A post-Berlinale interview with Boo Junfeng
Mathias Ortmann (MO): You’ve recently been taking part in Berlin International Film Festival (aka: Berlinale). First off: How did you cope with the cold?
Boo Junfeng (BJ): Yes it was freezing! But I had gotten used to it. I was at Clermont-Ferrand just before Berlin and it was snowing there as well.
MO: It’s been the first time that one of your films has been shown in a category A festival. What does this mean to you?
BJ: It means a lot. It was the first time I was attending a major festival with a film in selection. It also came at a perfect timing, with my first feature coming up.
MO: Can you please shortly outline for us the process of getting into Berlinale as in your case? How did you learn about being selected for their Panorama section?
BJ: Basically I just tried every major festival that came along: the usual tedious process of filling up forms, packaging DVDs, making sure the submission meets the entry requirements etc. Someone from the secretariat gave me a call in mid-January to inform me of the selection. As you can imagine, I was elated.
MO: Berlin International is known to be a very political film festival. In this context, what is the significance of having Tanjong Rhu selected, a short about anti-gay police entrapments in Singapore in the mid-90s?
BJ: Yes, I only realised that when I got there! I think it is interesting to me how people tend to pick out and magnify the political aspects of the film. I made it a point not to turn the film into a politically charged polemic, despite its potentially-controversial subject matter. I wanted to humanise the incident by telling a story that will allow the Singapore audience to empathise with the victims of the Fort Road Incident.
MO: What do you think of the pairing, your film to be shown as a fore to Simon Chung’s End of Love?
BJ: I think the two films are very different.
MO: There were five screenings of Tanjong Rhu in all how was your film received? Any questions from the audience that surprised you?
BJ: The best response came from the Teddy Shorts screening, where all LGBT-themed short films from the entire Berlinale were picked out and screened in one programme. The audience was made up mainly of a gay and lesbian crowd and they were very generous with their applause. Most people were interested to find out how Singaporeans have reacted to the film.
MO: What are the most striking and lasting impressions you have been taking back home from Berlin? What was the most rewarding part about going there in the first place?
BJ: I was impressed with how BIG the Berlinale was! It’s so massive it’s overwhelming. I guess the most rewarding part was being able to screen the film to a discerning audience and observing how people reacted to it. Even though the incident on which the film is based is geographically so far away, the issue of discrimination seemed to have hit home for those who have come up and spoken to me.
MO: You are a seasoned festival and movie-goer, of course, and know Singapore film just as well. Judging from the screenings you attended (apart from your own), how would you qualify the current state and standing, the level of maturity if you will, of local productions by comparison?
BJ: It is hard for me to judge because I am a part of this local community. The films that have impressed me the most at the Berlinale were the small ones with a lot of heart. A number of them are issue-based.
MO: By your reckoning, what if anything is still missing in the equation for Singaporean films and their makers to catch up with the international festival “elite”? Can such a sweeping case be made for or against local films, or does it really come down to individual talent and accomplishments solely?
BJ: Yes it does come down to what each individual hopes to accomplish and how he/she does it. It’s hard to ascertain what is “missing”. Let’s keep it organic.
MO: You have an attachment now with BIFF, a first and crucial inroad, which is always helpful. Do you have any plans already for coming back?
BJ: HopefullyÃ¢â‚¬¦ with my future projects.
MO: Do you see a viable perspective in the Berlinale’s WCF (World Cinema Fund) for possible future co-production?
BJ: Everything is possible. I just haven’t explored that possibility.
MO: A piece of advice and practical wisdom to share with your local peers and those who wish to follow in your footsteps?
BJ: I don’t think my footsteps are worth following, really. We’ve all been feeling our way around. I believe we’re moving in the right direction based on our instincts. Just keep doing what you’re doing!
MO: Personally, professionally, where do you go from here?
BJ: I am working on my feature film script. Zhao Wei Films is producing it. Hopefully I can have it written and we can start production by the third quarter of this year.
MO: And finally, here is your opportunity to give away the one key secret about your upcoming feature, exclusively on Sinema.SG!
BJ: It is a dementia story, involving a boy and his grandmother. The rest is such a secret I don’t even know it myself! I’m working on it! : )
MO: Thank you so much, Junfeng, for taking the time!