“I really think culture and religion should be differentiated. All that matters is how we respect it,” says Daphne, filmmaker of Viddsee Shortee Jan 2020, ‘Mother’, about Indonesian Chinese customs.
Seven years ago, she made her first film at the precocious age of 13 in a self-described “one-man show production team”. She continued to nurture her passion in filmmaking by taking on production roles ranging from editor to cinematographer, creating a light-hearted fare including ‘My Boyfriend Is Not My Boyfriend Anymore’ along the way.
In ‘Mother’, the Viddsee Shortee Jan 2020 winner she helmed, the 20-year old full-time fine arts student at the University of Multimedia Nusantara took a bold leap in directing style to craft a chilling cautionary tale of customs unheeded and respects unpaid.
We speak to Daphne to learn more about the intricacies of exploring Chinese customs and the difficulty of bringing a horror film to life!
A small-town girl examining her Chinese upbringing and taboos
“As far as I know, there aren’t many films discussing Chinese customs because it’s still a taboo in Indonesia. It’s quite difficult to know about Chinese customs in Indonesia,” shares Daphne on how she started making ‘Mother’.
Born and raised in a Chinese family in Palembang, South Sumatra, Daphne described her younger days as “growing up in an alley with Chinese as [the racial] majority”. It was common to follow Chinese rites and rituals and carry strong beliefs in myths, taboos, and superstitions.
She used to accept these Chinese cultural traditions as natural expressions of her identity. But as time passed, she started questioning how these customs took form.
Exploring Chinese customs in a Muslim-majority nation
Daphne and her team embarked on fanatic research to make this film.
From visiting rural temples to casket sellers and even traditional Chinese praying equipment shops, no cultural stone was left unturned. The team even crashed a real Chinese funeral ceremony to witness the process (after asking for permission from the family members, of course!).
In the end, ‘Mother’ portrays the simplest Chinese funeral rituals to invite the viewers to question any dogmas they hold true.
Rather than delving into more complicated Taoist or Buddhist rituals, the film focuses on the existence of certain Chinese customs to show respect to deceased family members.
“Culture is carried from generation to generation and it grows in our daily lives. As long as we believe in our religion, there shouldn’t be any problems to obey such Chinese customs,” reflects Daphne.
Contrary to her performance, Khenny Garcia who plays Ervina, is herself a Christian and believes that there are no textual prohibitions that ban Christians from holding joss sticks.
A real haunting couldn’t stop the making of this film
“During recce, one of my team members saw shadows walking through the house,” confesses Daphne.
Made at the cost of a mere SGD$910, the scrappy team behind ‘Mother’ hustled hard to bring their labour of love alive… including facing real-life spooky experiences.
It was only midway into their shoot that Daphne’s team realised, the empty house they had rented for the shoot was haunted. The house had just completed its renovation only weeks before they commenced their shoot.
Another team member heard voices of a lady singing along to songs that he was playing in his headphones.
The resourceful team who sold flowers at a night market to raise funds also borrowed all the props they needed – including a coffin.
Megawati, who portrays the dead mother, was keen to join ‘Mother’ regardless of objections from her own family. The actress had previously worked together with Daphne. She dismissed the taboo and Chinese superstition of lying in a coffin as the mere stigmatization of death.
Viddseers can be sure to look out for more impressive content from this naturally curious and passionate filmmaker with a burning desire to better understand humanity. Congratulations, Daphne, we’ll be waiting with bated breath for your feature film soon.