Filmmaker Spotlight: “Forever”

In the GIFF Filmmaker Spotlight, GIFF interviews writer/director Li Lin Wee and writer/director Silvia Wong from Singapore, about their movie “Forever”; a Grand Jury Award nominee for Best Feature Narrative – and a U.S. Premiere here at GIFF. (Screening Saturday, Oct.1, 8:15pm, Stadium 5 at the Micronesia Mall Theatres. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION)

GIFF: Before we get started – Li Lin, congratulations to you and your husband Charles! I understand the two of you just came back from attending the Venice Film Festival, in which Charles was awarded a Special Mention for his short film, “All The Lines Flow Out”.  I’m sure it was very exciting! How was the experience? Did he know he was to receive the mention?

LI LIN: Thank you so much! We were very shocked and surprised and he had no idea that he was going to get it. But the curators of the section kept telling him how beautiful they thought his film was and I had a good feeling, but Charles said the competition was so keen, best not to expect anything. But I’ve always thought the work was something special. It originated as an art installation for the Singapore Biennale and he made it into something a bit more narrative for Venice and I think it became something even more interesting and engaging.  People who’ve seen it on both platforms have responded very well to the work. Charles has such a unique eye and its also evidenced in “Forever” for which he was the art director. He is so talented!

GIFF:  Now let’s talk about FOREVER! I want to thank you both so much for taking the time to do the interview – we are completely honored to have FOREVER in the inaugural festival lineup and as a Grand Jury Nominee. And congratulations on your Malaysian theatrical release. I understand this was a big triumph for a Singaporean indie film to make a theatrical release in Malaysia. Tell us about it.

SILVIA: You’re right. Although the two neighbouring countries have a lot in common culturally and historically, it’s not easy for a non-mainstream Singapore film to get a theatrical release in Malaysia (due to issues facing most non-mainstream films such as the lack of screens, the overwhelming success of Hollywood titles, etc). Although I’m not involved in the production of Gone Shopping (I didn’t know Li Lin then), I took on the sales after its Singapore theatrical release. Gone Shopping was a breakthrough for a Singapore indie film when it received a three-print release in and around the capital Kuala Lumpur two years ago. It was a moderate success in commercial terms but most importantly, it helped Li Lin gained exposure. We’re extremely pleased that Forever, opened in July this year on the same print count and with the same shoestring marketing budget, doubled the box office of Gone Shopping. Both titles were also picked up by a pay-TV broadcaster.

LI LIN: It’s an honor to get released in Malaysia and for me, when i make my films, it feels like the smart thing to try to get it shown in Malaysia, the two countries share so many similar traits and quirks and I feel the Malaysians get my humor and sensibilities. It was a very nice thing but from what I know, not easy to come by (for a Singapore movie to get a Malaysian release) so I feel very lucky.

GIFF: You both co-wrote the screenplay for the film. Okay now…be honest…how much of the character JOEY was drawn from personal experience?

LI LIN: Joey’s character was drawn from a real woman I met. Many years ago I directed a government video to promote marriage in Singapore and I had to answer to this rather uptight lady who was my client and who worked for the government agency that promoted marriage in Singapore. When the job was over she loosened up and confessed to me that she in fact did not believe in marriage and that she was stalking her ex who jilted her. The contradiction in her character haunted me for a long time and i decided to write a script about her and Silvia was keen to come along for the crazy ride, so we created Joey from this experience but also infused our own sensibilities and humor into it. The real lady was more “Alex Forrest” in “Fatal Attraction” but we wanted more “Amelie”. On a personal note, I am rather OCD and I am very susceptible to crushing and border line obsessing.  but I’d much rather spend most of my energies writing and trying to make a film than stalking someone, but if I didn’t have my creative outlet (and my marriage!) who knows? However, we are all capable of going all out for love and to try to make our fantasies come true.

GIFF: In a male-dominated industry, what would you say is the easiest and most difficult aspects of writing a feature length screenplay from a female’s perspective?

LI LIN: I didn’t encounter any problems as the film does not set out to make a feminist statement, it’s just a quirky character study and a light satire on marriage. The challenging aspects are more about just keeping the narrative and character interesting and coherent.

