True Colors Film Festival Blog
Reflections and updates from the producers of the True Colors Film Festival 2021.
Amazing Conversation Starters: The TCFF 2021 Film-maker Dialogues
By Sarina Sahari & Audrey Perera
The focus of the series is not on film-making per se but on related and current topics and conversations. The initial plan was to do simple soundbites asking 3-4 questions, but as we moved along with the festival programming and brainstorm about the dialogue series, we realised that we were spoilt for choice and that soundbites would not do justice to the content.
We arrived at 5 conversations, from 5 sets of individuals who are not just filmmakers but cause champions and advocates taking a stand on what they believe. As you watch each dialogue, we invite you to think about:
– why this conversation is important
– what new knowledge were you introduced to and
– what your favourite soundbites are
Here are some of our favourites – they’re powerful in their directness, and have the power to take root in the listener’s consciousness.
From the dialogue “Change how you see, see how you change.”
“We all have the same need. And it’s a need to be seen, a need to be heard and a need to belong.”
“Finally, I can be proud of who I am, my albinism. I realise the hatred and abuse will never disappear from my life but what has disappeared is the hatred I felt for myself.”
“…the difference between a gaze that sees beauty and a stare that causes discomfort”
“Self-acceptance equals self-esteem equals self-advocacy.”
From the dialogue “Making history in all senses”
“…despite our differences, we should help one another. It’s something that we really just need to get past, our differences and really embrace others. Embrace their differences.”
“I just want to inspire others to show everybody that we all are equal. We’re all the same race. We’re all human.”
“We live in a world where we feel like we’re by ourselves. But to know that you’re not alone.”
“I hope to never have to do a crowdfunding campaign ever again. It’s hard enough to ask one entity or a couple of entities to give you money. To ask hundreds of people to give you whatever money you can get is not an easy task. But we were fortunate to get what we needed to make the film.”
From the dialogue “The R-Word, Sibling Stories & Advocates”
“Words are powerful, how we treat each other makes an impact.”
“Sometimes inside the MRT, people tell me, Eh, boy, you can sit on the reserved seats. I tell them No, I am a young man, thank you!”
“…something as simple as a conversation and normalizing that conversation can change attitudes…provoke emotions…change paradigms and mindset, and that in turn can result in actual action.”
“I want to be a self-advocate because I want to speak up for myself and my friends. I want people to know us better so that they can respect people with disabilities.”
From the dialogue “A Beautiful Pain”
“It’s about accepting something that might not be the best of things, yet you accept it because you knew that God had good intentions giving this gift to you. That is my take. What’s your’s?”
“This is a path that I was given…this is a path that I was chosen, to be part of this.”
“You are my hope. Your film is my hope. Because, when my son was diagnosed with autism, my husband walked away. My husband left me.” And she said that she attempted to take her life…because she could not handle it. “But now you made
a film like this, you have made me realize that maybe there is a reason why my life was not taken away when I attempted to…take my life…”
From the Q&A about Best Summer Ever
“I hadn’t seen a woman with a disability kiss a man without a disability.”
“It’s very purposeful in the script that we never mentioned disability because that’s reality for folks with disabilities. It’s normal in the disability world that you don’t spend your life talking about your disability.”
“Disability is a lived experience and a culture, and it needs to be viewed through the lens of disabled folks.”
“A typical musical might take nine months to a year to film. Principal photography was six weeks. We did it with all of the challenges that we had and so I want to say, wake up Hollywood! How you like them apples!”
by Audrey Perera, Executive Producer
26 November 2021
Watching a recent Unmuted podcast recording hosted by Big Karma founder Pascal Clarysse got me thinking again about the issue of representation, through the lens of a specific actor.
But first, what’s Big Karma? It’s a producer of video games starring “kickass heroes who leverage their disability to win.” The Unmuted podcast goes behind the scenes to reveal the “secret sauce” knowhow of the entertainment world in all its incarnations through conversations with friends.
Pascal’s guest this time was actor C J Jones. You know him, you’ve definitely seen him. Maybe for several years, you might have noticed him as “homeless guy” in countless movies. Then you saw him in Baby Driver, playing XX. And then he became famous for another reason – he developed the Na’vi Sign Language for Avatar 2… and maybe Avatar 3 and 4!
How did his trajectory change?
It began with an “Enough!” moment.
Before going any further, I’d like to declare that I am quoting extensively and even paraphrasing with utmost respect from the Unmuted podcast – that’s how good it was! Thank you, Pascal, for permitting this!
In CJ’s own words, “I was just freaking sick and tired of that. I told my agent stop. I want to audition, I don’t want to be typecasted again. I don’t want to be the same homeless person, enough, enough of that. It’s dangerous, I don’t want that. I want to be a lead role co-star, period.”
I almost cheered when I heard this, sheer respect for not taking anymore! And host Pascal sure did: “All right, good for you! I like that, because some people wait for the imagination of others to change about them but sometimes you have to have the spine to say no, stop it, I’m not doing it anymore. I don’t care if the money stops coming in. I want something else.”
