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SGIFF: Yeo Siew Hua Talks ‘A Land Imagined’ And Looks Ahead to ‘Stranger Eyes’

Singaporean director Yeo Siew Hua’s “A Land Imagined” will have its home-town premiere at the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) on Dec. 8 and is also in competition at the festival’s Silver Screen Awards. The film’s lead actress Luna Kwok will be presented SGIFF’s Swarovski Inspiring Woman in Film award on Dec 7.

The film arrives in Singapore after winning a plethora of awards around the globe. It bowed at Locarno, where it won three awards, including the Golden Leopard, and gongs at El Gouna, Pingyao, QCinema,  and Valladolid and will receive a further one on Thursday at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

Yeo graduated from Singapore’s Ngee Ann Polytechnic where he topped the media studies course. He made his feature debut with 2009’s “In the House of Straw,” after which he spent five years studying philosophy at the National University of Singapore. He returned to filmmaking with the 2014 documentary “The Obs: A Singapore Story.”

A Land Imagined” is a noir film where an insomniac policeman investigates the disappearance of a Chinese migrant worker. Yeo did extensive research on the lives of migrant workers, the conditions they live in and the process by which they are hired to work in Singapore. “It was important for me to first know them, be friends with them, and then I took this story out from their lives,” Yeo told Variety.

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Yeo’s first point of entry to the story was land reclamation, a process Singapore has been going through since the 19th century and aggressively so since gaining independence in 1965. He was fascinated by the fact that the country is now 22% larger than what it used to be, thanks to sand brought from neighboring South East countries, and a process mostly staffed by migrant labor.

“If I want to tell a story about land reclamation, it is actually a story about the migrants,” says Yeo. “Basically, I feel that their story is my story. Whatever Singapore is, even the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ version of it, it is inextricably wound up with the story of these migrants, which is the machinery that runs this economic miracle.”

Yeo’s next project “Stranger Eyes” is also set in Singapore. It has a policeman as one of its protagonists, who shadows a delinquent scam artist, but realizes that he is being watched too. The film deals with the ubiquity of surveillance. “As our lives are now, there is almost no point saying should we give up our privacy (in Singapore),” says Yeo. “That’s no longer the discussion. The discussion is how we give it up.”

Discussing the electronically watchers and the watched, Yeo says, “Maybe I am a bit nostalgic about the idea of someone watching me intimately, trying to understand me as a person, rather than (surveillance) reduced to algorithms.”

“Stranger Eyes” participated in the Thailand’s South East Asia Fiction Film lab. It was also a selection at Busan’s Asian Project Market earlier this year.

“A Land Imagined” is a co-production between Singapore’s Akanga Film Asia, France’s Films de Force Majeure and The Netherlands’ Volya Films, with the participation of Singapore’s MM2 Entertainment. The film received the New Talents Feature Grant from Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority, and prize money from Autumn Meeting (Vietnam,) France’s Cinemas du Monde fund from the CNC, the Netherlands Film Fund, Hubert Bals Fund and the Torino Film Lab Audience Lab Fund. Visit Films is handling international sales. MM2 will release the film in Singapore in early 2019.

 

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