FIFF 2017: rencontre avec le réalisateur de The Apprentice

The Apprentice vient tout juste de remporter le Grand Prix de la 31ème édition du Festival International de Films de Fribourg. Quelques jours avant cette consécration, nous sommes allés rencontrer le réalisateur, Boo Junfeng, pour parler de lui, de son film et de la peine de mort, thème central du film.

A rather general question to start: In your opinion, what is the role today of cinema?

Well, in my opinion there is always the story that is at the heart of cinema, but also the ability to still move people enough to make them want to come into the theatre to share an experience, a life experience together with total strangers. And it’s, I think, one of the most precious things that cinema still offers.

Within this industry, how do you perceive yourself as a film director?

I’m still starting out. It’s only my second feature film. I am learning in every step of the way. My first and second film were shot very differently. I think that my third one will probably be quite different too. Each time is for me an experience. At the same time, it’s also a huge privilege to be able to make films, especially for people, who wish to come and see your film. This is something I highly cherish.

In this film, you’re talking about the death penalty. Why the need to talk about this matter?

Well, it’s something that I’ve always been quite concerned about, and it is an issue that many people, not just in Singapore but around the world, want to keep out of sight and out of mind. It is something that is very pertinent in many societies, and I aspired to make a film that talks about it, and likewise looks at character that haven’t been looked at very much before, especially in other films. I wanted to create a character study out of it, so that it provides a different point of entry into such a difficult issue.

Where did you get your inspiration from?

Capital punishment is something that has always weighed on my mind all along. The very first time I encountered the issue was when I was in high school.  I was on a debate team, and I was supposed to argue that capital punishment is dehumanizing. Being fifteen years old at the time, I didn’t even know what dehumanizing meant, but I realized soon enough, when I was doing the research, that a lot of the resources were only coming from the United States, because that’s where the issue is most contentious. We were basically making arguments based on the cases that were happening in the US, even though it was an issue that was actually very close to home, because in Singapore, we do have the death penalty, too. We were using arguments that were so far away that it felt like a very distant subject. It wasn’t until I became a lot more acquainted with human rights issues, and realized how the death penalty in Singapore remained a very big human right problem that I wished to look at it through a film.

It seems as if for you it’s very important to be able to transmit a message to people?

I believe just because a film is seen topical, doesn’t necessarily mean that there needs to be only one single message in the film. I think one of the beautiful things about cinema and storytelling is that you’re able to precisely make a topic no longer a topic, because you’re able to take the audience on a human journey, a human experience. It is through that empathy that comes from watching a film that you understand a subject differently, and manage to see it from a distinctive angle. I believe that’s really all I can hope to do with these stories. It’s not about a singular message, because if I had a singular message, I would just say it. But very often, life and these big social issues can’t simply be put into a sentence nor a phrase. Sometimes it’s through an experience, a story that we’re able to understand things a lot deeper.

How do you actually combine esthetics within the movie?

I guess image can mean a lot of thing to different people. For me it really is just about putting what is most intuitive to me, and what looks most appropriate for a moment, be it a cut-away or how the character is framed or the scene is set. In the end, it is my sensibilities and what feels right to me that encourage me to put it on screen.

Do you already have a topic in mind for your next film?

I’m still thinking about it, but what I’m usually interested in… Well, I’m quite a socially conscious person, so there are many issues that concern me. But what I’m really interested in is looking into some of these larger than life subjects, and trying to put them into a character that takes us on a very personal journey. I think the next film will probably be in that vein.

[Interview préparée et réalisée avec Sarah Erard]