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[InC-terview] SGIFF 2016's Best Singapore Short Film winner Chiang Wei Liang is back with a new short film!

By Say Peng  /  11 Nov 2017 (Saturday)
Taiwan-based Singaporean filmmaker Chiang Wei Liang, whose short film Anchorage Prohibited won Best Singapore Short Film, has been commissioned by the Singapore International Film Festival 

InCinemas: You mentioned that your latest short film Nyi Ma Lay is in the same vein as your previous short, Anchorage Prohibited. By that, do you mean the same style and also the same theme?
Wei Liang: The focus is the same. Because we won a prize and, therefore, the opportunity to make a short at SGIFF, and I thought that all these things should be interconnected.  It should have an extended platform to continue talking about these issues. So I thought that with Anchorage Prohibited winning here and having the opportunity to make a short film, it should be only right that it's in the same vein and the focus is still on migrants and their plights in their host countries. Execution-wise, it's a bit different. But I think the focus is the same.

InCinemas: Both Anchorage Prohibited and Nyi Ma Lay was shot mainly static and in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Why that kind of aesethetics?
Wei Liang: All my shorts are 4:3. Shorts, to me, are like moments in time in which characters find themselves. The actors that have been in my films, they are all non-actors. With non-actors in a long shot, you don't want your audience to wander around. You want them to focus on the characters that are being portrayed. So I think the 4:3 format works for me. It's okay enough to hold attention on a person even though nothing much is happening. Your eyes won't wander so much. That's my own take on it. Maybe I'll venture into wider aspect ratios when I make features. 

Regarding aesthetics and execution, it's a bit different. This is static but the camera is moving. It's a 20-minute one long shot, but with the same focus on using non-actor and putting real people in real occupation in similar roles on screen.

InCinemas: I'd like to ask about psychology. In your past works, the audience doesn't have much access to the psychology and the backstory of the characters. We don't really know why they are in this situation, what are they feeling...
Wei Liang: I'd disagree on that. Because I think with a lot of background information that you can get, the news that you hear, you probably have heard about helpers getting pregnant. Certainly you have heard of people getting mistreated or took their own lives. You have contextual knowledge already. I don't think that as a short, that in such a short frame of time, we have to be too didatic about a lot of things. The audience has to work as well. It's a 50-50 thing. So there is a room for me to create something with my team and there is a room for the audience to participate. Whatever they come away with, whatever that is in their minds after the film, I'm okay with that. 

InCinemas: Are migrant worker issues something you'd explore long term?
Wei Liang: Yeah, for sure. Well... I won't say just the migrant issue. So far my on-going project is to make ten short films linking Taiwan and Asean countries. So I've done Taiwan-Singapore, Taiwan-Vietname, Taiwan-Philippines, and I'm going to keep making more. Next one is Taiwan and Thailand. So it's not just pertaining to migrant issues only, but geopolitical issues in the region through the framing of everyday life's quandaries. 

InCinemas: Do you think your films will have a social impact on the migrant workers themselves? Would your films help improve their condition?
Wei Liang: Nope. No, to be honest. Last year, I made this short about migrant workers [Anchorage Prohibited]. And you realise that nobody truly cares, to be honest. Because of Berlin [International Film Festival, where the film won a prize], there is more attention in Taiwan about this. But if I talk to media, they are focusing on me. They ignore the rest. That's why I reject media request from Singapore, Taiwan, anywhere... I don't really do them. There is no point in doing them. What I do on my own is that, say, for example, I have prize money, I will donate. Like whereever I screen my film, the screening fees go to local groups. I know it's not much, but it's the least I could do. If there are labour groups that want to screen the film, I give the film to them, no problem. If needed to speak about things, I could do it on my own. 

I know that a film doesn't change shit for sure. I'm not bitter about it. 

InCinemas: If making films don't change anything and you sound very passionate about migrant worker issues, why not give up filmmaking and be an activist?
Wei Liang: So for me right, I'm not really a people person. I don't feel comfortable speaking. I don't mind doing work on my own, which I have already done. I do voluntary work. But for me, images do have a way to transcend. So while it doesn't change anything, it can create a platform. It would dissipate eventually, but just keep making. I'm not alone in this. A lot of my other friends are making them as well. So I don't see it as entirely hopeless. But the change or impact that you have in mind when you asked that question, it's not possible. We have to be realistic about it. 

Chiang Wei Liang's Nyi Ma Lay will open the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition and be screened as part of Programme 1 on 1st December.
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