As one of the few female filmmakers in the local scene, Jeanine Lim, our filmmaking expert for Skillseed’s Film for Good Programme, has over ten years of experience in film production, both in Singapore and overseas. She loves films and its power to touch audiences and create social impact.
With a strong empathy for others, Jeanine and her mother, Monique have been bringing donations of clothes and necessities to the poor in Vietnam since 1993. Over the years, her efforts have benefitted many poor families in Vietnam and this led her to initiate Project Give Pray Love.
Project Give Pray Love has been working with Project Skillseed to develop our very first programme focusing on film-making and next week (early December 2014), Jeanine will be leading a team of aspiring filmmakers on their Film For Good adventure in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. In this month’s Spotlight, Jeanine shares with us her filmmaking journey and how she brings together her passion for film and philanthropy.
1. What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
It started with my love for television. I grew up watching a lot of TV and knew that in the future, I wanted to work in that field. I ended up studying TV production in university in Australia and made my first film there, shot on 16 mm. That’s when my passion became film and I decided to take it further by doing a Masters in Film in the US.
2. What do you love about filmmaking?
I love films because film is a universal language and has the power to touch people to the extent of having social impact. I also like the idea how films immortalise their makers, actors and stories. My favourite filmmakers are David Fincher, Peter Weir, Majid Majidi, amongst many others.
3. Has filmmaking impacted your life in a big way? If so, how?
Film has opened my eyes to life in different parts of the world, different life situations…Most of us won’t be able to travel the whole world in our lifetimes, so film is a platform to expose us to different cultures and experiences.
Personally as a filmmaker, having the traits and skills needed to be a director more than prepares you for a range of jobs and capabilities. Some of these qualities include a good work ethic, attention to detail, creativity, versatility, communication/interpersonal skills and strength in both the arts (soft skills needed in filmmaking) and sciences (physics and technical skills needed in the craft).
4. What are your favourite film types/genres etc. and why?
I enjoy dramas, comedies and thrillers. I don’t like horror of sci-fi. So basically, I prefer genres that are realistic and not those that are fantasy, abstract and which won’t happen to us in real life. Some people will argue that these are the entertaining films and that real-life films are boring, but I relate more to these films and can learn more from them. I am drawn to stories about the human condition and this is why I like documentaries as well.
5. What are some themes you like to portray in your works? And what are the different genres/themes/methods of filming that you would like to explore in the future?
I am quite experimental in terms of trying different genres in my work. So far, I have done drama, thriller, comedy, sci-fi for my narrative work. For documentaries, I have done human-interest stories and my current project is an ideological piece on Singapore and its identity. My dream would be to do a feature film set in Vietnam, based on the stories of my grandfather and mother. This will be a very personal film which I hope I can make sometime in the future.
6. Could you share with us a particularly memorable time in your filmmaking career?
It’s hard for me to pick a single experience as each film I made came with ups and downs and its own unique learning points. I guess if I had to pick one, it would be my thesis film shot in Boston, where I challenged myself to shoot a film about 3 people stuck overnight in an elevator. It was difficult as the whole film is set in 1 location and the audience is stuck with the same 3 actors. If the characters were not compelling and if the script failed, the whole film would have tanked. It was also the first and only time I worked with a built set which was fun and also challenging (the elevator was completely constructed as it was too difficult to shoot so many hours in a real elevator).
7. In your perspective, what are some of the upcoming trends in the industry?
With new technologies, cheaper equipment and the internet/social media, anyone can be a filmmaker/citizen journalist. Film, no longer a viable medium, is now being replaced by digital media. The change in medium has made ‘film’ more accessible, and the change in technology has simplified a lot of the workflows which used to be very complicated with film. But what has remain unchanged is the craft itself…all the elements needed for a good film are the same today as they were 100 years ago at the birth of cinema. Also, all the film practices from that time more or less apply today (e.g. the dos and don’ts of filmmaking). So in this sense, film is very much alive, even if not in a physical form.
8. What are the challenges you face as a filmmaker?
There are numerous challenges, especially as an Asian female director, which is still a rare breed. You will know these challenges just by looking at how many female directors have won the Oscar, let alone an Asian director, whether male or female.
Film, like art, is still not considered a viable career choice in most countries, so filmmakers have to continuously struggle just to make a living. There’s not much money in it unless you make it to the big time. Hours are long and hard and very demanding/unstable for filmmakers, especially those with families.
Filmmakers in Singapore struggle with lack of funding and support (especially for non-MDA-supported projects) and a small market base to sell their films after production.
9. You will be playing dual roles as our subject matter expert for Film for Good, where you’ll be mentoring a group of aspiring young documentary filmmakers; as well as the main coordinator of our partner organization for the program, Project Give Pray Love. Can you tell us a little bit about PGPL?
Since 1993, my mother, Monique, and I have been bringing donations of clothes and other necessities to the poor in Vietnam. Over the years, we have also financially supported the building of 3 houses for poor families in Vị Thủy and Sóc Trăng in the Mekong Delta region of Vietnam. These efforts in past years were all made in our personal capacity, but in 2013, I initiated Project Give Pray Love to further our cause and help the poor in Vietnam through greater outreach.
Through the project, annual trips are made to Vietnam to donate bicycles, clothes, school supplies, and food to poor children and families in the Mekong Delta. As we believe education is a way out of poverty, giving children a shot at a better future, our focus is to keep children in school. Towards this goal, we offer tuition fees support to relieve their financial burdens, provide bicycles to ease their long journeys to school, and provide school supplies (books and stationery) so they have what they need for their studies
10. How do you hope Film for Good’s young documentary filmmakers can contribute to the mission of PGPL?
I just want to raise awareness about the life situation of the poor in Vietnam as many people are not aware that to this day, people still live in such poverty in developing countries. So if the films made by the participants on this trip can raise awareness and encourage more people to come forward to help, I would say mission accomplished.
11. Any other words of advice to youths who aspire to be filmmakers?
Film has to be done out of passion. If you’re in it for money or fame, then you’re not in it for the right reasons and won’t be likely to survive in the industry. And because the money and fame only comes if you ever make it big, it is a constant struggle, which is why you need passion to keep going and to tide you through.
Also, filmmakers have to learn to wear many hats. Making a film is so physically, mentally and emotionally challenging that you really have to be tough, smart, have a heart for film and a head for business. As an art form, it is one of the most demanding, if not the most, because film has so many facets – camerawork, lighting, sound, music, effects etc. Before production, you wear the hats of producer, researcher, project manager etc. During production, you wear the artistic hat of director which is all encompassing. After production, you put on your business hat to get your film exhibited or distributed. The work never ends and you just learn to alternate between all these different hats.
Finally, use your films for social impact. Make films that will challenge people to improve themselves and do good for the world. Don’t make meaningless films that just waste everyone’s time and money. This is why documentary-making is good because it has the power to effect change and make a difference in the world.