Production Talk - 'Libertas' by Kan Lume




About the film

A girl travels to Uluru in the aftermath of a tragedy. There she finds
rebirth. We made this film over a period of 2 years. We flew in an
actress from LA and spent almost 2 weeks in the outback. She climbed
Ayers Rock and swam with Aboriginal children. Serendipity was on our
side. We returned with over 900 minutes of footage and got to work
piecing it together. We didn’t allow ourselves to be shackled with the
need to make a 90-minute film. Libertas was the first work to be
distilled from this process.


This is the first time you are using animation to tell your stories,
why the choice of the medium you used?


It comes down to my process of creating a work. For each new endeavor,
I chase a certain energy – in this case, excitement from putting
different people and places together. At the time of Libertas, I was
living in Australia and was immensely curious about Uluru. Faye
Kingslee, an actress working in L.A. contacted me through email and
wanted to work with me. Megan, my co-director, was pursuing her
Masters of Fine Art at College of Fine Art Sydney. Putting these
pieces together, I had a vision for an animated short taking place in
the Outback starring one actor. I am keen on personal expression
whatever the medium might be. I like to experiment, and push myself in
new directions, and making Libertas was no exception.





What inspired this 'fable-like' story?

A close friend of mine committed suicide. It left me in a state of
shock and the feeling that something had to be done in his memory. He
was a pragmatist dealing with crippling issues of self-worth brought
on by his observations of the world and his peers. His mates were
advancing far beyond his reach and as intelligent and talented as he
was, he didn’t have the drive to play catch up. He lost hope. I’ve
heard about the pressures of coping in a results-driven society like
ours – even felt it myself, but now I was face to face with its
horrific consequences. I’m not against wealth and progress, but I do
think there is a lack of balance in our lifestyles. We work hard but
do we have adequate rest? Our spaces for play are shrinking each year.
Two years ago, I had a photo shoot in the last Lalang patch in
Singapore – in Punggol. It is now gone. Replaced by concrete
buildings. My favorite place to relax is the beach. Even that has
gotten more polluted. Have you noticed the amount of ships that share
the coast with us? It has quadrupled since five years ago. With the
influx of 800,000 more residents, the traffic and people congestion is
noticeable. It hasn’t reached the density of Hong Kong or New York,
but we are the tiniest of cities without the respite of a countryside.
There is no comparison. Even Luxembourg, the smallest country in
Europe with no Capital city, is 4.5 times larger than us and has
access to anywhere in Europe. Couple all this with the oppressive
humidity in our region and you get the idea. We work hard to stay
ahead, but when it is time to relax many have trouble doing so. I am
tremendously grateful for the advances that Singapore has made as a
Nation. As an artist I am sensitive to the zeitgeist of the times. I
cannot ignore the fact that our Nation seems to have an unhealthy
balance towards work and play. Office workers stay beyond the
appointed time. School children are given homework during school
holidays.

It boggles my mind that such a basic flaw exists. How can
rest time be regarded with such suspicion and contempt? After school
hours should be a time when school children are allowed, even expected
to do other things – play, relax, sports, hobbies etc. This “goofing”
around is integral to a person’s wellbeing. My friend who committed
suicide was a top student in a top school in Singapore. He was a top
Mathematics scorer in PSLE. He graduated from NUS. According to the
system, he was a success story. Yet he soon discovered that being able
to give all the right answers did not prepare him for life. Did he
have time in the entire 17 years of his education to learn things
outside of the classroom?

No. He was too busy with the demands of
schoolwork. Not enough opportunity presented itself for him to learn
to make good life choices. He, like many Singaporeans of the schooling
generation, find their identity and self-worth tied to their
examination results. My counterpoint in the “fable” is an idealist
with a gift to draw. I wanted to show that living life to the fullest
required an acceptance of yourself and your gifts. Living with
conviction is hard in a society like ours.



This story seems a complete departure from the usual premise of your
works (relationships, male/female tension etc), was it because of the
collaboration? Other reasons?


I decided early on I was going to take my time to grow into my craft
as a filmmaker. This meant leaving the door open to possibilities in
style, theme, medium. The spiritual mentors I look up to all took 20 –
30 years before they reached a distinctive personal voice. Despite the
film being an animation, it was still about an artist trying to find
her place in the world. The Art of Flirting featured a writer, Dreams
From The Third World was about a filmmaker, Female Games was about a
model and Libertas an illustrator.



This film seems to be the result of experimentation rather than
scripting, can you take us through some of how the film was realised
from concept to how the final product looks?


It started with a script. Then collaborators came onboard. I was in
Australia - that meant the Outback for me. Then there was the theme in
my head – escaping from something rigid and stifling into freedom. It
was a fantasy of course. The only experimenting was the fact that I
decided to film the story using one actor. Weeks leading up to the
shoot, I was fighting off the anxiety of the impossibility of what I
was attempting. Yet I knew this was the only way to do it. When I met
Faye for the first time at the arrival hall of Sydney International
Airport, we sat down and had a chat to get to know one another – a
chat that lasted for 2 days. Once the ice was broken, we quickly
decided that Ayers Rock was our ultimate destination. We wanted
something to happen there. We talked about it, but didn’t want to tie
ourselves down to one possibility. Faye suggested meeting Indigenous
people. While we were at the foot of Ayers Rock one day, a group of
Aboriginal children came up to us and started interacting with Faye.
She being the tomboy she is, jumped into their watering hole and swam
with them. It was spectacular. She even climbed some inner caves with
them. The whole experience was unforgettable and worth every effort we
put in to get there. The film was an offshoot of the experience, but
the experience alone was satisfying enough. Traditional hand drawn
animation was the obvious choice to tell the story because it
represented the protagonist’s gift and the audience had to see it at
work. Animating the 2 and a half-minute film required pure grit. 3
months of drawing. We went a little insane in the end. That is why the
animated Faye climbs up the rock and ends up in some sort of warp. In
fact, she climbs into herself. Freedom is represented by a
metaphysical transformation. She searches for healing and finds a
miracle.


What were some of the interesting things that happened in the course
of making this film? What did you discover about animation, filmmaking
and about your own craft?


It was enjoyable doing hand-drawn animation for the first time. The
amount of work as well as the meticulousness required forced us into a
state of lunacy; the hand went in a direction of its own. The freedom
to be rough in the sketches was exhilarating and we could build an
entire career out of this type of expression alone. Our own
understanding of the story was superseded and we ended up with
something more profound and revelatory. What was interesting was the
end result. We’ve received complements, awards, screenings from the
most unexpected of places. Several programmers have written to us with
specific praises for the film. Eric Khoo called us to tell us how much
he loved it. At the Cannes Film Market where it was shown, an American
distributor asked if we could turn it into a feature length film. If
there was one regret, it would be that in the animation, you can’t see
Faye's real face. She looks good on screen.



Have you already got a story to tell with the remaining 900 minutes of footages?

I’ve attempted several times to carve out more films from the
remaining footage. But somehow I feel satisfied with Libertas as the
culmination of our shoot. It sums up nicely what our entire philosophy
was at the time. All the collaborators were in one heart and mind
about its basic message. I like films that achieve a lot using very
little. Libertas falls into this category.

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