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[InC-terview] Director Ler Jiyuan's The Drum wins best film at inaugural Viddsee Juree Awards!

By Say Peng  /  28 Aug 2018 (Tuesday)

Film still from The Drum

Ler Jiyuan is a Singaporean TV and film director. 

He has directed telemovies such as Gone Case and Love Machine as well as TV series such as The Pupil, Code of Law, and Zero Calling

The Drum was a commissioned short film for the annual Silver Arts festival in 2016.

InCinemas speaks to Ler about The Drum, which has recently won the Gold Winner at the inaugural Viddsee Juree Awards. 

What inspired you to tell this story?
Ler: I was contacted by David from The Filmic Eye to do a short film for the NAC Silver Arts Festival. I was really interested since I had not done short films in more than a decade. We were tasked by NAC to produce a short film that contained two elements:  the elderly in Singapore and the Arts.

The inspiration for The Drum is a question that Dave Chua (my co-writer) should answer as well. Dave and I came up with the story for The Drum after a number of meetings, sharing our thoughts on what were the plights of elderlies in Singapore. I think stories about the elderlies in Singapore are particularly important because of our ageing population. The issues they face, their psychology, all need to be brought to the public consciousness. This is especially so in this age of blockbusters. The voices of these "invisible people" are being drowned out. There should be more stories about them.

Out of so many different kinds of drums, why did you specifically choose the tabla?
Ler: I actually have no idea. Dave was the one who came up with it, haha. I thought it was quite bizarre at first. But I'm a big fan of Dave, and I knew he was up to something. So I ran with it. 
When the first draft of the script came out, I truly saw why he made that choice. The staging was pure poetry: an uptight, chauvinistic Chinese old man found a surrogate son in his Indian tenant. In the depths of his depression, the old man turns to the tabla the tenant left behind for solace. This tabla, in turn, becomes the bridge between him and his own son, a struggling musician whose profession he had always been against.... WOW! This, to me, is just beautiful. 

Film still from The Drum
Having done TV for so long, what challenges did you face in making The Drum?

Ler: I was really happy to be able to make The Drum. At the same time, I was feeling very pressured as well. This was, after all, my first short film in a long time.

The folks at NAC [National Arts Council] and The Filmic Eye were super cool people who gave me 100% creative control. This was really liberating. But at the same time, it also meant that if I had screwed up, I couldn't blame it on some higher authority. It was all my fault!

Well, I think I didn't do that badly in the end, phew. 

Film still from The Drum

You have worked with actor Wang Yuqing on three short films, including The Drum. What about him as an actor attracts you?
Ler: Wang Yu Qing is a man I really look up to. I am filled with gratitude whenever I talk about Yu Qing, because he is the kindest person you will ever know. I feel really blessed to be his friend. We will work together soon again for sure. 
In summary: (1) He's super handsome. (2) He's super talented. (3) He's super nice and has no airs. 

The Drum was in competition at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival last year. It was also your first time competing at an international film festival. How was the experience and how was the film received?
Ler: My experience at Clermont Ferrand was pure shock and awe. You have to understand - this was the very first film festival I had ever competed in, and I didn't know it was this HUGE. When I was there, every single screening was filled. And these were people who sat silently until the end credits were over. Not a single handphone light. No WhatsApp pings. No chit-chatting. The film culture over there was AMAZING. And the films.... wow... I was filled with low self-esteem when I watched them. They were so good. I am just really grateful someone thought my film was worthy to be in competition with these brilliant films.
The Drum was well-received. I had a lot of people coming up to me and asking me questions about the film. I was very happy that my small little film could touch them as well.  

Photo credit: The Drum Facebook page

What upcoming films of yours can we look forward to?
Ler: Me and my wife Wendy are currently working on a documentary about our dog who died of cancer in 2015. The title of the film is "Vios" - also the name of our black labrador. 
"Vios" is a short documentary that captures the last days of our dog's battle with terminal cancer, and how we struggled with the decision to let her go. When Vios fell sick 3+ years ago, we shot a lot of videos of our lives back then - taking care of her, spending whatever precious time is left with her. The original intention was to firstly remember her, and secondly to make a canine cancer awareness video. However, after Vios died, we were too emotionally distraught to do anything. Only now, more than 3 years later, we are able to face the footage. After assessing what we have, I told Wendy we should make a documentary instead. It will do more justice to the memory of our beloved dog. 
Making this film has been extremely emotionally exhausting for us. There isn't a single time Wendy can sit through the edit of the film without crying her eyes out. For me, I have made the decision to never watch the film again after we are done with it - which will be soon. 
Interestingly, this will also be my first documentary in nearly a decade.

Watch The Drum as well as other winners and nominated films of the Viddsee Juree Awards here.
To find out more about Ler's upcoming documentary Vios, check out the film's Instagram and Facebook page.
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