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​S’porean director’s debut film hits the bright lights in Rotterdam

Published on: 22-Feb-2018


(From left) Filmmaker John Clang, cast members Doreen Toh and Joavien Ng, cinematographer Lavender Chang and producer Elin Tew attending the world premiere of Their Remaining Journey at the recently-concluded IFFR. Photo: IFFR Press

ROTTERDAM — A debut film by a Singaporean director featuring an all-local cast of actors - most of whom are amateurs - recently hit the big stage at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), one of the biggest audience-oriented film festivals around the world.

Titled Their Remaining Journey, the movie is the first foray into full-length film-making by renowned Singaporean photographer John Clang, 45.c

The plot centres around a dead Singaporean theatre actress who wakes up as a wandering spirit and finds herself living with a family of strangers while an ex-mistress and an unfaithful husband go about their daily lives in New York and Taiwan, respectively.

The movie was funded by Mr Clang himself, and was shot on a budget of US$100,000 (S$133,000).

It is shot largely in black and white, with sparse dialogue, long takes and an observational style of film-making that documents everyday, uneventful moments in the characters’ lives.

Mr Clang, one of Singapore’s most celebrated photographers and visual artists, admits that the experimental work was a challenge for viewers more accustomed to conventional narratives.

“For all the screenings (at Rotterdam), I sat at the back and counted - we had 12 walkouts on the first screening, two on the second but none on the third,” he said.

“I guess some people didn’t know what to expect from the first screening. But the audiences from the second and third ones were more appreciative and responsive, and the general feedback I got from them was that they were moved by the film.”

He makes no apologies for his “left field” approach, saying: “The plots of films are a little bit too overdone nowadays. I’d like to do something that is off the beaten path.

“Instead of focusing on the plot, my film is a reflection of what’s going on at a given point of time in life, as time passes on,” he added.

“I’m using the people inside my film as a mirror of the larger society and the world.”

The IFFR was just the tonic for a movie like Their Remaining Journey.

It is known for championing experimental and progressive independent cinema.

Their Remaining Journey was in the running against 17 other films for the Bright Future Award, given to film-makers presenting the world or international premiere of their first feature-length film in the festival’s Bright Future programme.

The award was presented to Brazilian writer-director Tiago Melo’s debut film Azougue Nazare.

IFFR programmer Muge Demir, who selects films from South-east Asia for the festival, described Their Remaining Journey as “a serene film that elegantly captures the journey of three characters caught between life and death.”

“Instead of highlighting their personal crises, Clang focuses on the mundane aspects of these lives with integrity, and an ever-present tangible sense of affection,” she said.

Mr Clang, who is currently based in New York, was the first photographer to receive the Designer of the Year award at the President’s Design Award, the most prestigious design accolade in Singapore, in 2010.

The movie marks the culmination of a decades-long dream to expand his repertoire from photography to film-making, something he has dreamed about since he was 23.​

“At that time, I hadn’t found my voice yet. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to say with this medium, so I held it off until I finally realised what I wanted to do with my first film, 20 years later,” said Mr Clang in an interview.

On his casting choices - with the exception of theatre actress Doreen Toh, who has starred in homegrown Mandarin productions, the actors and actresses were amateurs - Mr Clang said: “Most of my art involves real people participating in a process that they are not familiar with, and (this film) is exactly that.

“I wanted to challenge the actors to give out certain emotions; nobody knew what filming would take place the next day because I did not want them to be prepared,” he added.

He picked his cast, which included his parents and friends, carefully, he added, and used their individual personalities to guide his choices.

Mr Clang is now in the midst of writing the script for his second film, which will follow the lives of two Singaporean and Korean women.

Like Their Remaining Journey, Mr Clang hopes to cast non-professional actresses in the roles and similarly weave their real-life stories into his film’s fictional framework.

“My idea is to invite people sitting in front of the goggle-box to appear inside the goggle-box. This is to bring their life onto the big screen and use a fictional narrative as a safety veil for them to be themselves,” he said.

“I think I have managed to start something that matters to me and hopefully, something that will matter in the future.”

Published in ​TODAYonline, 15 February, 2018,​

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