feel to have a film that is acclaimed and award winning in Singapore, its home country and then Pusan, which is as good as it gets in East Asia and Cannes, which is as good as it gets in Europe?
Boo Junfeng: Pretty good! (laughs) I've always wanted to make movies since I was 15 and I thought, by the time I'm 30 I can make a feature film. This is happening a little early (laughs), but I had to be opportunistic about these things and grab a chance when it came.
Tania: The general public is not very aware of a film industry in Singapore. How would you describe the environment of the Singaporean film industry right now?
Boo Jungfeng: It's quite exciting. From my understanding over the past 5 or 6 years there has been at least one Singaporean film that premiered in Cannes. I think there are quality works coming out of Singapore and what's more exciting is that they are very diverse. All of us, filmmakers in Singapore, we all have our different influences and there isn't a one unifying characteristic in the films.
I also helped to programme this festival and I thought, since I was given 4 slots, that I wanted to make the programme as diverse as possible to represent that kind of diversity we are witnessing right now in Singapore. So, in this festival, there is basically; SANDCASTLE which is a drama, 881 which is a musical, INVISIBLE CITY which is a documentary and HERE which is an experimental film. I think they represent what the film industry in Singapore currently is.
Tania: You mentioned influences, who would you said influenced you as a filmmaker?
Boo Junfeng: I consider myself a young filmmaker. I've had different influences in my short films over the past few years which charts the route that I've been taking. In the beginning, I was exposed mainly to Hollywood-type films. I was particularly interested in drama and that's why my last couple of films were very much influenced by that. I became very exposed to Asian films particularly films by Taiwanese filmmakers: Hsiao Hsien and Edward Yang and Lee Ang, as well. Lee Chang-dong from Korea. Koreeda from Japan. These are masters that I look up to very much.
Tania: How was the process of getting your first feature film into development, production and post-production? How did you feel about going through this big process?
Boo Junfeng: I was in very good hands; my producers are amongst the most experienced in Singapore. But still, you know, when it comes to making a proper narrative film, I think everyone is still pretty much feeling their way around in the dark. So I was determined to spend as much time as I could in the writing of the film, but, of course, reality set in and I couldn't sit on one project for too long – I finished the script in one year and a half, we went into pre-production and production for another 6 months.
The opportunity came about when I was asked by a Eric Khoo, who is a veteran filmmaker/producer in Singapore, if I was ready to make my first feature film. At the time, I wasn't sure, but I had this idea in mind, mainly inspired by my grandmother who, at that point, was suffering from dementia and I was observing some of the things that were happening at home and I wanted to transfer some of that energy to a piece of work. So, I wrote the pitch. There were two deadlines coming up – the Singapore Film Commission's New Feature Film Fund and the Pusan Promotion Plan – I applied for both and, very fortunately, got into both of them and that kind of started out the project.
As I was developing the script, it was primarily a film about dementia and old age coming a young person's perspective, but eventually my grandmother passed away and I thought that some of the things that were happening were a bit too immediate to put on film, so I just wanted to expand on that idea. Eventually it wasn't so much a dementia film any more, but a film about memories and how personal memory and social memory can be connected. However, it is still centred around this boy who discovers, who learns and remembers as his family yearns to forget. I was just playing on those motifs.
Tania: Do you feel the need to put a little bit of yourself in your film that isn't through the technical aspects, but also through your writing and characters, as well, as the bigger social issues. Is that something important to you?
Boo Junfeng: When it comes to social unrest, the [student] riots in the 50s and 60s were as far as it went, post-WWII – there is a certain trauma from these events. In SANDCASTLE, for me, it's the autobiographical, more personal element of the film, mainly the dementia elements, how my family was dealing with it. Some of the scenarios were events that have happened to my family. Beyond that, it was heavily based on research. The main questions that En, the main character, asks in the film are questions that I have asked. Whether or not it happened to my family, there were questions no less.
Tania: In another interview you mention Ang Lee as the sort of director you want to be, with commercial and art-house appeal. You also made your first short in Spain. How do you plan for all these to push you forward towards your ultimate goal?
Boo Junfeng: There's no real plan. I cite Ang Lee as an example when people ask me if I want to make commercial films or art-house films. So I ask them, what would you consider Ang Lee's films to be? I don't feel it needs to be mutually exclusive. He sticks to his craft, he's a master in terms of storytelling and that's it. It may not be the biggest blockbuster, but there is an integrity to the work, it's an accessible piece of film, a piece of cinema the masses can appreciate and, at least, that's what I have always aspired to be and I see SANDCASTLE as a tiny step towards that.
Tania: Would you consider making films outside of Singapore? If Hollywood came knocking or something like that...
Boo Junfeng: I've never bound myself to Singapore as a setting. As you mentioned, my first short film was shot in Barcelona and what it taught me is that a film doesn't have to be geographically bound. However, I think, filmmaking is a craft that requires a lot of life experience and, at the moment, a lot of my experiences are based in Singapore. My world view might not necessarily be confined to that space, but for the kind of authenticity that I want represented in my films, so far, Singapore is the only place I can imagine positioning my stories. But with more time to come, hopefully, with more life experience, I may be able to expand beyond my own country.
MORE ABOUT BOO JUNFENG - http://www.witheringtravis.com/
About Tania Martins
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