A Land Imagined, directed by local filmmaker and LASALLE part-time lecturer Yeo Siew Hua right here in Singapore, has made history by being the first Singaporean film to win the coveted Golden Leopard – the grand prize for Best Film – at the prestigious Locarno Festival 2018 in Switzerland. It is also the first Singaporean film to ever be nominated in the Main Competition (Concorso Internazionale) category at Locarno. A Land Imagined follows a police investigator on the case of a missing construction worker at a land-reclamation site, and explores the plight of migrant workers in an often unseen side of Singapore.
Following the win at Locarno, the film has premiered at numerous other international film festivals, including the El-Gouna Film Festival in Egypt where it won the festival’s top prize – the Feature Narrative Golden Star, the 25th Adana Film Festivali in Turkey where it was nominated for the NDR Young Talent Award, the Vancouver International Film Festival, Filmfest Hamburg in Germany, and many more.
LASALLE lecturer, Hideho Urata, was Director of Photography for the film and was in Locarno with Director Yeo to celebrate the win, while producer Fran Borgia is a recent graduate from LASALLE's MA Arts Pedagogy & Practice, and has been a long-time collaborator and teacher in the Puttnam School of Film & Animation. Five final year BA(Hons) Film students also had the opportunity to work on the film behind the scenes, while 50-60 other students from Level 1 and 2 were on set observing the filming as part of their curriculum.
We speak with Hideho to learn more about his experience working on the cinematography for A Land Imagined, and how he handles both his role as filmmaker and responsibilities as a lecturer.
How Hideho came to work on A Land Imagined
My first time working with Director Yeo Siew Hua was actually 6 years ago. At that time, Fran Borgia, who is the producer for A Land Imagined, was the producer for that project as well. When we finished that project, Director Yeo spoke to me about another project that he was still in the process of developing, and asked if I was interested to shoot it, so we started to talk about the story and details of A Land Imagined. This was how I was introduced to this project, and it took 6 years before we started preparing to shoot this film.
On Singapore as a setting
When I first received the script, I saw the Chinese title of the film [幻土], and reading the Kanji of the title made me think a lot about what the Director wanted to say about the film. In Japan, the way we read the Kanji for the Chinese title does not just talk about it as a piece of land but rather, the Nation itself, and also the identity of the people living on it.
As we all know, Singapore is a multinational cosmopolitan city where there are people from all over the world. The biggest challenge about the Singapore landscape, with so many different influences in different locations of the Island, is how to make them unified as part of one nation. While shooting the film, many of the locations showed another side of Singapore that not just myself, but even many Singaporeans, do not get the opportunity to experience. I am really interested in shooting minorities, as their voices are seldom heard by the public and I feel that from them, you can really feel their emotions when you hear their story.
On being compared to David Lynch and Roman Polanski
One of the biggest challenges provided to me by the Director was to create night scenes in a way that is not Singaporean, but, even up to the point when we finished shooting, I did not know if I managed to achieve what the Director expected. I am really very honoured that people think that the cinematography of A Land Imagined reminds them of David Lynch and Roman Polanski as I am a big fan of their work as well.
For my philosophy of shooting, I always like to have only a rough idea of how I want the film to look eventually, but I believe that the story is the most important part of a film, so I will not make any firm decisions before I have seen what the director and actors are bringing to the table.
Bringing the classroom out to the film set
My expertise is in cinematography, and a cinematographer needs to always be shooting to keep up with the times and to develop new ideas. A working cinematographer is one who will always be able to bring new things to the classroom, so I try my best to shoot whenever the schedule at LASALLE allows me to. I also always try to talk to our students about my recent projects and the difficulties I’ve faced working on them.
When I teach the Film students in LASALLE, it is difficult for the students to understand the information I am explaining via only verbal communication, but when the students get to work on or observe the film set, it gives them a live example of what I have been teaching in lessons. I also believe that there is no way better way to learn than to do it yourself.
The biggest difficulty about juggling both roles is really time management, as a film is not shot in only 1 day. It requires months from the start to the end of the project, having lots of meetings after teaching hours, going on location recces on weekends–which took about 1 year–and that is just pre-production.
What’s next for Hideho
Thanks to the hype of A Land Imagined that is going on now, I have had the chance to meet many new and famous Producers and Directors who have worked on many interesting projects as well, so if all goes well, I would love to shoot another feature film soon.
As for LASALLE, I really enjoy teaching our students here in the Puttnam School of Film & Animation. Through my connections as cinematographer, I hope I am able to open up opportunities for students to interact and collaborate with filmmakers and festival programmers around the world, which I believe will benefit the students and the College in many ways.
I would also like to take this chance to thank the staff and my colleagues at LASALLE, for supporting me throughout the entire gruelling period of making the film, because without them, I would never have managed to take on this project.
Our heartiest congratulations to the team behind A Land Imagined on their international success!
Cover image: A still from A Land Imagined. (Photo: Philipp Aldrup Photography / Akanga Film Asia)