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27 August 2010

i) Sandcastle, along with your other short films all have to do with the sand and/or the sea. Do you draw inspiration from these elements?

The only way to escape the claustrophobia in Singapore is to look outwards. Even then, the horizon is constantly cluttered with ships. I thought it was interesting to place En in such a geographical context; his world and the things that he has been learning all his life exist within the confines of this island. And as he doubts the received doctrines with which he has been brought up, he only has enough courage to bring himself to the water's edge.

ii) How close are En's stories in Sandcastle to that of your own?

Only the elements that concerned the grandmother's dementia were from my own experience. The rest is fictional. The need to question, and to come of age by questioning, I believe is something many people experience.

iii) How was the casting of the main characters (En, Mother, Grandmother, Ying) decided?

It was a challenge trying to find someone to play En. I needed a boy who looked 18, but had the maturity to understand and deliver the internal conflicts that En goes through in the story. I got to know Josh when I was working with his band (The Fire Fight) on a music video for a campaign for Youth.sg. I asked him to come for the audition and was impressed by how he could internalise the lines very instinctively. I decided there and then that Josh would play En. It was a huge relief as we had spent months auditioning people for the role.

I saw Elena Chia in Anthony Chen's Ah-Ma, and felt that she could be suitable for the role. Elena is a veteran stage actress, and was very open to experimenting during workshops and rehearsals.

Bobbi Chen is a professional dancer with local dance company Arts Fission. I needed a girl with an authentic Chinese accent and got her contact from Wee Li Lin. I'm really happy with our casting decisions - I think the actors carried their roles very well, and it was a joy working with them.

iv) What was it that made you decide to make your first feature film after a series of shorts? How different is this experience?

It has always been my dream to make a feature film, but I didn't think the opportunity would come so soon. I see it as a learning experience and a progression from the short films that I have been making. The main difference is in the time it took to make a feature. My short films typically took about a month to write, and 3-5 days to shoot; Sandcastle took me 18 months to write, and 3 weeks to shoot. It takes a lot of discipline and stamina to have a feature film completed. The biggest challenge for me was in understanding how the narrative structure of a full-length movie works. Writing a 90-minute narrative is very different from writing 15-minute short film scripts. I had to rewrite the script eight times before the story took shape.

v) What was it like for a young director like you to make a feature film which travelled to Cannes?

It was a very emotional experience to know that a story I had written in my bedroom could be presented at a place like Cannes. I was very glad a few of my closest friends and collaborators - Fran Borgia (producer), Sharon Loh (cinematographer) and Lim Ting Li (sound designer) - could be there with me. They are people who have believed in what I was doing from the very start, and we went through thick and thin making my short films and Sandcastle.

vi) What do you think of the local filmmaking industry? And what role do you see yourself playing?

I think the films produced in recent years are diverse and exciting. I'm proud to be a part of the film community.

vii) What is in the pipeline for you next?

I'll be travelling with Sandcastle for the rest of the year. I'll probably start to develop a second film next year.

SANDCASTLE opens in theaters 26 August 2010

Selection of Junfeng's Shorts/Feature:

Sandcastle (2010)

Tanjong Rhu (2009)

Bedok Jetty (2008)

Katong Fugue (2007)

The Changi Murals (2006)


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