Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen is on a roll – his English-language debut Drift is premiering at Sundance Movie Competition, he has Chinese language-language drama The Breaking Ice being readied for competition play later this 12 months, and several other different directing initiatives in numerous languages at numerous phases of growth and pre-production.
Drift, which stars Cynthia Erivo as a Liberian refugee scratching out an existence on a Greek island, is thematically not 1,000,000 miles away from Chen’s earlier two options – Ilo Ilo and Moist Season – in that they’re tales about outsiders or folks struggling to search out their place on the earth and slot in. “I appear to gravitate to telling tales about outsiders and the bonds, or the human connections, that we make between strangers,” says Chen, who has some expertise with feeling dislocated, as he grew up in Singapore however spent a few years dwelling within the UK.
Chen shot the movie, based mostly on Alexander Maksik’s 2013 novel A Marker To Measure Drift, on location in Greece and the UK final 12 months, beginning pre-production only a few weeks after wrapping the winter shoot of The Breaking Ice in China’s Jilin province. “Chinese language productions at all times have a number of crew, so I went from working with a crew of 120 folks to simply 40 in Europe, and from taking pictures seven days every week to simply 5,” Chen recollects of this speedy shift from China’s frozen far Northeast to Southern Europe. “Nevertheless it was very environment friendly and we had among the high heads of division on the movie. “
The crew of Drift consists of DoP Crystel Fournier, who shot Celine Sciamma’s ‘Girlhood’ trilogy, and first assistant director Dominique Delany, who labored on Luca Guadagnino’s Name Me By Your Title and some initiatives with Olivier Assayas. Scripted by Susanne Farrell and Maksik, the movie is produced by Emilie Georges, Peter Spears and Naima Abed, who all labored collectively on Name Me By Your Title, and offered by Memento Worldwide.
Memento additionally offered each of Chen’s earlier two movies, so he’d recognized Georges for a number of years earlier than she introduced him on board Drift, as a result of she felt his sense of restraint and strategy to character can be a very good match for the undertaking. “At any time when I make a movie, I really feel the have to be actually trustworthy with the material, however particularly whenever you’re making a movie a couple of black African lady, who’s a refugee, as a result of there’s a lot baggage to it,” Chen explains. “It’s not about being politically right, it’s about being trustworthy to the human expertise, as a result of the very last thing I would like is to be emotionally manipulative or to take advantage of the characters.”
The movie is the primary of some English-language initiatives that Chen is connected to, together with Amazon Studios’ Secret Daughter, set to star Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sienna Miller, and Notes From An Exhibition for Film4 and Potboiler. He’s additionally gearing as much as shoot the third a part of this Singapore-set, Chinese language-language ‘Rising Up’ trilogy, We Are All Strangers, which like the primary two movies, will once more star Yeo Yann Yann and Koh Jia Ler. “This time they’re taking part in strangers pressured to turn into a household,” says Chen. “And Koh has actually grown up, as a result of he was 11 on my first movie and he’s now 22.”
Chen sat down with Deadline in Hong Kong, the place he moved final 12 months together with his spouse and son, resulting from his spouse’s job, and expects to stay just a few years. He says he’s already engaged on a script set in Hong Kong that he hopes to shoot subsequent 12 months. “This metropolis is so cinematic and has parts I can relate to, as a result of I grew up in a cosmopolitan metropolis, surrounded by concrete, glass and metal, so it might be tough for me to make a movie set in a third-tier metropolis or rural space in China.”
He’s additionally been carefully observing the category constructions and divide between wealthy and poor in Hong Kong, though he provides that he makes movies about characters, not politics, and by no means units out to make movies about social points. “I’ve simply been considering that that is such an ideal metropolis to make an epic household drama.”
Being absolutely bilingual and relaxed working between completely different languages and cultures, Chen will not be stopping at Chinese language and English initiatives, and can also be growing a function in Korea, a few collection in numerous languages, and continues to work as a producer of Southeast Asian movies by way of his Singapore-based Giraffe Photos.
Chen says this burst of exercise is a consequence of the pandemic. His first function Ilo Ilo received the Digital camera d’or at Cannes in 2013, however he took one other six years to make Moist Season, solely to see its rollout stymied as Covid emerged and festivals engagements had been cancelled and cinemas shuttered.
“I had an enormous disaster in the course of the pandemic, as a result of I believed cinemas would reopen and audiences would come again, however possibly just for the large tentpole movies, and the place does that depart me, as a result of my work is restrained, so do I even exist as a filmmaker?” says Chen, little doubt echoing the fears of many administrators over the previous few years.
“But when there’s one factor I realized in the course of the pandemic, it’s that life is just too brief,” he continues. “So I made a decision I’m simply going to go on the market and make much more movies, both as a director or producer.” After taking a number of years over the script for his second movie, he wrote The Breaking Ice inside just a few months and completed the script simply 10 days earlier than he began taking pictures.
He additionally says that, as a filmmaker from Singapore, he doesn’t have a lot selection about being a cultural chameleon. Hailing from a small nation the place it’s comparatively costly to shoot signifies that he’s pressured to have a world perspective. “I’ve at all times mentioned it’s necessary for Singapore filmmakers to look outwards and that’s what we’re making an attempt to attain, not only for administrators and producers, but additionally the remainder of the crew. I’ve been fortunate and now I’m making an attempt to deliver everybody else alongside as nicely, as a result of in any other case we’re simply too small.”
On the identical time, he believes his Singaporean id travels with him. Returning to Drift, he says: “When it comes to model, it could be completely different to my earlier two movies, and in case you didn’t know already, you’d most likely by no means guess it had an Asian director. However there’s a lot within the mis-en-scene and the feelings that makes it really feel like an Asian movie. I feel it additionally reads the identical means as my different movies within the sense of not judging the characters and humanizing the subject material.”
Drift could have its first Sundance screening at Park Metropolis’s Eccles Theatre on January 23.