With Jasmine Ng, Film Maker & Mentor
“Unconventional” might just be the perfect word to describe Jasmine Ng, local filmmaker and newly-minted mentor for moving images in the National Arts Council’s Noise Singapore programme.
We spent an afternoon with this spunky lady to find out why making films is her lifeblood (she blames it on the Super-8mm film camera she was obsessed with when young), and why she thinks you have to be tyrannical to be a good director.
Hello, Jasmine! We hear you studied film at New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, and you’ve not stopped capturing moments on camera since. Define your style as a filmmaker.
What is important to me is having the space to explore an idea, no matter if it’s a documentary or if it’s scripted. You don’t do things to validate what you already know. You want to challenge your thoughts. That’s why you share stories: to enable you to put yourself in another person’s shoes.
Your films (Eating Air, Moveable Feast) have travelled the international film festival circuit and garnered numerous awards too. What are some themes you focus on, and why do you highlight these issues to your audiences?
I primarily feature the power of imagination in my films. For example, the man in the short film Moveable Feast (shown at the Museum of Modern Art in the US) imagines that the uncle in the coffeeshop has superpowers. To me, this is why we love films and love watching movies: because they empower us to transcend reality and be something else. These kind of characters inspire me.
How do you think the local arts scene has grown, and do you think people are more open to watching local films now?
We need to create a more culturally literate people. Those who won’t just say “Eww, this show is too arty-farty”, but people who can understand what the piece is doing and articulate why it worked or didn’t work for them.
In the last few years, we’ve also seen a bigger movement in community art, like making recyclable art with old folks. At the end of the day, I think the reward is in how you grow, how you learn to approach a particular topic, and think about why you’ve picked this particular art form.
What’s the best film you’ve watched to date?
There are quite a few actually! A Separation (an Iranian film) won the foreign Oscar two years ago. You would think it’s a very simple film (about a couple going through a divorce), but the character study was just amazing. Another film, Amour (a French film), is also good because the discipline in its camera style is admirable.
I also love a breakout hit in India called The Lunchbox, about an accidental relationship that develops when a lunchbox gets delivered to the wrong person. It was beautifully made, and was a huge hit in Cannes last year.
What led you to film Pink Paddlers, a documentary about breast cancer survivors, in 2007?
A volunteer with the Breast Cancer Foundation cold-called me and just asked if I want to make a film about breast cancer straight up. I like how a bunch of women who would never be friends in any other situation were bonded together. It’s the kind of story that captures the human spirit, and was my form of contributing and generating awareness.
What are some cool traits that are absolutely essential to have as a filmmaker?
You need to be the kind of person who never takes no for an answer. If someone tells you it can’t be done, your imagination should take you further. You should try and push your way through and devise ways to make it happen.
We’ve got a lot of great support and a lot of grants over the years, especially with programmes like Noise Singapore. So don’t be the kind of person who gives up because of a low budget or other constraints. With my mentees, I don’t want to hear about what equipment you need. You just need to tell me what kind of story you want to tell.
Do you have any advice for budding filmmakers in Singapore?
If you’re doing it to be in the spotlight or to get rich, there are easier trades to get into. You need to be a bit “insane in the membrane”. Just be true to your storytelling and pursue it wholeheartedly.
Are there any films you’re currently working on, and what can we expect?
Right now, I am keen on putting up film installations in unconventional spaces. I want to make works where the audience contributes to part of that artwork. In the Institute of Policy Studies’ 2012 project, PRISM, we had people contributing items on what they wanted to be obsolete 10 years from now, like report cards and instant noodles. If you just talk about policies and governance, people will switch off, but if you ask them in a different way, they will respond and understand.
I also helped put together a show about death and dying, Both Sides: Now, in Khoo Teck Puat hospital last year. We will probably be bringing it to different neighbourhoods. That’s the good thing about art: it gives you a safe space to talk about topics that are typically taboo or unengaging.
Noise Singapore helps creative talent aged 35 years old and below nurture their relationship with the arts and share their artwork with the world. The mentorship programme offers guidance from Singapore’s top talents in art, design, moving images, photography, and music. Apprentices stand a chance to win the Noise Singapore award, which comes with a grant of up to $5,000 to make their dreams come true.
Top image: Eating Air (1999)