An interview with Venus Khor, the producer of ‘Home’ which premiered on Viddsee last week.
BUZZ: This short film was based on a true story. How did you came to find the subject?
Venus: We stumbled upon the work of Tan Ean Nee through research on leper colonies in Malaysia. She’s a former newscaster and now a full-time social worker. Through Ean Nee’s work, which includes recording oral histories from leper settlements, many children who were forced into adoption could reconnect with their biological parents from these settlements.
We met Ean Nee, read articles about her work, and got hold of her book, “The Way Home: The Isolated Emotional World of Former Leprosy Patients and their Descendents”.
We realised that the personal stories was our focus. We then found that we had our very own story just an hour drive away from our office in Tanjung Bungah, Penang.
Ah Chen, the lead character in our story, is based on the life of a woman who started taking care of a older woman from a ‘longhouse’ for lepers. This lady (the grandmother in this story) is the only recovered leper left in this longhouse. She lived here with her adopted daughter, and her daughter’s children, and was the last family who lived there.
The eviction notice by the social welfare organisation was quite harsh as Ah Chen and her family had lived there all her life. Basically, they had nowhere to go.
How did you cast the actors? Were they from Penang? Did they meet the family?
Aside from our sound technician, the cast and crew are from the island of Penang!
Ah Chen was played by Winnie Yap, a local Penang actress who came to our audition. She was touched by the script and could empathise, being a single mother herself.
The cast and crew met up with the real family and bonded almost immediately. We found the grandmother actually very cheerful and giving. She told us a lot of stories and connected with the actors.
Winnie’s own children played themselves in this short film. So the interaction and emotions between the mother and children were very authentic. We also had the privilege to observe the family in their daily lives, so the domestic scenes are all based on that.
How did you narrow down your research to focus on just a personal story?
There’s so much going on, but this is not a story about leprosy, nor about the grandmother (the grandmother is a recovered leper). It’s about a family who is forced to face the harsh realities from changed circumstances, circumstances that are tied to the 85 year old grandmother. Then of course there’s alienation, gossip, strained finances, and so on.
But the story is really about the mother. Ah Chen herself is illiterate. She is her own support system. She worked to provide for her own children and to care for her mother. Faced with eviction, all her work in creating stability, and her own support is gone, if she has to give up a home she’s called her own for decades.
The ending is inconclusive. In real life, what happens to Ah Chen’s family?
Ah Chen’s family had to be evicted. They left. We are still in touch with her.
We had a viewing of this short film in Penang. A politician came forward and asked for Ah Chen’s contacts. He said he would try to help.
Is it unique that your Penang-based team chose to tell a story from your own backyard?
Paul (the film director) and I founded Rising One when we returned to Penang after working and studying abroad. The bulk of our work is based around Southeast Asia in commercial and corporate video production. This is personally my second short film attempt (I made it with Paul, before we founded Rising One).
We decided to make a short film as Tropfest (the film festival and competition) was happening in Penang.
Telling a story from Penang is very real as it’s from our own backyard. When you start looking around your own environment you know that there’s a lot out there that needs to be told. Community awareness is just one of the subjects we have worked on as a team.
Even though we didn’t make it to the finals, we are still very proud and satisfied with the film. We’re going to try to make more short films, if time permits – maybe once a year!