In Jones’ case, it was a deep conviction about his talents and abilities and, no doubt, a deep sense of injustice. And very importantly, the instinct that people want to hear stories of all kinds.
Pascal highlighted an important point: “…if you look back in time, TV executives once asked themselves, are we sure we want to put out content for black people Is there an audience for black content? Are we sure we want to have women in lead roles? Are we sure the audience wants that? And it turned out – yes they did! We just want great stories.”
The kicker, as highlighted by CJ: “Yes but the only sad part is the money. They’re looking at the box office, they’re looking at the profits, that’s the bottom line…”
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This brought to mind times in my magazine publishing past. Whenever I queried why cover models were always of one particular race in a country with many races, I was always told that advertisers stipulated it; that readers wanted it that way. That may be so from a strictly-bottomline perspective (who holds the purse-strings…), but doesn’t it also assume the worst of people, the greatest narrow-mindedness? Today you see much more diversity in advertising and media, and one can only assume that it is not harming the bottom line of any corporate giant, or it wouldn’t be happening.
And as Pascal put so passionately: “It’s like a script waiting in a drawer, that was fantastic and nobody read it before. But if you read it you’re gonna want to put it on the screen and it’s gonna find an audience. Like Crazy Rich Asians, was so questioned, will it find its audience? Well, not only did it resonate with their audience, but also everybody out there, I loved Crazy Rich Asians and I’m not Asian! I’m a Belgian guy living in Colombia and trying to speak English the best he can.”
And then CJ: “That’s exactly it! You have incorporated and learned about Asian culture…There’s awareness now, there’s knowledge, there’s so many ideas that can be shared in with so many different cultures and groups, it’s not just one idea. The world really needs more authentic stories… positive stories…so that everyone can understand each other…and everyone becomes more sensitive. The more sensitive people become, the more opportunities people will have. Folks see everyone’s stories and they’ll understand that a story doesn’t necessarily mean one culture or one group but it’s universal….it affects many different groups. Other groups can identify with one story, another group can learn from another cultural story, so once we all learn then we reciprocate and we give back and it’s really about reciprocating stories and telling and sharing each other’s stories back and forth.”
There’s a lot more to be said, but that’s’ for another time. To end, here are two more great soundbites, and links to the full podcast!
CJ: Dreams don’t cost money, they’re free. What costs money is how do you collaborate and you share those dreams and you work together you make it happen. That costs money in of itself but dreams don’t. But seeing the potential, seeing the stories that have to be told to the world, just do it. That’s powerful that’s power in the story and the telling of that in itself, that’s power. It’s not just the money or the profit, the money and the profit can come later…to make that happen…”
On Fair Remuneration
Pascal: It’s important that the community gets paid because I’m sure you’ve heard this, many stories of advertisers. I’m not going to name companies but sponsors and advertisers reach out to disabled talents or athletes and tell them, oh can we feature you in our commercial. We have $50. We don’t have budget, we thought it would be good exposure for you. Which would be completely insulting, they know it would be insulting with any celebrity or talent but when it’s somebody disabled, so many advertisers still think that we should shouldn’t give equal pay. It’s an acting job, it should get paid. And that is where sometimes the money for me has to be told about as well. It cannot just be representation and stories.”
For the full podcast recording click here or find
The Chosen One
by Sarina Sahari, Producer
24 November 2021
This has nothing to do with the Marvel Universe, DC Universe, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series or Veronica Roth books but is somehow around a similar theme – about a chosen one.
On the very first day of filming Redha, 7-year-old Harith Haziq (young Danial), had an anxiety attack. In the dialogue A Beautiful Pain, which was about the film, director, Tunku Mona Riza described what had happened. Harith had taken the responsibility very seriously and was feeling the pressure. He cried and vomited when shooting was about to begin. As Tunku Mona calmed him down, she said to him: “I think Allah has chosen you for a good reason, so that you can help them. You can tell a story about them”. That conversation calmed him and helped Harith to realize that maybe he could be an actor for a reason; that he was the chosen one to tell the story of an autistic child. There was a strong sense of destiny, as it had taken a whole year to cast the right child actor, Harith, among the many others who had auditioned.
In Robert Tarango’s case, it had been a childhood dream to become an actor. When he was diagnosed with ascher syndrome that caused his DeafBlindness, he thought his dream was over. He thought a DeafBlind person could never become an actor. In Connecting the Dots: The Story of Feeling Through, film writer and director Doug Roland shared the casting process in finding Artie (the DeafBlind character in Feeling Through). Through Helen Keller Services, Doug met many candidates from the DeafBlind community but get this – the lead actor he was searching for had been working right there all along! A case of being at the right place at the right time or was it meant to be? A tough one, to be honest, when you consider that Robert had 20/20 vision when he was growing up.
