BFI Future Film Festival 2023
beast is a martial arts inspired dance-fight between a lion dancer and queer performer reflecting the tension between traditional and modern identities.
Hi Aileen, it’s great to get to talk with you, how has everything been going?
Hello! It’s lovely to chat with you too. It’s been a rollercoaster so far. I just wrapped a documentary production so I’ve finally gotten some quiet time to chat and get back in touch with reality again haha!
What has it meant to you to be awarded EVCOM Industry Awards FOCUS Award for New Talent?
It was a very unexpected moment. When I was awarded, I was still only one year into filmmaking, bearing in mind I’m self-taught, so it was quite surreal and gave me a lot of motivation to continue. Having no proper film training or school background strangely gave me the confidence to be quite unapologetic in terms of creating what I want because in the end I knew there was nothing for me to lose since I’m basically an outsider. And so, it‘s kind of nice to know that my way of telling stories can be interesting to other people!
Congratulations on having beast screening at the Future Film Festival 2023, how does it feel to be part of such an incredible line-up of short films?
Thank you so much! The line-up and talent look wonderful and it’s an honour to be part of the same programme. I feel very excited! Mostly because the team I worked with put in so much time, care, and effort, that this is really a celebration for everyone’s dedication and hard work. Anything that gives me a reason to cheerlead the teams I work with, I get very excited about!
How important are festivals like Future Film Festival in creating a platform for short films?
Very. I think shorts are underrated and deserve more platforming as it gives room for different stories and opens more doors to diverse filmmakers.
Can you tell me how beast came about, what inspired your screenplay?
It actually came from a recurring dream I had. I’ve always been in a weird headspace when it comes to multicultural identities and never felt comfortable with things being ‘fixed’, so I guess subconsciously it kind of materialised in this weird way in my dreams. I think being part of a diaspora, there can be a lot of romanticism and cherrypicking about your heritage and culture since it’s distant, yet close at the same time. And so, this is what inspired the screenplay – something to demonstrate this tug-of-war within one’s mind and the strange feeling of being in constant imbalance, like you’re here and elsewhere at the same time yet you belong nowhere.
With an experiment film like beast are you able to allow yourself much flexibility with your text/vision for your film or do you prefer to stick to a set idea you have planned?
I always start off keen for collaboration. I’m very specific about who I work with and seek out people who can connect to the project on a personal level. If they do, then they automatically have my trust to add their own twist to the concept. Of course, the attention to details and shot-listing are there, but the concept was also about a dream. And so usually you don’t know where it starts or finishes. Lee Teng, the main dancer in the film, connected to the story on a very personal level and their own experiences added a level of intimacy to the storyline that I couldn’t have come up with on my own, so I’m very grateful to have worked with them closely on this.
Does your sociological background help to influence the way you approach your film subjects and the stories you want to tell?
Definitely. My research focus was centred on visual auto-ethnography and dialectical film. So to break that down, it’s about the power relations between the audience and film, the political and social subtext, and the psychological influences film can have. It taught me to be more holistic in my approach and wary of not reproducing the same type of dominant storytelling techniques. Almost all of film is just a manipulation of sound and visuals so it’s just as important to realise what are the after-effects of the themes you’re showcasing, people you’re involving, and audience you’re speaking to.
What where the biggest challenges you faced making beast?
The 16mm film and camera being uncooperative!
Looking back, what would you say have been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken from the experience?
To not succumb to the stress and enjoy every moment because you’ll never make the same thing again.
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the films/stories they want to tell?
1000%. The universe of filmmaking and stories are so vast it’s a bit silly we place any boundaries on it to be honest.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
It was a universal language that I found I could connect with everyone around me, whether it be friends, family, or strangers. It was the only medium I found where I could express myself and platform stories around me that never got any coverage.
"Each film has a different energy and you got to match it. If you stick with the same approach you’ll get trapped in the comfort which is something I always try to avoid."
What is it about 16mm filmmaking that interested you so much?
I wanted to learn the foundations of filmmaking from scratch to challenge myself. Digital is very accessible (and I still shoot with it) but you miss out on a lot of the DIY aspects in film techniques and the precision in crafting certain visuals. With 16mm, you’re constantly learning because the mistakes are unpredictable whether it be the film stock or camera or lighting or whatever, so you have to stay intensely focused. But even when it does mess up, 16mm is very forgiving and will produce the weirdest yet satisfying visuals you could never re-create otherwise. It’s a different relationship to creating work when you can feel the medium itself – once you try it you’ll get it!
Has your approach to your films changed since you started out?
It changes with each project so it’s hard to define. Each film has a different energy and you got to match it. If you stick with the same approach you’ll get trapped in the comfort which is something I always try to avoid.
What would you say your work says about you?
Hopefully good things.
What top 3 tips would you offer emerging filmmakers?
There’s nothing to lose so create what you want.
Get used to always being out of your comfort zone.
Experiment with different formats.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from beast?
Whatever they like. It’s a dream that‘s in a constant state of flux.