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Singaporean Director Anthony Chen: “The seed is planted here”

Anthony Chen was one of the mentors of the International Film Camp. For five days, he was close to four young filmmakers, including two from Macao, where he was engaged in "reorganizing ideas" so that they could be among the eight winners. Regarding the local film industry, he says that he also "comes from a small place" and that this constraint – as it is perceived – turns out to be an advantage. "A lot of people think they have to leave [small towns] to succeed, but they end up going to an even more competitive environment." The interview was conducted on the last day of the program, before the winners were announced.

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How is the interaction with the candidates going?

Anthony Chen: It’s a very, very diverse group. We have applicants from Hong Kong, Macao, and Mainland China, but also from Japan, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and even Mongolia. The origins are very different and so are their levels. The Mongolian director had already made a feature film, which was at the Venice International Film Festival last year and won an award, which demonstrates the level she is at. Then there are those who have never made a feature film. They’ve made some short films, but never screened them internationally, or at large festivals. I think they all have very interesting personalities. They have stories they want to tell about themselves, about the cities they live in, or about the crisis in their lives. That gives me a lot of energy, but the International Film Camp is intense for them. You can see, it’s literally a lot of sweat. I haven’t seen blood yet, but I’ve seen tears.

“It’s very interesting to understand their struggle with identity, the fact that they deal with such a small market.”

Is this your first time as a mentor?

A.C. – It’s not the first time. I’ve done it several times in the last 10 years. It is, however, the first time I’m directing a short film lab. This is extremely important, because there are many young filmmakers in our region who, even if they have made some short films, may not understand the medium well. It’s the first time they’ve had one-on-one sessions with mentors. There are 16 participants and four mentors, and each of us helps four candidates. In the last few days I told them that the scripts were not good enough. I’ve been working with them on their ideas to get to the heart of the films, which is to find what they really want to convey.

And is that possible in five days?

A.C. – It’s not possible, and that’s why the work starts here, but it doesn’t end. When we leave Macao, we have to let them settle [the rest of it]. Of course, they have adjusted the stories and are ready for the final presentation, which is taking place right now. But there is still a lot of work ahead. I told them that if they are selected and have to do the script, they have a couple of months to deliver the film, so they have to keep working.

“Often I start from emotion as a central and unifying human condition. It’s not just about making a film about our hometown; it’s about understanding how we can make it universal.”

The theme for the scripts is “My Hometown”. What is the intention behind it?

A.C. – I think it’s a way for them to reflect on themselves and where they’re from. I think some of the best films in a filmmaker’s career are the most personal. Some have left their hometown, their country. Why? And those who stayed? Why? It is a debate about one’s own identity. If you look back, or try to get to the essence of your relationship with where you’re from, there are a lot of stories to tell. There are two participants from Macao, and both are in my group. In a way, it’s very interesting to understand their struggle with identity, the fact that they deal with such a small market, how they look at themselves and how they situate themselves in the world. It’s fascinating.

It is difficult to characterize Asian cinema, considering the cultural complexity of the continent. How do all these differences converge at the International Film Camp?

A.C. – I often start from emotion as a central and unifying human condition. It’s not just about making films about our hometowns; it’s about understanding how we can make them universal. It is necessary to find the angle, the emotion and the experience with which we can all identify, regardless of our origin. The question I ask them is: Why will people be interested? Why would I be interested? I’m from Singapore, I grew up there, but I’ve lived in other places. I’ve lived in London for a long time and now in Hong Kong. Why should I care? If we look anywhere in the world, it’s really this universal human condition that makes us relate to a movie. In the end, we are reflecting on our common identity. The seeds are planted here and I am curious to see, at the end of the year, which tree will take root.

“The feeling I get is that there are more and more resources being allocated by the Macao Government to try to develop the cultural space.”

How can a small market like Macao develop its film industry?

A.C. – Macao filmmakers are always telling me this. I think it’s good to be from a small place. I’m from a small place. In 2007, when I made my first short film, I won an award at Cannes. It was the first time Singapore had won an award there. When I made my first feature film, it won the prize of the Caméra d’Or in Cannes. It was the first time. I remember people texting me almost as if Singapore had won the World Cup. There weren’t many Singaporean films, there was no one before us. If you work hard, if you really create something that’s good, or even brilliant, you’re showing the world a little bit of yourself.

It may even be more appealing to the public, as it is a rare appearance.

A.C. – If we look at the number of Japanese films that come out of Japan every year, it’s difficult for a young Japanese filmmaker to break into the market. But if a really solid film is made about the Macao experience, I think the world will be very surprised when they discover it. A lot of filmmakers think they have to leave [small towns] to succeed, but they end up going to an even more competitive environment. The feeling I get is that there are more and more resources being allocated by the Macao Government to try to develop the cultural space. I think this city has grown to a point where it has its wealth, it has its infrastructure; The next step is to develop your culture. This is how people will identify with Macao and I think this is the right time. Local filmmakers just need to be themselves and make a good film.

Tags: Sands China

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