Heart-winning director Boo Junfeng

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Perhaps the biggest success story of this year's International Film Festival in Hanoi is that of Boo Junfeng.

The 27-year-old Singaporean director won two awards for "Best Director" and "Best Feature" for his coming-of-age movie "Sandcastle."

"Sandcastle" is Boo's debut feature-length film. It centers around En, an eighteen year-oldboy who is about to enter the army. In the film, he deals with issues related to growing up, discovering his past and teenage relationships. Boo said that the film stems from his upbringing in a "very wholesome Singaporean family."

"The film was inspired from observing my grandmother who was suffering from dementia when she lived with my family for a few years" said Boo. "It was quite a painful period, and it gave me the idea to create a film about memory. A person's, a family's and a country's memory is easy to lose if we do not preserve it."

The man himself

Boo is one of Singapore's most prolific young directors. He attended film schools including Singaporean Ngee Ann Polytechnic and then LASALLE College of the Arts. His works often center on themes like isolation, kinship, romance and even sexuality. His short films "Lucky 7" and "Tanjong Rhu" have been honored at several international film festivals including Berlin, Rotterdam and Clermont-Ferrand.

He differs from other Asian film directors who usually rely on an available screenplay to make a film. Junfeng's method is to capture surrounding facts and develop them into a fictitious story. He has been involved with cinematography for 12 years and he said it was during this time that he garnered knowledge that helped him to come up with his own way of processing film. Despite all this experience, he still considers himself somewhat a novice.

"I think it's a little early to make a feature at the age of 27," said Boo. "I intended to make my first feature at 30. But the opportunity came and true to say, a good chance never comes twice. I want my films to adapt to international culture. A movie for everyone in any nation."

Boo also acknowledges that winning two important awards at Vietnam's International Film Festival held early October, was a great achievement for his first feature length film. For him, though, the best award of all was winning the audience's heart

I want
my films to
adapt to
international culture. A movie for everyone in any nation.

"The prize is my first film's first international title. It was a great honor. I didn't intend to make an award-winning film. The best award is always the audience's heart. Of course, the award will boost the film's reputation and let people know more about it. A good film is not made for just a period but a lifetime. People must keep watching, talking and thinking about it."

Changing attitudes

While in Vietnam, Boo also premiered his 19-minute short film "Tanjong Rhu" at LASALLE College of Arts. The film is based on a real-life incident in which 12 men in Singapore were arrested in a police entrapment exercise in 1993.

The film faced a great deal of controversy in Singapore when it was released. Indeed, despite having participated and won awards at a string of festivals around the world including the Berlin Film Festival, "Tanjong Rhu" was pulled from the sixth annual Singapore Short Cuts festival in 2009 at the last minute without any explanation.

The short film focuses on homosexuality, a subject that is still taboo in conservative Singapore. It is not, however, sexually explicit. Boo admits his film does not center on the eroticism of homosexuality, but instead presents the subject matter in a different light and encourages public sympathy and awareness of the issue.

Boo says that oriental nations, even ones as modern as Singapore, remain reserved about a sensitive topic such as homosexuality. In making the film, he wanted to rebuke stereotypes surrounding homosexuals.

"Gay men or lesbians are often portrayed as tragic personalities and accompanied by news about suicide or depression. The media depicts them as the dark side of modern society. "Tanjong Rhu" is not aimed at rousing public anger but at encouraging liberal thought."

Boo said that he had chance to interview one of the 12 gay men arrested at the entrapment, and this helped him to understand the thought processes and feelings of those men while they were going through the terrible ordeal.

"The fact that their name and sexual orientation were made public in 1993 was really a terrible pain for those men and their families who knew nothing" said Boo. "I didn't feel I had the right to bring that pain to light again so I decided to take the real life event and turn it into a fictional film. I also did not want to emphasize the sex scenes that would shock the public and possibly make them think worse about homosexuals."

Junfeng's sympathy and understanding come across in the film. Indeed, at the screening in Vietnam, students remarked on the "kindness" of the director toward homosexuals.

Meanwhile, Junfeng's latest film, "Sandcastle" has steered clear of the controversy that his previous films have faced. So far, it has received rave reviews. Junfeng wants to release both "Sandcastle" and "Tanjong Rhu" in Vietnam soon.

As for the future, Boo dreams of becoming a director like Ang Lee, who manages to balance commercial and art house projects in his career.

Boo knows it's not going to be an easy task. After all, so far, Asia only has one Ang Lee.

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