It strikes me that you can never know where a series of fortunate events will lead you. Tunku Mona was struck by the importance of raising autism awareness when she spent a day with two autistic children and their father – noticed the way people reacted to them. She became determined to make a feature film instead of the initial plan of a TV movie. Doug’s personal experience of meeting a DeafBlind person for the first time in his life led him to writing Feeling Through a year later.
What if Tunku Mona hadn’t spent that day with the two children, approached her research differently and succumbed to the doubts that many had raised about the topic and her ability to reflect it accurately? What if Doug had ignored the DeafBlind person? Who would have been the chosen ones to raise awareness about autism and the DeafBlind community? Could equivalents of Redha and Feeling Through have been made and still have received the tremendous successes and responses as they did?
As cliched as this sounds, I believe that when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be; and that it will be when the time is right. The universe has a funny way of showing or leading us to a path that we were chosen to take. It may happen quickly, like it did for Harith, or it may happen later in life, like for Robert. It may emerge from a first-hand experience that led to realisation like Tunku Mona’s, or a chance encounter like Doug’s.
Have you ever had such an experience where you wondered if everything you had done before had led you to a particular moment, job, project, etc? Or that you were chosen to be a part of something that you may never have thought about, or never even thought possible? I did but that’s a story for another day (and not in TCFF blog post).
If you have a story to share, do send us a direct message either on the TCF Facebook or Instagram or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject title The Chosen One and I’ll share my stories with you.
Redha will be available on Projector Plus.
A Beautiful Pain, Connecting the Dots: The Story of Feeling Through and Feeling Through will be available on Vimeo.
Not So Different
by Sarina Sahari, Producer
19 November 2021
“We’re not so different, you and me” says Pete (Will Rastall) to Luke (Steven Brandon) in My Feral Heart.
And isn’t this so true? We are born with different shapes and forms, yet as humans we are alike in so many other ways. We all have needs and wants. We all have unique traits and abilities. We feel emotions like joy, happiness, pain; laughing and crying mostly for the same reasons. These human attributes are at our core, and our physical or mental abilities do not discount them. An individual’s ‘difference’ does not give us the right to decide what type of person they are or what they can or cannot do. To me it’s just wrong to define a person as ‘not normal’ by the way they look or behave. What IS normal anyway?
Human to human connection
In My Feral Heart, Pete and Eve (Shana Swash) befriend Luke and treat him as they would any other mate. The film also reveals the fact that a person with Down syndrome can be independent and more than that, be a caretaker to an ageing parent. Throughout the film, you get to experience Luke’s thoughts, actions and reactions in his daily life and also when he is faced with a moral dilemma. There is a priceless scene where Luke gives a very cheeky smile to Pete. It just made me smile because I could absolutely relate as a human (spoiler alert: it’s not from the scene below although there too is a smile!). It was Luke as a multifaceted person with a sense of humor that I felt so connected with, not Luke the person with Down syndrome.
If you think that this is just a work of fiction, think again.
When actor Steven Brandon was born, his parents were told that he would not be able to talk or do anything by himself. He has shattered all these negative expectations and was voted by the public in 2017 to win the Best Actor award at the annual National Film Awards UK, beating no less than Michael Fassbender, Daniel Radcliffe and Eddie Redmayne!
It’s about people having a ball, together!
Is it true that films featuring disability are deemed as “heavy and serious” and that no one will be interested to watch them? This was a concern voiced during our post TCFF 2020 discussion and I did wonder if it’s true. With that at the back of my mind while researching and curating for the festival programme this year, I wanted to debunk this myth.
What I had hoped and wished for came through in the form of Best Summer Ever. This musical film is just like classics Grease and High School Musical. In fact, the producers chose those as models, and even deliberately spoofed certain scenes and lines from them. Best Summer Ever follows the same formula –a relatable storyline, colourful side plots, a cast of characters we can all relate to and a catchy soundtrack with eight original songs and an ensemble cast. With the lyrics on screen, you can sing along and dance to the music. Two things that I love most about this film: there is no mention or highlight on any disability and it breaks so many stereotypes (no spoilers). Just like My Feral Heart, Best Summer Ever is about ability and human relationships.
In its accompanying “making of” documentary Bigger Than Us, Andrew Pilkington, the producer and screenwriter for Best Summer Ever says: “It may not be the greatest movie ever made, but it’s one of the most important movies ever made.” I couldn’t agree more. Here you’ll get to see the cast and crew involved in making this historic musical and will also be introduced to how and where it all began, at Zeno Mountain Farm in Vermont. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Zeno Mountain Farm co-founders Peter and Ila Halby, and actors and advocates Christine Bruno and Ajani Murray. We were amazed when they told us that it only took six weeks to complete the principal photography, where it would normally have taken nine months to a year to complete a typical musical film! Keep a lookout for the upcoming blog post on our conversation with them.
