Singaporean producer Jeremy Chua has amassed an impressive body of work in a relatively short period of time. Adullaah Mohammad Saad’s “Rehana,” a Singapore/Bangladesh co-production led by Chua’s Potocol, will play at Un Certain Regard. “A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” (2016) by Philippines auteur Lav Diaz had considerable festival play, including at Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian and Busan; Ying Liang’s “A Family Tour” (2018) was at Locarno, New York and London; Bradley Liew’s “Motel Acacia” played Tokyo, Taipei and Bucheon; John Clang’s “A Love Unknown” (2020) bowed at Rotterdam; while Raya Martin’s “Death of Nintendo” (2020) debuted at Berlin.
His other Cannes trips accompanied “A Yellow Bird” by K. Rajagopal, which was at the Cinéfondation L’Atelier in 2014 followed by a premiere at the 2016 Critics’ Week. In 2019, he produced “The Women” by The Maw Naing, which was also at Cinéfondation.
What attracted you to “Rehana?” How did you meet Saad?
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I think even in Asia, a lot of us do not have many chances to be exposed to independent or arthouse Bangladeshi films. But after I saw Saad’s first film, “Live From Dhaka,” at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2016, I realized that there is a lot of talent in Bangladesh. The directing, the dialogues, the cinematography, the acting, the editing, the style; there is a new vision and energy that Saad and his team brought to the screen. I could tell that he understood a darker side of humanity, in both its beauty and vulnerability. Although his storytelling is minimal, his characters are layered with multiple complexities and this organically creates tension and drama. It has a similar sensibility to the kind of films I love. So it was exactly during the festival we discussed and decided to work together to develop and produce his second film.
How difficult was it to raise funding for the film ?
The film was challenging to make as there is no national commissioner in Bangladesh or regional funds around South Asia. At the start, Saad introduced me to a young and upcoming producer in Dhaka, Rajib Mohajan, and together our first step was to apply for the Asian Cinema Fund for Script Development from the Busan [International Film Festival], which we were awarded in 2017. We then spent many months researching and exploring different story ideas. By 2018, we had an advanced draft of the script and applied to participate in the Asian Project Market of Busan IFF. At the market, we met many producers, sales agents and programmers who gave us invaluable feedback; and found partners from France and Norway to apply for European financing. Unfortunately those bids were unsuccessful and we began searching for private equity in Bangladesh. We received a couple of offers but finally decided to work with executive producer Ehsanul Haque, who was extremely supportive of the artistic direction and gave us a lot of freedom to create. We were also supported by members of the crew, volunteers and sponsors. After production, we applied for post- production funding and were supported by the Doha Film Institute’s Post Production Grant 2020. Finally, our French associate producer Johann Chapelan covered our final expenses for deliverables.
What else are you working on?
2021 is a busy year for me. We just wrapped principal photography on two co-productions with Southeast Asian directors: “Glorious Ashes” by Bui Thac Chuyen and “Autobiography” by Makbul Mubarak. Potocol is also in the midst of preproduction for three Singaporean co-productions: “Pierce” by Nelicia Low, “Last Shadow at First Light” by Nicole Midori Woodford and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” by Jow Zhi Wei. A few of the company’s projects are in the financing stage such as “The Women” by The Maw Naing, “The Sky Is Mine” by Deepak Rauniyar and “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” by Pham Thien An. Meanwhile, there is “Filipiñana” by Rafael Manuel in development.
What does the selection in Cannes mean to you?
Any film is a sacrifice and a devotion. It takes up a lot of creative energy, time, commitment, and of course money. So to me the Cannes selection in Un Certain Regard is almost a validation of Saad’s talent, the fire in his heart, for him to be living in a place that is extremely difficult to make independent films, especially over the last two years. It is a beautiful dream and reminds me to take nothing for granted. This can only be fuel for the next projects I’m working on.