In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we speak to five female film directors on Viddsee to hear about their thoughts, challenges, insights and film journey.
Ng Yiqin was a literature student whose love for storytelling grew into a love for the moving picture. Despite not being professionally trained in film, she has gone on to dabble in cinematography, editing, producing, directing as well as writing short films.
She directed ‘Beyond The Border, Behind The Men’ on Viddsee, and is working on a five-episode social documentary series on food memory called Memories On A Plate. The series launches 19 April.
Yiqin, we’d love to hear about your start in storytelling.
As a student, I was fascinated by how film could move me. I love how movies have the ability to draw people from different backgrounds and portray their common experiences on screen. I went on to study English literature where I further understood the power of narratives. From there, I wanted more, I wanted to translate words to moving images and so I sought an internship at a local production company and worked on my friends’ short films. That was how I got started.
What do you think is different about being a female filmmaker? Does it influence your perspective when telling stories?
The film industry is notably a male-dominated one but we are starting to see more young female talents coming up. When I was starting out, the lack of strong female mentors was striking so I hope we can slowly change that. As for telling stories, when you are not aware, you unknowingly buy into the way certain characters are being portrayed, which may not be fair, so it is important to be conscious of that.
What does strength look like to you and how has it been portrayed in your work?
Strength to me is the quiet, relentless drive to keep on going. It can appear in a consistent visual metaphor that keeps recurring, or it could be the repetitive labour that a character does or represents.
What would you consider when developing female characters?
I would move my characters away from the superficial or supporting roles we sometimes see women playing. I would start by exploring their backgrounds to find areas where I can motivate them to be more active characters who drive the story forward.
Your filmmaking journey has been a collaborative effort over the years — from the creation of the story up until the final product. Tell us about the relationships you have formed over the years, and how gender comes into play?
One of the first projects I did was a documentary shot in Bangladesh with my friends Bernice and Joses. We were all starting out so everyone was equally clueless. But what was intriguing to me was how people readily opened up to us. It could be that we were young, or due to gender.
The experience changed me, it helped that being able to start off this way paved the way I saw collaborations. There is a constant push and pull that I always seek when looking for collaborators. I have been fortunate enough to start off with male mentors who never put gender in the equation, but I am not sure if my experience can speak for all female filmmakers.
What are your comments on the more diverse box office results, such as with ‘Lady Bird’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ (directed by women), as an audience, and as a filmmaker?
I think it’s great that these films have received critical acclaim. They need to continue to reach out to broader audiences. With that, we open doors to more diverse stories being told and received.
Before these films hit the big time, chick flicks and women-themes are often portrayed with the male gaze – how do you think female directors can bring new layers of complexity in the characters, making them more compelling and moving?
Female directors need to first define their own style and be relentless in their pursuit to have these voices heard. It also takes a village to support this vision, so I think it is important to have industry wide support to recognise and groom these female voices.
What important lesson has had a positive effect on your films? Feel free to elaborate.
To keep an open mind and understand that nothing ever goes according to plan. It’s constantly trying to think on your feet. It took me a while to really understand what it means and till this day, I am still grappling with this fact. With every project, I am always looking for this one surprising element and expanding on it.
Who are your recommended filmmakers who create meaningful female stories or interesting female characters?
Xavier Dolan, a young Canadian filmmaker, comes to mind. He creates very strong, multifaceted female leads who have the burden of responsibilities on their shoulders yet have remained tender, loving and human.
What does the power of possibilities mean to you?
It means staying positive even when the going gets tough. Leaning on your team for support and hanging on to the last thread of hope even when everything seems dim.