I really encourage you to watch these films (and of course all the others in TCFF 2021 line-up) with the same lens you’d wear if you were watching any other film. Immerse yourself in the stories and allow yourself to watch the casts just as they are – artists practising their craft.
Best Summer Ever and My Feral Heart will be available on Projector Plus. Bigger Than Us will be available on Vimeo.
A Journey of a Thousand Miles…
by Audrey Perera, Executive Producer
12 November 2021
And along the way, there will be priceless and groundbreaking hits, and unintended and unrealized misses.
In the process of organizing a film festival that shines the spotlight on perspectives and different ways of being, reality quickly sets in. Yes, representation is ideal, for that is the world we want to see, a world in which everyone is seen, heard and welcomed at the table. But because so much of the way we live was not – was never – designed that way, and so much of the language we use is exclusive rather than inclusive, it’s not straightforward at all.
On the one hand, we have a film like Feeling Through. Inspired by a chance encounter between a film maker and a DeafBlind man, it makes film history. A DeafBlind man playing a DeafBlind character. No surprise that it was nominated for an Oscar this year. It didn’t win, but as director Doug Roland points out, the nomination, and the fact that DeafBlind actor Robert Tarango was “in the building” was already unprecedented representation – only the second DeafBlind person to attend the Academy Awards other than activist Helen Keller herself who won an Oscar for a 1955 documentary about her life, Helen Keller in Her Story.
On the other hand, you have the recently-announced biopic about Keller’s life, due for release in 2022. Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds has been cast to play the leading role. Many in the DeafBlind community expressed disappointment and criticism at this choice of actor because she is Deaf, not DeafBlind. Said Loni Freidmann, a Deaf American Sign Language instructor with more than 9,800 followers on Instagram: “[It’s the] same concept with hearing people taking over Deaf roles. If DeafBlind roles happen, allow DeafBlind people to take those roles…Deaf people do not understand what it is like being DeafBlind. How can a Deaf sighted person understand this?”
But for Simmonds, this is the “role of a lifetime”. In a post on Instagram, she added that she was “Humbled and honoured to portray one of the most extraordinary women of our time.”
The fact that she is an established actor already would certainly have played a part in making her the choice, as there are always commercial pressures – another reality.
So while this is not representation as we would want it, it’s progress, isn’t it? We asked Feeling Through director Doug Roland for his take on this.
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Roland acknowledges the importance and necessity of representation. But being a change-maker, he chooses to focus on solutions. Which really hits the nail on the head. In an ideal world, there must be representation. But in order to have that, training and infrastructure are vital, so that people with disabilities can develop their talents and skills in the first place.
And this is a microcosm of the solutions that are needed across the board, across all industries and artistic endeavors. It’s a whole chain of action that’s required, and it’s not going to fall neatly into place anytime soon. Mindsets need to be changed, courage must be found in order to take decisive action, financial decision makers need to be persuaded, media owners need to commit to representation, and so much more. And all of this must be driven by the passion to do what’s right, but tempered with a sense of reality, and acceptance that it will take time.
Scan history and it is easy to understand why those affected are calling vehemently for change. It’s been too long coming, and feels too slow. Those of us not personally affected will never truly understand the forces behind this insistence on change, now. But it is surely a journey of a thousand miles, in which hits must be celebrated and misses forgiven. I know that I run the risk of sounding ableist when I say this – easy for me to say when I am not personally affected – but this is the reality.
As I stand on the sidelines, I cheer for the hits such as Feeling Through and Best Summer Ever (the first Screen Actors Guild-registered film to feature a fully inclusive cast and crew, with more than half having disabilities); I withhold judgement on the choice of a Deaf actor to play the DeafBlind character of Helen Keller because there is too much that I don’t know about the reasons for the casting; and I’m so happy to see the many attempts to bring different lifestyles and individuals into the mainstream media such as Netflix with Crip Camp, Love on a Spectrum, Special, Ossan’s Love, Deaf U and all those that came before, and will come after. To me, all of these represent different facets of representation.
The point is that efforts are being made, on different levels, hitting different marks, with different motivations. And all of it must be celebrated, even if disappointment sometimes adds a bitter note to the cocktail of emotions.
Love at the core
by Audrey Perera, Executive Producer, introducing Tasneem Majeed
5 November 2021
Part of the TCFF 2021 program is a series of four dialogues involving film directors, actors, advocates, photographers and hosts. There’s nothing like conversations like these, to generate honest sharing, moments of emotion and passion and amazing back stories which one would never otherwise hear.
One of the dialogues was around the film The R-Word, written and directed by Amanda Lukoff. The film talks about the origins and prevalence of this most toxic of words that is so often used as a weapon to diminish and belittle. It also features sibling advocates and self-advocates and the roles they play in so many lives, and their own. The dialogue was between film maker Amanda Lukoff and Singaporean sibling advocate, Tasneem Majeed, and self-advocate, Allan Cai. It has hosted by Bhargav Sriganesh, a civil servant passionate about inclusion.
