As we wrap up the festival, SGIFF interviews Singapore director K Rajagopal to talk about his process and his newest film A Yellow Bird
SGIFF: Running through your credits list, it is clear you have the support and admiration of plenty of our friends and colleagues in the film industry. How differently do you think your career would have been without their input, and what do you try to keep autonomous, if any?
Raja: Filmmaking is definitely a collaboration. I have always relied on the support and encouragement of my friends from the fraternity and beyond. Jasmine Ng (filmmaker), Lucas (Jodogne) and Marijke (Van Kets)* are people I am indebted for working on my short films; Fran Borgia, if he did not insist and pursue – I would not have made A Yellow Bird. TheatreWorks was also very supportive – Both Tay Tong and Ong Keng Sen. They even commissioned Brother, my fourth short film for the Arts Festival. The production was titled Workhorse Afloat. They supported my filmmaking a lot. The other person is Rose Sivam who was the friend who helped me with the camera for my very first film I Can’t Sleep Tonight. She was working in SBC (MediaCorp) then and helped me realise my dream of making my first film.
I would not have been able to continue making films without their commitment to complete the films with me. However I am very protective about my story as most of the time they are very personal and subjective and do not allow much interference in that aspect. I do listen and incorporate some valid suggestions if they are beneficial to the film. I am also very dictatorial with actors. I allow collaboration only to a point in the acting process.
SGIFF: Between the time of your film’s world premiere at Cannes and now, did you discover anything new about the filmmaking process, now that you have experienced the part after the filmmaking?
Raja: It was a proud moment at the premiere but showing it to an audience is also a very nerve-wrecking experience. There will be many differing opinions, thoughts and suggestions once you show it to an audience. Some of the perceptions from the audience were interesting. I must say that after watching the film at the festivals a few times, I did feel that I could have shot some of the scenes differently or taken another option or interpretation. I guess I will never be completely satisfied with the film as my thought process will always evolve and find something to change at different times.
SGIFF: Through your experiences since the 90s, what would you say is the most overrated, and conversely the most underrated thing you’ve heard about filmmaking?
Raja: Overrated that it (filmmaking) is easy to achieve, that it brings you fame and money fast. Underrated in the sense that some good films with low budgets go unseen or unheard of.
SGIFF: Diversity is the hot-button issue this year for our industry. Some articles say your works give a voice to minorities, but in a deeper sense, we feel that you *are* a voice for minorities. Your works have always been drawn to the marginalised and little-seen aspects of our country. Is there something our society always seems to miss that you wish you could give a megaphone to?
Raja: We live in a repressed society – especially politically, emotionally and sexually. Perhaps we could be more open to these faculties.
SGIFF: You have been with the Festival since 1995 with I Can’t Sleep Tonight (which won our Special Jury Prize.) Having A Yellow Bird here at the Festival is a homecoming for you. What are some of your impressions of the Festival?
Raja: It is an honour and I personally wanted the film to open in Singapore through this Festival. I am very nostalgic about it. I gained not just a platform 20 years ago to show my films but it also gave me confidence to do what I like best.
*[Raja: They (Lucas Jodogne and Marijke Van Kets) are cinematographers from Belgium. They worked a lot with (Singapore director) Kelvin Tong. I met them and Jasmine (Ng) at the Festival after my second film The Glare. It was the beginning of my collaboration with the three of them. Jasmine edited my short films after that . The two of them filmed Absence on film for me. They used to come to my work place at night and work on the shot list. They would religiously explain the technicals of filmmaking.]