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An Exclusive Interview
with Director Djinn
(Part I)


  Interview


Foreword

We know it has been a long time, but don't worry, the filmmaker's interview you guys are waiting is finally back again. This time we are lucky to have our first Singaporean guest as our latest "victim", Djinn, a Singaporean filmmaker based in Los Angeles now. Thanks to director Djinn's generous support, the content of this interview is very broad, and hopefully it will provide a new perspective for those who want to learn more about Singaporean cinema. We would like to thank director Djinn for sharing his invaluable time with us.

Please enjoy the interview!

* Special thanks to David Ng for making the connection and Karen Yeo (Kazworks!) for arranging the interview.
* The interview was conducted in English.


Who is Djinn?

Djinn is a young and energetic Singaporean filmmaker. He started his career with the local Economic Development Board and later got an opportunity to work as a assistant director in Hong Kong director Yonfan's Bugis Street (1995).

In 1998, Djinn directed his first short film By the Dawn's Early Rise and it won the Best Short Film Award at Singapore International Film Festival. The next project was Return to Pontianak, the first DV feature of Singapore. The movie got Djinn a 3 picture deal for distribution from Shaw Brothers.

Djinn's latest work is Perth, a feature film that is premiering at Singapore International Film Festival on April 28 2004.

If you want to learn more about director Djinn, you can go to the website of his studio, Vacant Films, or you can find more information about Perth on its official website here.


  Djinn  


Perth

Cinespot: First of all, can you give us a brief introduction of your background? Like, how did you become a filmmaker?

Djinn: I don't have much of an education in film having taken history in university.
I started my working career with Singapore's Economic Development Board which was an intersting job enough promoting the set up of a local film industry (How I got that job beats me!) Following that soon after, I was given the opportunity to work on a Singapore Hong Kong Co-production as a second assistant director. I learnt a lot from that hands on exeperience and being born in the year of a monkey and a Saggitarius to boot, film being a 'project based' job suited my temperament to a tee.



Cinespot: What is Perth about?

Djinn: Perth the film is really not about a physical destination but the personal journey of a man in his early fifties (Representing in a way the passing of this generation mired in it's own mid-life crisis), who handicapped by his own flaws, chooses to white wash his fault in character by looking towards a Utopia where everything would be better and where he could start anew.

It is based and inspired by true events and persons that I am acquainted with and offers a slice of the other side of the the much stereotyped anti-septic streets of Singapore.



Cinespot: How did you come up with the idea of Perth? Why is it "Perth" but not other places?

Djinn: Perth has become a symbol to many Singaporeans as an alternative Utopia to that being created in Singapore. The Taxi drivers, Army Regular NCOs represent a passing generation of predominantly disfranchised lesser educated blue collar class, who have felt a little marginalized by the emphasis put upon tetiary qualifications and jobs that are 'Hi-tech' and with the high pressure environment which is matter of fact in Singapore.

Also my last two films had titles which were rather a mouthful so we decided to keep this one short!



Cinespot: This time, you got much more money to do the film, and the production crew was also bigger. So how was it different from your previous filming experiences?

Djinn: Only comparatively as the budget is still microscopic!

The last project with my producers Duncan Jepson, Damon Chua and Juan Foo (Return to Pontianak), we really had no budget and no crew. Juan was the decapitated dead body and had to suffer lying motionless (Which he did with great conviction) in a mosquito and spirit infested Banana grove for over 2 hours! Now that's commitment!!!

Most importantly, we actually had lights this time round and filmstock (as oppose to video)! That meant greater planning than ever before and the discipline kept me on my toes which was ultimately a good thing.

We could also afford a good crew this time which is everything. Perhaps because of his Banana tree experience, Juan picked a great team balancing the enthusiasm of youth with the experience of some real veterans. It was a tough shoot with 20 locations but we pulled through in a remarkable 22 days thanks to the crew!!



Cinespot: We know that Shaw Brothers has the distribution rights for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. So what about the rest of the world? Do you expect to bring this film out of Southeast Asia?

Djinn: Definitely, we need to!

When we first started raising money, we were very worried because colloquial but interesting subjects like Perth often suffer the stigma of being viewed as non-commercial and "artistic".

Yet we were very surprised that Shaw and the Singapore Film Commission viewed this project as one with good commercial potential.

That left us with raising the other half. The circuit for investors for feature films in Singapore is small. My producers have worked very hard for 3 years begging all and sundrie for money.

Duncan managed to convince a bunch of very "gung ho" younger set investors in Hong Kong predominantly (Where they are more used to filmmaking) to sink some money in. Similarly, Damon has done a miraculously job finding sponsors locally in Singapore in a dire economic environment.

But we need to make decent returns to keep the industry growing and more importantly make more films!

So yes, we definitely hope to see this film not only in Southeast Asia, but also I think it will travel well overall in Asia and Europe. We are already in this year's Singapore International Film Festival's Silver Screen Competition against the best of Asia and that's a good start.


  Djinn  


In Part II of the interview, director Djinn talks about his theory in filmmaking as well as his insight on the development of Singaporean cinema. Please click here to go to Part II!