You will be able to watch these dialogues from 3 December, when the festival launches.
One thing you will notice as you watch this dialogue is the searing honesty of Tasneem Majeed. Occupying the space that she does, she is innately sensitive to others who are part of any conversation. At the same time, she is honest, and realised early in life that honest communication brings change. She talks about many things – no spoilers here – and she remains sensitive and open, yet completely honest. Refreshingly, she does not sugarcoat nor attempt to be politically correct. Some might easily misunderstand this and label her negatively, but I hope that more are moved by her determination to raise awareness about autism, and the love for her brother and her parents that lies at the core of it.
I learnt so much from her, and I am grateful for that. Unfortunately, a dialogue session has a fixed duration, so there was a question that Tasneem did not get to answer. And here below, is her answer to this question: What have you learnt from or observed in your brother, that has made you love him more?
WHEN TWO DIFFERENT WORLDS COLLIDE
For as long as I can remember, I saw my brother as an individual from another world…another planet…another universe even. He always appeared isolated from the rest of society; detached from the world we were living in.
As a toddler, he barely responded to his name, let alone his surroundings. I could, in a moment of jealously and anger, grab a portion of his skin and squeeze it until my fingertips turned poppy-red and he would not even look up at me and make eye contact.
As the years passed, he grew to be more self-aware and receptive. He would whine, erupt in nervous laughter or clamp his hands down on his funny stick-out ears if the surroundings became too chaotic or noisy for his liking. If I were to attempt the sneaky pinching stunt again, he would certainly let out a cry of agony or even retaliate. Even so, he was different from the rest of us. He constantly flaps his hands excitedly while pacing up and down our leather coach, finds pleasure in sliding his thumb up and down the crook of my mother’s arm, constantly erupts in raucous laughter for no apparent reason, and has hysterical reactions to foods that were rough in texture such as cookies, sugar-coated gummies, and fish fillet. This socially unacceptable behavior has earned our family countless stares in public.
Being a child growing up in affluent Singapore, my life revolved around my schoolwork, exams, friendships, Youtube, hobbies, and enrichment classes ranging from competitive swimming to piano. Raouf, despite being my biological brother, leads a completely different life of Occupation Therapy, Speech Therapy, weird behavior, puzzles, routine, Pecs, and Special Schools. Although we both shared a family, a home, and lived in the same country and world, I saw him as of another species altogether. Our relationship was forged by blood but divorced by the lack of chemistry and kinship. We were living in the same world yet were worlds apart.
Little did I know things would soon change.
As I approached my teens, I developed an interest in photography. Upon being presented with my first smartphone at thirteen, I began taking pictures of nature, people, wildlife, or simply anything that caught my eye. One Saturday afternoon at the Starbucks we frequented weekly, I was trying to take an aesthetically pleasing shot of my Cappuccino when my mother asked if I could take a photograph of Raouf in his brand new “Peanuts” themed Uniqlo t-shirt. As we were still waiting (for what seemed like an eternity) for my father to return with our chocolate danishes (one of our favorite desserts), I grudgingly agreed.
It was that exact moment – the few seconds it took to lower my thumb onto the circular button on the bottom of my phone and the few seconds of pride I felt looking at the memory I had captured – that our two vastly different worlds collided.
Through my photograph I saw the parallels between our personalities. While looking at a photograph of a very anxious Raouf with headphones over his ears and analyzing the frown lines on his face and the discomfort in his chocolate-brown eyes, I was transported back to a particularly trying day at Junior College.
Wild, unwelcome thoughts ran through my mind like a whirlwind as I sat fidgeting at my assigned seat. I played with my fingers clumsily as I desperately tried to drown out the caterwauling of my classmates as they shouted abuse at one another, flung paper balls across the room, and made highly inappropriate jokes in the teacher’s absence. Being in the middle of all that disorder and turmoil, I felt sick to my stomach. I wished the ground would just swallow me up. It was then I was struck by a revelation. For the first time in forever, my brother and I had something in common: feeling overwhelming amounts of anxiety and fear during times of pandemonium and disorder. We craved structure, routine, and tranquility, which are hard to find in the bustling city of Singapore.
On another Saturday afternoon, I took another photograph of Raouf. This time, it was at one of our favorite restaurants, Pauls at Ngee Ann City. And what a different Raouf was captured in my photograph! This one was grinning from ear to ear while sipping his Yuzu Cooler and looking down at the picturesque view below him. It was then – again – that I saw an overlap in our worlds. In a tranquil restaurant surrounded by nature and served possibly the most scrumptious desserts, he was at his happiest. To my utmost surprise, I was too. I had managed to post an image of the Croque-Monsieur I had for lunch to my Instagram story and was ecstatically conversing with a close friend on Whatsapp about our meet-up the following day. In the four hours we had spent there, Raouf did not throw a single fit and my father could not have thought of a better way to spend an afternoon off work. It was a pity my mother could not be there to witness this celebratory moment.
