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Interview with Eric Lim, director of Remember Chek Jawa

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This May, Sinema Old School has garnered the privilege to screen Eric Lim’s documentary, Remember Chek Jawa. The film, which took about six years to produce (beginning in 2001), shows an alternative side of urban Singapore and the congregation of the human spirit to save what is left of our natural environment.

01chek.jpgOnce destined to be put up for reclamation, Chek Jawa has won the hearts of people from all walks of life and has since averted it’s terrible fate. Through their undying determination and great efforts, the film embraces the power of human will and how one person can make all the difference. Eric Lim talks more about his experience.

Tiffany Ng (TN):You took a span of about 6 years to finally come out with Remember Chek Jawa. How would you describe the process of making this documentary? What were some of the difficulties you faced?

EL: In one word… Longsuffering. Nevertheless, i learned a lot. Not just in making a documentary but in the subject matter of marine biology and the various ecosytems. I never knew what Singapore has to offer in terms of its biodiversity and got more interested in nature documentary after that. The difficulties faced were plenty.

First, I have to make time to go down to Chek Jawa during low tide to shoot the animals, which happened at odd hours like 3am early in the morning sometimes. Then I need to find time to edit about 1300 minutes of footages. It’s really tough doing everything alone, which I hope not to repeat again. But i think the toughest for me are… Firstly, the process of crafting a storyline from a subject matter that involves so many issues-political, social and nature.Secondly, is in gaining the trust of the volunteers featured in my film. I need to spend a lot of time and effort to get to know them and gain their trust. They were quite worried that I might mis-represent their efforts.

TN: What spurred you to do something environmental and non-fictional as opposed to something fictional or ‘based on a real story’ kind of film?

EL: This project came to me by chance after I learned about Chek Jawa from a friend and fellow volunteer at the Singapore Zoo – Ria Tan. She’s also one of the character in the film. She introduced me to Chek Jawa and brought me there. And I got to know about the survey’s volunteers through her. At that point, I was very intrigued by the 02chek.jpgbio-diversity at Chek Jawa and the efforts of the volunteers that was raring to do something for Chek Jawa at the eleventh hour. Although, I have a special affection for documentaries, but mostly I don’t really have any preference to a particular type or genre of film to work on. The thing that matters most to me is the story. If the story interest me, I’ll go for it. Having said that, I do hope more Singaporeans will make and watch documentaries made on Singapore. One of the reasons, I feel is… we need to know and learn more about what we have, where we come from, who we are, etc. I think this is important to our sense of identity and knowing our roots, especially in this era when we are constantly bombarded by other cultures from the media. We need to know what we have and had for us to grow and mature as a nation with citizens that are proud of our own heritage.

TN: The title is rather simple and straightforward. Why did you make it that way and why ‘Remember Chek Jawa’ instead of ‘Remembering Chek Jawa’?

EL: Since the event happened about seven years ago in 2001, I thought the title is a good way for me to ask Singaporeans to remember what happened then. Particularly, on how we almost lost Chek Jawa and the efforts
that was made by the public to save it. And also because Chek Jawa is only protected till 2012. After that, if the government wants to develop the area, they still can. People nowadays are very forgetful. Secondly, the title is appropriate also because it is the name of the survey conducted by the volunteers featured in the film.

TN: What are some of the reactions you received when people knew about your plans to make this film?

EL: “What is this guy up to?” “Will he get us thrown into jail?” “Are you sure you want to do this?” “Can he do it?” These were some of the reactions.

TN: In the film, Mr Joseph Lai mentioned that “not many Singaporeans took the effort to go and find out things” which is partly the reason why Chek Jawa was only discovered recently, despite so many “nature groups and academics”. He went on to say that there is “something missing”. What do you think is this missing factor in Singapore society?

EL: My personal interpretation of what is missing is the desire of Singaporeans to explore and appreciate what our own country has to offer, particularly of its natural heritage. However, this is true of its cultural heritage as well.

TN: How has making this film changed you? In terms of your perception on conservation and ‘the human spirit’.

05chek.jpgEL: It has definitely raised my awareness of the urgency and importance of conservation in Singapore, especially with the speed of development in Singapore. I think it has made me want to do more as a filmmaker to preserve and promote some of Singapore’s unique natural and cultural heritage. As for ‘human spirit’, if you are refering to the efforts of the volunteers, I think it shows that when a person truly believe in what he or she wants to accomplish, the sky is the limit.

TN: Do you have any plans to follow up on this environmental movement, for example, further developments on Chek Jawa or even another environmental film?

EL: Frankly, I don’t think I consider myself an environmentalist. But I hope I can continue to contribute to Singapore’s environmental conservations efforts in one way or another, not neccessary through film. However, Chek Jawa will always have a unique place in my heart because I went through so much with her, and especially since this is my first nature related documentary. Hence, I’ll continue to contribute in whatever ways I can to the well being of Chek Jawa.
But as a film-maker, I would like to explore other topics and subject matters as well.

TN: In creating greater awareness about our environment and involving more people in conservation programmes, do you think that it may have a backfiring effect? That is, with more people coming to know about those un-ventured territories, we might in turn cause it to be in danger of being developed.

EL: I think the ‘backfiring effect’ is not likely and that there will be more good than bad. Frankly, I think even if greater public awareness is not created, fast business-minded individuals can still eventually discover and develop any place that they want. However, when more public awareness are created, there will be a critical mass of people that will stand up and speak for the place that they care about. And this is precisely what happened at Chek Jawa.

TN: What are some of the feedbacks you received after people watched your film? Did the Chek Jawa cause see more people wanting to be involved in it because of your film?

EL: Well, most people, including some of my film-maker collaborators told me that they never knew such a amazing04chek.jpg place like this exist in Singapore till they saw the film. They also never expect that Singapore has such people who will go through all the trouble to preserve Chek Jawa. I’m not sure if the film cause more people to be involve in Chek Jawa. I certainly hope so and would love for them to feedback to me on the film’s website. And I hope people will explore and appreciate other nature areas of Singapore as well. Truly, these responses are what
makes the six years of making this film worthwhile. One of my wish is that this film can help create some kind
of movement in awareness and conservation efforts in Singapore. That’s why I created the film website which
is a blog that people can give comments and reviews.

Other screenings of Chek Jawa will be on May 19 and May 26, 2008 | 9.30pm | Sinema.

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