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[InC-terview] Utter 2017 producer, David Lee!

By Say Peng  /  30 Sep 2017 (Saturday)

David Lee wears many hats. He is most known as the vice chairman and chief programmer of the Singapore Film Society as well as the Festival Director of the annual Singapore Chinese Film Festival. In recent years, however, Lee has taken on the role of producer. In 2015, for the first time, together with his colleague Eternality Tan, Lee helmed the production of Utter. Five animation short films were produced and were positively received by local audiences. Two of the shorts -- Tan Wei Keong's The Great Escape and Henry and Harry Zhuang's The Tiger of 142B --  even competed at prestigious international animation film festivals. In 2016, Lee produced two short films for the Silver Arts Festival. One of them was Ler Jiyuan's The Drum, which went on to compete at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. This year, Lee returns to helm Utter.

InCinemas speaks with David Lee about producing the latest edition of Utter.


InCinemas: Unlike the past editions of Utter, where the program was either exclusively live action short films or animation short films, for this year, why did you decide to have two live action short films as well as two animation short films?

David: Having produced Utter 2015 with 5 animation directors, we knew the potential for animation to go well with literary adaptation and for it to be bold and experimental. However, having done that before, we don't just want to do another purely 'animation' edition. It is about finding a balance between live action and animation, and a balance between poetic and more experimental works with those that are more rooted in narrative. I think, working with the filmmakers, we managed to find a good balance between the two.

InCinemas: Why did you select these four particular directors?

​David: It is through ongoing conversations and dialogue with many different filmmakers. Having worked with the Zhuangs before, I am always looking for other opportunities to collaborate with them again and they are also keen on attempting another adapation with Utter. Jerrold was not able to work on the previous Utter 2015, even though we approached him then, as he was still busy with his final year project at [California Institute of the Arts]. So when the opportunity came, he was also keen and enthusiastic to take up the challenge. As for Rajagopal and Thean-jeen, I have always been an admirer of their work, especially with their most recent feature films like A Yellow Bird, Bringing Back the Dead, and adaptation is also something that they have done before, so I reckon it would be interesting to to work with them and see how they would approach the shortlist of Singlit authors and texts.

InCinemas: We noticed that you did not follow the usual tradition of racial diversity by having at least one Chinese, one Malay and one Indian director. Instead, there are three Chinese directors and one Indian director. Can you share with us why you did not include a Malay director in the line-up?

​David: It has always been the intention of SWF to have minority representation and diversity, but that representation is in the form of the language of the selected texts instead of the racial makeup of filmmakers. So the rule we set for ourselves (both SWF and producer) has always been to have at least one text that is not in the English language. For Utter 2017, we have two - Song of the Waves and The Giant.

InCinemas: Amongst the four short films, which is your favourite? Can you tell us why?

​David: That is a delicate question. Every short is different and my feeling towards them is also different at the various process of filmmaking and watching. I really like the script written by Thean-jeen and his take on expanding the themes and story of Gregory Nalpon's. I was very intrigued by Rajagopal's concept and how he relates and connects J M Sali's story to his own films and his experience in engaging with the different iterations of the text in English and Tamil. The more I watch the self-reflexive film, the more layers I discovered of Rajagopal's film, and the more I grew to love it. I really admire the painstaking efforts of the Zhuang brothers and the meticulous thought and craft that went behind creating the stop motion piece, and how they make it all seem so easy and natural on screen. I think that is the most fun piece for me, with all the overt political allegory, despite the technical challenges behind it. Finally for Jerrold's piece, it was a real team effort for Jerrold to marshal his team of animators and interns to help execute his vision and upon hearing the full sound design by Lim Tingli in 5.1 audio when watching for the first time the big screen, I was blown away by the cinematic experience that the film has given me.

InCinemas: Why do you think that adaptation is important? And what do you hope that these short film adaptations achieve?

​David: I think we have a wealth of Singapore literary works to tap on and it is always an interest for me as an audience/ producer/ curator to challenge the filmmakers and see how they could create new works of art inspired by the original texts. I hope that through watching the films, audiences will in turn be stoked to 'unearth' and discover the works of these writers, and thus promoting Singlit to a wider and new generation of readers.

Screening Dates:

Saturday 4 November, 730pm @ National Gallery Singapore (Auditorium)
*Post-screening dialogue with JM Sali, Lee Thean-jeen, K Rajagopal, Richard Angus Whitehead, David Lee                 
Moderator: Li Lin Wee
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