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An Interview With Boo Junfeng – SYA 2011 Arts & Culture Awardee

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The winners of this year’s Singapore Youth Award 2011 (SYA) have been announced – we’ve got a film-maker (Mr Boo Junfeng), an entrepreneur (Mr Darius Cheung), a research scientist (Dr Teo Yik Ying), a community youth leader (Mr Terence Chia) and a team of cyber wellness trailblazers (Touch Cyber Wellness), in the mix. The SYA is the highest national honour conferred on youths in Singapore, and recognizes contributions made by youths in Singapore to the progress of society and honours young people whose achievements will serve as an inspiration to others.

We sat down for a quick interview with film-maker Boo Junfeng to find out his thoughts about youths and the art of filmmaking today.

His achievements in the film industry are impressive – at 27, his first feature film, Sandcastle, has travelled to multiple film festivals around the world, winning several awards at the Vietnam International Film Festival 2010 and the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2010. He was previously conferred the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in 2009 as well.

Junfeng decided that filmmaking was the career for him when he was just 15, and when asked what sparked his interest in cinema, he replied, “The idea of make-believe – the idea that within a frame, you capture something – a reality, and beyond it, it’s all fake. To be able to be the creator of that reality… That was just very inspiring for me.” His films are richly evocative, and they explore the interaction of human relationships, as well as offer a commentary on the mindsets of young Singaporeans today.

We also asked Junfeng what we could do to expose young people to films outside of Hollywood, and how to cultivate an appreciation for the film arts. He raises the issue of an apparent ‘prejudice’ against arthouse films: “We can be a bit more active in promoting these films. Surprisingly, theaters like Picturehouse or GV Cinema Europa see a surprising number of retirees or self-retirees who go because they have nothing else to do. I think sometimes it can be that first step that is important. We can help them take that first step by bringing these films into the heartlands and allowing folks to see these films without prejudice. . . Singapore theatre is actually very successful in drawing the public into the theatres. I think cinema has that potential.”

When asked about the sufficiency of support for aspiring young independent film-makers today, Junfeng said, “I do hope that organizations such as the Singapore Film Commission, Media Development Authority, will recognize the cultural significance of Singapore films and not fund films purely for commercial reasons . . . because if that is to continue, I think a lot of films with cultural and artistic significance would not be made, and then in the years to come there will be this void, where there’s no record of the thoughts of the present generation.”

He recently directed the official campaign video for Pink Dot SG 2011, and is planning to make a short film later this year.

Junfeng with the Sinema folks

(from left) Mr Darius Cheung, Dr Teo Yik Ying, Touch Cyber Wellness team, Boo Junfeng

We’ll leave you with some good advice from the man himself: “Don’t be afraid to take the plunge, and step out of your comfort zone – the world is way bigger than Singapore, and to open your mind you need to look beyond our shores. And also stepping out of your comfort zone, taking that plunge, that is usually the hardest step. The two works that I am probably still the most proud of, are my two short films — the one I did in Spain, where we were really just feeling our way in the dark, not speaking Spanish and just doing things the way we feel, and of course Sandcastle, my first feature film, taking the plunge into this whole unknown as well. Very often, on hindsight, these are the most rewarding things that one has made – they’re important to have.”

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