All in all, it is these little moments…these little lapses in time when I saw myself in my Autistic brother and him in me. Someone who once seemed so far from who I was suddenly seemed similar and even identical to me. I see this as a huge milestone.
To all those other siblings of special needs children out there and whoever is reading this post, I have a special task for you. In the fast-paced nature of things, take some time off and enjoy the simple little things in life. Maybe spend some time with your sibling and family members and admire the beauty of little things that make them who they are, whether it’s the adorable freckles on their left shoulder or the twinkle in their eyes as they smile and laugh with you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover something about them…maybe even about yourself.
As for me, I will keep searching and yearning for such moments as I embark on this journey of life with my beautiful brother, Raouf. For all I know, there could be a day when our two worlds become one. As for now, this is the story of how two very different worlds collided.
by Sarina Sahari, Producer
29 October 2021
What’s your story? If you could pen your story and make a film out of it, would you?
You may think that no one would be interested in your story, but you never know. Someone out there might be mirroring what you are going through, or your story might be relatable to someone else for a very different reason. Just read the stories below. Each film was written and directed based on very personal experiences; each tells a universally relatable story that deserves be shared (no spoilers, I promise).
I wondered when I watched The Silent Child for the first time if Rachel Shenton (writer and actress) picked up British Sign Language (BSL) just for the film. She signed fluently and had a great chemistry with the child actress, Maisie Sly. Before The Silent Child, I had not heard of her so had no idea about her background. I discovered that Rachel decided to pick up BSL at a young age so that she could communicate with her father who lost his hearing suddenly through an unrelated health issue and lived the last two years of his life profoundly deaf. Since then, apart from juggling acting roles, she has been an advocate for equal opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing people. Her screenplay debut combines two things she’s passionate about – performing and raising awareness for access to education for deaf children. She is also an ambassador for the National Deaf Children’s Society, and in 2013, climbed Kilimanjaro in aid of the charity. Talk about being a passionate advocate!
In 1997, writer, director and producer Rodney Evans was diagnosed with a rare genetic eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa. As a result, he lost peripheral vision and much of his night vision. Vision Portraits is his personal story as a filmmaker and an artist. The film also profiles three other artists – a photographer, a dancer and a writer. Each of them experienced vision loss or were born with minimal vision. It is amazing to watch these four creatives share their journey and process, using their remaining senses differently. With only 20% of his visual field remaining, Rodney was forced to work in new and collaborative ways. His creative approach in the film – using point of view footage so that viewers can visualise some remnants of the sight of each artist is mind-blowing. The film gives a great insider perspective of their daily lives, artistic journeys and the emotional roller coaster ride that they each experienced. As creative individuals, all of them were deeply influenced and motivated by the power of art to heal and transform. Speaking for myself, not being able to see without my spectacles did not stop me from dancing on stage – without contact lenses! The blurred vision I experienced actually heightened my awareness and my senses, and birthed an alter ego in those moments.
Who would have thought that a chance encounter on the streets of New York could lead to the film Feeling Through? In its accompanying documentary Connecting the Dots writer and director Doug Roland shares his story about that fateful night which changed his life and the domino effect that followed. Having watched both films more than once (if you read my previous post, First-time Producer, you would know why), the film makes me think about ‘feeling through’ (on emotions and human connections), the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘why’s’. I wonder if Doug will make a prequel, a sequel or both to this film.
We keep forgetting about the power of words. How a single word can mean nothing to one but hurt another. Words can be forgiven but not forgotten. Growing up with an older sister with Down syndrome, The R-Word director Amanda Lukoff began at the tender age of six to advocate for her sister, Gabrielle. She has shared how much her relationship with Gabrielle has shaped her life and as she discovered her passion for film, how she wanted to combine her love and pride for her sister with giving voice to her community. Her debut film not only explains the history, implications and misuse of the word ‘retarded’, it also features four sibling relationships. The love, respect, bond and ‘do whatever it takes for my brother/sister’ from each of the siblings is priceless. You must watch the outtakes of these siblings in between the credits. They’re hilarious!
So, what’s your story? And which of the stories featured in TCFF resonates with you? Yes, for now you can only read the synopses on this website and watch the available trailers. Isn’t that always the case before we decide to watch any film? But just like the ones I mentioned above, all the films in TCFF 2021 are personal, content rich, full of insights and relatable in various ways. Don’t take my word for it, just pick one for a start. And once you watched a TCFF film, I hope you’ll let us know as we’d love to hear your thoughts!
by Sarina Sahari, Producer
22 October 2021
The first time is not necessarily the hardest, but what did I get myself into?
As someone who loves to watch films of various genres (except for horror), I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to be one of the two producers of TCFF 2021.
The most exciting part? The programming and curation process. I had never been involved in these aspects of the festivals I’d worked on previously. Of course different kinds of festivals entail different curation processes, but there is a structure and a thought process. And that thought process is the one that I’m most curious about because I get to research, select, propose and watch films!
