Tuesday 28 May 2013

Ilo Ilo is first S'pore film to win at Cannes

Anthony Chen wins Camera d’Or for best first feature film at prestigious Cannes Film Festival
By Genevieve Sarah Loh, TODAY, 27 May 2013

Ilo Ilo has become the first Singaporean feature film to win at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, with director Anthony Chen taking home the coveted Camera d’Or prize for best feature film debut yesterday evening.

“It is a complete surprise and I’m still trying to take it in,” Mr Chen told TODAY from Cannes, the festival’s closing ceremony.

“This is not just an honour for me but for Singapore, since it is the first time a feature from Singapore has been awarded at Cannes.”

Some 18 films from the Official Selection, Director’s Fortnight and International Critics’ Week sections were eligible for the Camera d’Or at this year’s 66th Cannes Film Festival.

Mr Chen’s film was screened in the Directors' Fortnight sidebar programme, which was put together by the French Film Directors Association and is considered one of the world’s best showcases of promising new film-making talents.

The premiere of Ilo Ilo was nearly marred by technical difficulties, including a power outage and the English and French subtitles disappearing and reappearing on the screen.

Despite the hiccups, the audiences not only stayed until the end, but they gave Mr Chen and his cast a 15-minute standing ovation.

“What really heartens me is that a story about an ordinary family in Singapore can touch the hearts of audiences miles away,” said Mr Chen.

He added: “The whole week has been filled with such wonderful experiences that it’s been surreal. It’s a dream for a first film to get this much support and encouragement!”

Ilo Ilo — which will be screened locally in August, with Golden Village having acquired the distribution rights — explores the relationship between a young boy and his family’s new Filipino maid during the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

The cast, which includes veteran Singaporean TV actor Chen Tianwen, Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann and award-winning Filipino actress Angeli Bayani, have received rave reviews in various international publications.

“This is a big step for Singapore film in general, one that will associate Singapore films with quality in the eyes of international audiences, media, investors and critics,” producer Yuni Hadi told TODAY.

“What we are excited about is showing our film back home later this year because, at the end of the day, Singapore films record the stories of Singaporeans.”

Ilo Ilo and Mr Chen also received a congratulatory note from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Facebook this morning: “Congratulations to Anthony Chen, the cast and crew. This is the first time a Singaporean has won the award. Well done indeed!"

Mr Chen became the first Singaporean film-maker to be awarded in Cannes in 2007, when his short film Ah Ma (Grandma) won a Special Mention in the Palme d’Or for Short Films competition.


In the main competition, the tender lesbian romance Blue is the Warmest Color: The Life of Adele won the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or.

The jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, took the unusual move of awarding the award not just to Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche but also to the film’s two stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

The three-hour film caught headlines for its lengthy, graphic sex scenes, but bewitched festival goers with its heartbreaking coming of age story.

Life of Adele, which premiered at Cannes just days after France legalised gay marriage, was hailed as a landmark film for its intimate portrait of a same-sex relationship.

“The film is a great love story that made all of us feel privileged to be a fly on the wall, to see this story of deep love and deep heartbreak evolve from the beginning,” said Mr Spielberg.

S'pore film-maker's Cannes win 'a unanimous decision'
Judges picked Ilo Ilo as best debut feature halfway through the festival
By Boon Chan, The Straits Times, 28 May 2013

LOCAL film-maker Anthony Chen's Camera d'Or win at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday for best debut feature was a unanimous decision.

In fact, the judges had already decided his film Ilo Ilo was the top entry when they held a deliberation halfway through the festival, which ran this year from May 15 to Sunday.

French director Agnes Varda, president of the jury for the Camera d'Or award, told Chen this when she and Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi gave him the award.

That much he remembered of the occasion he described as "unreal". "My head was a bit light," Chen, 29, told The Straits Times over the telephone from Cannes.

His win - the first-ever feature film triumph for Singapore at Cannes - meant he also got a chance to rub shoulders with heavyweight auteurs such as Taiwanese Oscar winner Lee Ang and Japan's Hirokazu Koreeda.

"I got to meet them as an awardee, which makes all the difference because you get all these big directors congratulating you. Koreeda is my hero and I told him how I've watched all his films," he said.

Ilo Ilo explores the relationship between a Singapore family and their newly arrived maid, and is set against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Even before collecting the award, Chen was already basking in the warmth of the reception to the film, from glowing critical notices to a 15-minute standing ovation when Ilo Ilo was screened on May 19.

He had gone to Cannes with no expectations, thinking people from other countries might not get the "very Singaporean film".

But when the accolades started to pour in, he realised: "With its themes of migration, of family, of growing up, of class, of economic crisis, all that connects with everyone and it breaks down all borders."

Veteran television actor Chen Tianwen, who stars in the film, recalled that the director had very specific ideas for the film, including the challenging use of hand-held cameras.

The 49-year-old actor said: "We spent quite a lot of time rehearsing as he wanted a feel that was very slice-of-life and not at all exaggerated. You had to be very clear of what was placed where on the home set unlike in TV shows where what you need might be simply placed on a table in front of you."

Anthony Chen graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's film, sound and video course in 2004. He later completed his Master of Arts in Film Directing at the National Film and Television School (UK) in 2010 with the assistance of the Media Development Authority of Singapore's Media Education Scheme.

Ilo Ilo, which cost $500,000 to make, was partly funded by the Singapore Film Commission's now-defunct New Feature Film Fund and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

His alma mater's $200,000 investment is the first time the institution has invested in an alumnus' work in the 20 years the film, sound and video diploma has been offered.

Director of Ngee Ann's School of Film & Media Studies Anita Kuan said they did so in part to support an alumnus. "Not just any alumni. Anthony, when he was a student here, had a very good track record."

In what she called a win-win situation, Chen held sharing sessions on his movie-making experience for Ngee Ann, and some students even did internships on the film.

Since the awards ceremony, congratulations have been pouring in on social media. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted on Facebook: "Ilo Ilo has won the Camera d'Or at Cannes! It was judged the best first feature film of the festival. Congratulations to Anthony Chen, the cast and crew. This is the first time a Singaporean has won the award. Well done indeed!"

Film-maker Boo Junfeng, 29, whose debut feature Sandcastle (2010) was also screened at Cannes, told The Straits Times: "The success of Ilo Ilo sets a new benchmark for film-making in Singapore and I hope people will come in full force to support it when it is released in theatres here." Ilo Ilo is slated to be released here on Aug 29 by Golden Village.

Interview Anthony Chen from Quinzaine des Réalisateurs on Vimeo.

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