Dystopia: 10 Commandments, 10 Film Directors

Nicholas Chu, Director and Ken Minehan, Director of Photography

The Ten Commandments have proven to be a very durable subject matter in the history of filmmaking. In 1923, Cecil B. De Mille directed a silent movie based on the Biblical story. In 1988, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski created his amazing ten-part masterpiece, The Decalogue, and just last year, American director, David Wain, released an anthology comedy assembling ten short vignettes, each based on one of the ten commandments.

This year, ten local budding film directors will unleash their creativity on the theme in a 100 minute anthology, titled Dystopia. The film will comprise ten separate ten minute segments, in which each of the directors tackles one of the Biblical commandments, adding their own style variation and personal flavor.

Culturepush nabs an interview with one of the directors, the talented Nicholas Chu.

Give us a little background on you; pre-halide pictures and up to today.

I was a film student and director in Western Australia from 2000 to 2003. I did music videos and experimental short films with Guerrilla Imagery, a group of like minded people, who believed in the guerrilla style of making videos.

When I moved back to Singapore I did business for two plus years before the itch to start making films again became unbearable. I went back to the media industry; I joined a couple of production houses as a producer and I also worked as a producer/director for apostrophe films doing TV commercials and corporate videos before I went free-lance.

In 2007, I decided, together with two of my ex colleagues at apostrophe films (who also happen to be my best friends), to set up a production house called halide pictures. I am also a full-time lecturer at ITE, teaching digital audio and video production.

Talk to us about the “Dystopia” project.

Dystopia is about a distant future, a very grim future that we are heading towards and in which people have forgotten about the very first moral imperatives known to men. This reflects on the current situation and the world that we are living in. And if we do not stop and reflect on our actions, we may just be moving to the world that is seen in dystopia.

The project came about when two other directors at apostrophe films and I started talking about the state of films made in Singapore. Most of the movies are either horror flicks or movies about heartlanders. We were kind of jaded that the audiences were interested in these two genres of movies and decided to expose them to something visually and content different.

After a year or so, we eventually decided to do something about it and roped in ten different directors for our Dystopia project; Jeevan Nathan, Mike Chew, Christina Choo, Boi Kwong, Randy Ang, Ric Aw, Bernard Tan, Lawrence Ong, Terence Teo, and myself.

As I was reading the synopsis on your site, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece Decalogue popped into my head. The Ten Commandments, ten cinematographers, ten episodes …

I realise that people will compare our project and feature film to Kieslowski’s Decalogue. However, Decalogue is his own take on the ten commandments. One director, ten cinematographers … it is still a singular style, a singular voice. It’s easy for a director to do something like Decalogue because it’s the same director throughout the film.

The recent film, The Ten also attempted it and it’s still one voice. And to attempt something like The Decalogue will always fall short because it is a masterpiece and to be honest, I’m not Kieslowski. Anything short of his work will always fall short, and I do not wish to compare Dystopia to The Decalogue … not because of anything but it’s two different films directed by different people even if they are about the same theme.

In this project, we offer audiences ten different visuals and ten story telling styles, and there is a difference from the other anthologies which I can’t reveal at this stage.

Did you have a vast debate about which director was going to cover which commandment?

Not really. We used, what you could call, a primitive but effective method which I am not at liberty to reveal … it was like winning the lottery.

You will be tackling ‘Thou shall not commit adultery”. Spill the juice!

It’s kind of funny really, because the rest felt it was God’s way of punishing me for my views on sexuality … which is pretty much not for the conservative crowd … haha.

But I’m not doing it in the traditional film style. I am actually incorporating a lot of things that I love, and fusing it together for a visual and music kind of story.

Music is an important element in your work. What do you have in mind this time?

Music is half of the film itself to me. For example, take a video of a person taking the bus …. no big deal right, but if you add the right music to it, you can turn that bus-ride into a heartbreaking experience …. take for example Mark Isham‘s music score for Crash.

For my story in the film, I will be working with bands and acts from different parts of the world. I’ve spoken to Goyte from Australia and Utopium and I also approached a couple of local acts.

When I listen to different songs which I can use in my film, I see so many different sides to the film itself. Also, I will be changing the music score from time to time because to me, my films are part of my life and it changes as I mature and grow and evolves into something new every day.

So at this point in time, I’m toying with something really sexual, very passionate, very raw and primal, yet soft and tender. All of which are emotions a person goes through when falling in love, and deep into lust with someone.

Can a movie convey ethical value without becoming dogmatic, pathetic or sentimental?

It all depends on the director really. If the director takes a voyeuristic and neutral stance while he tells a story, he will be able to do that. However, it is human nature to take sides and there is no way possible to be totally neutral. A director’s style and how he directs it is a mirror image of his views on life, and through his films, we are exposed to a little bit of his inner world, on how he sees the world in that time when the movie plays to his audience.

Utopias and dystopias complete each other …

I can spend an entire day talking about this topic. But instead I would like to quote something from a Singapore short story: “If there are no short people in the world, how do you know that you are tall? If there are no evil men in the world, how do you judge or even know what you do is right or wrong?”

I’ve always loved how the world looks from it’s perfection and imperfection.

If everything is too perfect, it becomes too sterile and you lose that part of life which makes us human. I love that part of human nature, the negative traits, the flaws, I see beauty in that, and am very inspired by the balance of perfection and imperfection.

I just came back from Hong Kong, a modern and cosmopolitan place, more so than Singapore, but they are littered by the low income housing and the messiness of the city planning … but there is so much character and life in the old and new. I spent an entire day alone at a roadside cafe in Mongkok and thought of so many ideas and concepts for short films and movies because I was being surrounded by this city of perfection and imperfection. But these imperfections and flaws in the city gives it it’s life, it’s energy and character. Which is why I love cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong, the European cities and US cities. The messiness of everything falls in place so beautifully and you can’t help but feel inspired.

I’m feeling stifled and restricted in Singapore because everything that is old has to make way for the new. Sure it looks pretty but it doesn’t have character. You lose that soul when you go through a makeover. For example, I love the ‘old wok’ taste when I go to eateries. But when they start using a new wok, you lose the taste, the texture accumulated throughout the years. Which is sad really because every person, every country, every city needs to preserve that part, that past. Without that past, present and future will not make any sense nor have any meaning.

Haha, I think I got out of point here, right?

When and where will we get to see the movie?

Haha … it took us nearly two years to finally gather the ten directors, but we hope to push it out to cinemas by the end of 2008, if not mid 2009. We just finished shooting one part, and will be continuing to shoot the rest in the course of 2008. We hope that a cinema operator will pick up the movie. But with the opening of sinema old school, it looks like local film makers will have a place to screen their work.

What’s on your to-do list for the future?

Direct a full length feature by myself. I have come up with a couple of projects, all of which are very exciting and can be found on the halide site.

And as one of the directors at halide pictures, I believe in doing films and projects that will make a difference in the industry, and to provide content that is visually engaging. We do kill ourselves in many ways to keep doing projects for the audience because in the end, it is the audience that matters to us. A lot of directors out there are trying too hard to prove a point, and consequently they forget about the audience which ends up watching works that are inaccessible or something they can’t connect with.

In short, I hope to do more quality work, both visually as well as content wise for the audience.

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