I really do get to watch a lot of films! Not only those that I had researched and proposed but also those that were proposed by the team and our partners. At one point I watched so many films within a day that I literally got a headache! Maybe it was because I was spoilt for choice or overwhelmed by the emotions that some of the films evoked, or simply the question “what did I just watch?”. Many times, I needed to take a step back during this process and ask myself these questions, “What makes this film special? Why would anyone want to watch this film? Would this film appeal to our target market? Does this film fit into TCFF? What do I want TCFF viewers to take away from watching this film?”
We didn’t manage to secure streaming rights for all the films that we shortlisted, and once we had watched the screeners (secure restricted access links provided to film festival organisers who need to watch shortlisted movies in full), we realised that not all of those on the shortlist were suitable or appropriate. This added to my ‘headache’! We also hit a few bumps during the selection process when we either received no response from distributors, or were informed that the films were not available for online film festivals because of the risk of illegal downloading of the film, licensing rights restricted to certain countries and so on. TCFF was at a disadvantage – a two-year-old online film festival competing versus multiple new streaming platforms (including those operated by major studios and distributors) and many more.
It came to a point where we asked ourselves “Should we settle, or do we want quality programming?” Knowing what was at stake, we stuck to our guns and the program came together – it’s what you see on this website. I am glad that we did what we did, a happy camper with the programme.
Two important things occurred to me throughout this curation process – the collective work and the compromise within the team.
While curating and programming is somehow the easier part, the requests for permissions, fee negotiations, requests for clean film, dialogue list (final dialogue of the film with time code of each dialogue, name of speaker and the exact words, either in word doc or in excel), the English or Japanese SRT files (SubRip Subtitle, a plain text file that holds video subtitle information such as the start and end text timecode and a sequential subtitle number), still images, trailers, official bios and so on (after we sign on the dotted line) was an adventure on its own. This part was mostly handled by my co-producer, Teo Swee Leng.
A clean film is basically one with no embedded subtitles. My job is to check that we receive the clean film for our Vimeo showcase with no timing counter/film identity visible, that the English subtitles sync during playback and coordinate with our Tokyo team to get the subtitles of all the films on Vimeo and Projector Plus translated into Japanese. In an ideal world, we would receive everything that we requested when we requested it. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case as it involves a lot of coordination between my co-producer and I with all the different parties, detailed checks and lots of chasing.
Like I said, this part is an adventure on its own. Different days, different adventures and different learning curves. Working with many parties and a language difference, it is important to create a system that works for everyone. It was challenging at first but once everyone knew how to read the spreadsheets that I created, where to find the files, adjust and adapt as we went along, it got easier. The language barrier is still a barrier at times, but what I’ve learnt is to dissect the message and simplify my own messages/replies. And of course, to seek clarity when necessary.
As this post is being published, we are 41 days away from the start of the festival on 3 December (gulp!). There is still loads to be done: translations to be completed, content for the ongoing marketing and outreach campaigns to be reviewed, media outreach, dialogues to be edited and transcribed, website contents to be updated, operational matters, technical checks of the films on both Projector Plus and Vimeo…and the list goes on.
“The first time is always the hardest” (Sarwat Chadda, Dark Goddess). I beg to differ as it is not necessarily the hardest as it depends on how you look at that first-time experience. Yes, I definitely have “what did I get myself into” moments and days when I feel overwhelmed and frustrated. But one thing I know for sure is that this first-time experience is one that I will never forget. The satisfaction of all the learnings through each process, the compelling backstories of some of the films and working with the various parties far outweigh the bad days!
The best movie lines
by Audrey Perera, Executive Producer
15 October 2021
We all know at least a couple of them. The most well-remembered lines from movies are not just note-worthy for their punchiness, they also tell a story about the times they were set in. These were times when space travel seemed like pure fantasy, politeness ruled communication, romance was alive and machismo rocked.
“May the Force be with you.” Star Wars, 1977
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone with the Wind, 1939
“Go ahead, make my day.” Sudden Impact, 1983
“Play it again, Sam.” Casablanca, 1942
“Show me the money!” Jerry Maguire, 1996
My pick of winning lines from TCFF 2021 films also tells stories, of how language is changing, how the once-silent are speaking out and how perspectives are changing.
“YOU’LL BE OK” These are the words of comfort, written on a palm by a finger, by a DeafBlind man to a young man who is alone and adrift. How much more plain-speaking and reassuring could you be? By the way, did I mention that this – Feeling Through – was the first film to star a deafblind actor? And that it was nominated for an Oscar this year?
