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KIRSTEN TAN――"Pop Aye": Journey to the Tale of a Human and an Elephant

Interview / Asia Hundreds

Exploring Existence and Time through Film

(Q&A session with students)

Student 1: You mentioned earlier that, as a movie fan, you wanted to be a director, but why did you specifically choose to become film director instead of, say, a cinematographer or an actress?

Tan: I think it comes from the fact that in Singapore the film industry is not big; it's quite different from Japan where there are many different specialized career paths and options in film. Things are slightly different now, but in Singapore, if you want to make films, you often have to be the one first creating or generating the content, or be stuck on a project that maybe you don't really believe in since there isn't that many to choose from. So that's why I fell into a writer/director position.

Student 2: Among all that different types of media that is available now, what kind of message do you want to convey using films?

Tan: Whatever the medium—whether it is writing, film, or music—I think people try to inject something meaningful into the world, and, for me, every film serves different purposes. For Pop Aye, I tried to explore the idea of existence and time.
Actually, whenever I make films, I feel very responsible in thinking of the audience; I sometimes worry if people think that I am wasting their time. At the same time, I would just like to infuse value into every film I make, but value is entirely subjective: what is meaningful to me could mean nothing to someone else. So as long as a film is not entirely terrible, I feel like it will somehow find its own audience.

A photo of Kirsten Tan giving advice to a student Gakushuin Womens University

Student 3: In terms of your concept for Pop Aye, which was themed on life and time, why did you choose an elephant to be your subject?

Tan: In terms of the theme, what I wanted to explore was about life, time, and existence, but the subject itself was the elephant for this film. For me, scriptwriting is somehow like a jigsaw puzzle in many ways. I knew I wanted to make a road movie and then somehow the image of an elephant kept surfacing in my head. And after I knew there was an elephant on a road, I decided to include a man in it. It was something that popped up when I was brainstorming for the film. So I tried to mix all these ideas together to eventually figure out what I really want to talk about which was time. Sometimes, you don't know why certain ideas come to you but I feel that is the beauty of creation.
I guess somehow my memories of living in Thailand when I saw elephants on the streets, affected me deeply in ways I did not understand. The more I look at it, the more I realize this is very much something Ingmar Bergman's once said which is, "I throw a sphere into darkness, that is intuition, I send an army to collect the spear, that is intellect...." *1 The process of scriptwriting basically involves yourself, the imaginations of your own subconscious, and the second part of the process is to figure out what your subconscious is trying to tell you. So it is always about imagining and analyzing, and, through that process, you gradually come up with the world itself.

*1 Quoted in "Ingmar Bergman Confides in Students," the New York Times online, May 7, 1981.

Tsuchida: That idea of the subconscious made me interpret this film as a documentary of Thaneth and his life. Thaneth, are you going to continue working as an actor?

Warakulnukroh: Yes, I would like to, and also I would like to make my own film as a director.

Tsuchida: And Kirsten, what is your next project?

Tan: Right now, I am traveling a lot to film festivals with this film so I don't really have time to write. But hopefully next year, I would like to write two stories that I have in my mind, probably one set in Singapore and the other in New York. We will see which one actually happens first.

Tsuchida: Thank you. Lastly Kirsten, could you give a message to our students here?

Tan: I feel that the time was so short for us to really know each other better, but let me thank you for your interest in the arts and culture. That is something we have to really promote because the current world is so torn apart by so many various things. I feel that with art and culture we can understand each other so much better. Thank you very much for being here today.

More Information:

Kirsten Tan Official Website

DAHDI Film Info

DAHDI Official Trailer

Pop Aye Film Info

Pop Aye Official Trailer

Interpreter: Makiko Wakai (Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Tokyo Office)
Editor: Izumi Kakeya (The Japan Foundation Asia Center)
Photo: The Japan Foundation Asia Center