GIFF: Let’s talk about the cast. Joanna Dong is such a fantastic talent! She can do it all. How was it like to cast her, being that this is her feature film debut?

(note: Joanna Dong won a Star Hunter award at the recent Shanghai Int’l Film Festival. The new award is an honour given out to 10 most promising young actors in Asia. She’s only one of the three talents outside China to receive this award. CLICK HERE FOR MORE!)

LI LIN: Joanna is something special, she can dance, sing and obviously, she can act! She came in the middle of the audition process and we knew she was going to make the short list. We met about eighty or more actresses for the role, short-listed four and then two and by then we knew, it was her. Joanna, like the real stalker who inspired the story, is also a woman of contradictions, she can do sweet, she can do creepy, she can do warm, she can do menacing … all in one move, one expression. And  she has such great skin and gorgeous eyes. Joanna was also very generous with her time and very supportive of the other actors. We were lucky to get her for the film.

GIFF: Silvia, you look at the caliber of talent, both behind and in front of the scenes of FOREVER and one would think by watching the film that it was a producer’s dream come true. Solid cast, great director, knowledgeable team. How involved were you as a producer and did you find it easy or difficult to gain the support you needed to make the film?

SILVIA: Working on Forever is about multi-tasking. From developing the script, putting together the project, to overseeing the shoot, post production as well as marketing and sales, I’m there every step of the way. But I couldn’t do it without my partner in crime, Li Lin, and the team, including the amazing cast, the dedicated crew, plus the support of various post production partners. Some may say that it’s tricky to be a producer and a co-writer as the business mind tends to clash with the creative mind! But I think these dual roles enable me to support the vision of the director in the most cost-effective way. That I’m also the line producer required me to be on set everyday. It brought me closer to the cast and crew as well as allowed me to manage the budget more effectively.

GIFF: Li Lin, the visual aesthetics of FOREVER were just as gorgeous as they were in your previous feature film, GONE SHOPPING. How would you describe your approach to directing feature films in order to achieve such a consistent style? Are you even conscious of it or is it instinctual?

LI LIN: Thank you! I came from a painting and photography background and to spend time putting together the mise-en-scene is so important for me. What’s framing the actor and what’s on their frame (the wardrobe) all comes to play to help me propel the character and the story I’m trying to express. For both my films, the characters lived in their own warped sense of reality and i wanted everything to reflect that. I like creating an alternate world for audiences to experience things more romantically, more fantastically and more heightened.

GIFF: If there was one thing that you wish the audience could take from this film, what would it be?

LI LIN: The wrong person could still be the right fit.

GIFF: And a question that I’m sure you’re tired of being asked…What’s your next project?

LI LIN: I’m working in a new screenplay called “Singapore Cowboy” and its about a Singaporean man who after a head injury becomes his alter ego, a singing, walking, talking cowboy who wants to leave his family and head to Nashville and become the first Asian singing country star.

GIFF: I’d pay to see that! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

LI LIN: I’d love to shoot a film in Guam!

GIFF: With all the accolades and acknowledgement that you both have received, between the two of you, I’m sure you’re immune to the initial shock of getting a nod, but you can add another nomination to the list for the Grand Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature here at GIFF.  Congratulations to you and your team!

LI LIN: It was a lovely surprise and a great honor.

GIFF: Now for “The Quick Five” survey:

1. What I knew about Guam before GIFF:
LI LIN: Was the the two coolest people I ever met in a festival were from Guam, the Muna brothers.

2. What I would’ve liked to accomplish at GIFF 2011:
LI LIN: For more audiences to see “Forever’ and hopefully for the jury to respond well to it as well!

3. How I heard about GIFF:
LI LIN: From Kel!

4. Things I would love to do on Guam:
LI LIN: Watch the films, hang out with the Muna brothers, meet new friends and see the wonderful country!

5. As a visitor, I would love to learn more about Guam’s ________.
LI LIN: History, especially the occupation by the Japanese as I’m also working on a screenplay about the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

GIFF: Thanks for your time Li Lin and Sylvia! And good luck with the nomination.

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