Director Liew Seng Tat needs little introduction when it comes to filmmaking in Southeast Asia. The director who rose to fame with his first feature Flower in the Pocket and later Lelaki Harapan Dunia has been making great strides in the film industry. His debut feature, Flower in the Pocket, which was released in 2007 snagged numerous awards such as the Tiger Award at the 2008 Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Audience Award at the 2007 Pusan International Film Festival.
The film, which revolves around two young brothers and their father, who earns a living repairing broken mannequins, showcased the growing disconnect between the father and his two sons. Utilising a unique offbeat humour as a point of social satire, Flower in the Pocket serves up a powerful yet light-hearted message on childhood innocence and the importance of familial affection.
Flower in the Pocket is one of the films being screened at the Singapore Film Festival (SGIFF 2017), which will be held from 23 November to 3 December 2017 and Pass The Popcorn was fortunate to be able to speak to Liew Seng Tat to find out about his journey in film, his inspiration and what he hopes to impart on the future generation of filmmakers.
As a filmmaker in Asia, do you focus on telling stories for a broader audience or an Asian audience that would find the stories more relatable?
I make films for the white, yellow, brown, black, pink, purple and some other indescribable coloured people out there, and from aged 5 to 105 (if they are still alive).
What are the biggest challenges you face as a filmmaker here in Asia?
Biggest challenges are too many to mention but for me, the MOST important one is to come out with a good script. It remains and will remain the biggest challenge as long as I’m making films.
In the case of Flower in the Pocket, what were the driving factors for you to make this film?
I’ve done enough short films from 2003 – 2006 and thought it was time to tackle the monster, which is to make my first feature length film. Back then, I was reaching a point in my life where I don’t see myself continuing my career as a 3D animator anymore. It really wasn’t fun anymore. I liked making short films and I thought, if I were to be serious about filmmaking, I should make a feature film. That was how Flower was born. Soon after that, I quit my animation job and the rest is history.
Why was it important for you to tell this particular story?
I didn’t have any formal training in filmmaking and didn’t know how to write a screenplay at all, let alone writing a proper one. Lack of knowledge and experiences in filmmaking and on top of that having no money to make films, it is important to start simple and small and the obvious choice is to think of a story that is near to me. A story that is near me has to be a personal one and it became a personal one. Although it is not autobiographical, there are certainly a lot of references of my childhood.
Were you surprised at the reception Flower in the Pocket has gained since its release?
Very much so. It was a small indie project made innocently with very little resources but went very far. This little guy has legs! It has done over 60 festivals around the world and quite a few international awards. Even after 10 years, this film is still running.
What or who do you credit as your main influencers in film?
38 years of sadness and making mistakes, these are my main “influencers” in film.
You are serving as a mentor for the Southeast Asian film lab, what do you want to impart to future filmmakers?
…that there are many other better professions out there for them to consider. Filmmaking should come last.
What more needs to be done to promote the film industry here in the region?
We don’t need to do more. We need to be able to do the basic things right first. To begin with, make a decent film first, then we talk.