“Are we really so different and not like you, that you have to stare?” This is from the short film On Beauty. Courage and self-belief, for anyone to hold their head up, look you in the eye and ask this question. If you’ve ever been stared at because of your appearance or something you couldn’t help, you will totally get this. Or maybe you were the one staring…
“No, I’m not homeless. I’m just houseless. Not the same thing, right?” Have you ever thought of this, that not having a house/permanent address does mean necessarily that you are without a home? The line is an answer from a ‘nomad’ to a question in Nomadland, winner of three Academy Awards this year. It sure makes a lot of sense. What IS home, after all? A place, a state of being, an emotion….what do you think?
“There’s something off about this new girl.” A priceless line from Best Summer Ever, the first musical to feature a fully-inclusive cast and crew. It’s so memorable for me because the statement is not about the obvious wheelchair that the new girl uses; it’s something else that’s imperceptible, maybe it’s her confidence and assumption of equality, which is not appreciated by the “mean girl” who makes the statement.
Study in contrasts
by Audrey Perera, Executive Producer
8 October 2021
Without having planned it, I was in New York on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the deadliest act of terrorism on US soil.
Exploring the city on foot, bus, subway and cab, it was of course a must to visit the 9/11 Memorial & Museum on the anniversary itself. I was not prepared for the emotions that swirled in me. Like people around the world, I was affected and horrified when it happened all those years ago yet ¬ even though I have family living in the US – it always remained at a certain distance, because it was a news event watched on TV.
But here in the presence of such a thoughtfully created remembrance, at the very spot where the worst devastation took place, it was almost too much to bear. Nearly 3,000 people killed, and I could run my fingers over almost as many names inscribed in bronze if I wanted to. I could know that so many of the names were deliberately placed alongside names of people they knew, worked with, loved. I could read the messages of love placed by family members, and watch in silence as water poured ceaselessly into an endless void. This is what Loss looked like, up close.
But as important a life experience as this was for me, it was not going to be the most enduring memory that I would take home.
Days later, visiting a gallery in East Harlem, I knew as soon as I stepped through the door that this would be that memory. Positive Exposure is a unique community space, and the first of its kind in this history of New York City. Through the visual, performing and literary arts, it aims to break barriers and broaden perspectives of what diversity and inclusion mean. There is just so much to say about the work of this amazing global initiative which aims to help us begin to see each individual as a human being and a valued member of our society.
The Positive Exposure movement was founded nearly 25 years ago by photographer Rick Guidotti, and it all began with a chance encounter on a city street; a vision of beauty, and a life purpose sealed. As I walked through the gallery, I was surrounded by a sea of images of mostly children. The magic lay in the way they had been photographed. The focus was on their humanity – twinkling eyes, happy smiles, mischief, thoughtfulness, inner light. Such individuality, captured in all its diverse beauty.
They made me pause. How often do we judge someone based on thoughtless definitions of beauty and acceptability, in our thoughts, if not in our words? How often do we judge someone to be not beautiful because they are different from the norm? If we ourselves desire to be seen and respected for our individuality and for what we bring to the world in that very uniqueness, shouldn’t we acknowledge that same desire in everyone else?
These images – singly and collectively humbling – were to be the most enduring memory for me.
Rick Guidotti’s movement is the subject of On Beauty, one of the short films of the True Colors Film Festival 2021. You can also catch Rick in the dialogue, “On Beauty: Change how you see, see how you change” where he chats with Tokyo-based photographer Lily Shu and Singapore actor and host, Oon Shu An about his movement, perspectives through the lens and changing perceptions of beauty.
What are we trying to prove?
by Audrey Perera, Executive Producer
1 October 2021
Our festival runs from 3-12 December 2021. The films have been researched, watched, shortlisted and selected by a programming team of five in Tokyo and Singapore.
We searched far and wide for films that have the power to make you pause, if not actually change your perspectives. We were the test, a team of idealistic individuals who are not easily impressed.
Permissions to stream have been sought, negotiated, received, and agreements signed (most of them!). The website is up, not yet with full information, but enough for a start, and right now it’s a slightly crazy schedule of checking and confirming detail upon detail before we release the full program to the public.
Yet it was not a straightforward decision to hold this online film festival. On the one hand, the first one, presented last year, was our most well-publicized True Colors Festival event yet, and we reached audiences in almost 40 countries. On the other hand, now that streaming platforms are proliferating like never before and bringing previously unimaginable access to content for people everywhere, why should viewers choose to stream the films in this festival? What’s special about it?
We asked ourselves tough questions. Why indeed? Are we just doing it for the sake of continuity? Do we need to? What are we trying to achieve, a new film festival not yet a year old, in a field against established festivals with stellar line-ups; on top of the streaming platforms issue? We were also keenly aware of the issue of representation in film, which has reached new levels of awareness and transformation this year.
After some soul-searching, we realized this: within the True Colors Film Festival 2021 program, you will discover a carefully curated collection of films and dialogues that will entertain, challenge, fascinate, inspire and change perspectives; films that are tender, tough to watch, heart-stopping, unforgettable. All of it is here for the taking, in this one festival. This is not the clever use of words – this is our promise.