In Her Own Words: Sabrina Poon

 

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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.

Sabrina is the director of ‘Pa’, part of the Scene City anthology of short films about people and their stories in cities, through the eyes of Viddsee filmmakers.

We’d love to hear about your start in storytelling. Tell us about your inspirations, and aspirations.
I have always been intrigued by interesting and compelling stories, leaning into books and films in theatres. Filmmaking is fascinating as you get to witness stories come alive, from words to visuals.

Due to family finances, I started working at 11-years-old. I had odd jobs as a factory worker, data entry clerk and receptionist — it felt meaningless. Since then, I decided to pursue a career that aligned with my passion, something I will never tire of, can look forward to, and did not feel like work. At 16, I began my journey into filmmaking at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, before pursuing a degree in Professional Communications in RMIT.

I had the habit of working while studying, doing jobs in various filmmaking departments that could help me practice my craft. Once I completed my degree, I worked as an Assistant Director with various talented directors, honing my craft over a few years.

What do you think is different about being a female filmmaker? Does it influence your perspective when telling stories?
Many would say this is a male-dominated industry, and there is some form of inequality and sexism one could experience. It happens in every industry, and it will continue to happen if you allow it. Personally, I do not experience that much of it myself, perhaps because I am a loud individual and do not identify the issues as such. If there is any discrepancy, I seek reason and establish my stance.

As a female filmmaker, I offer a different perspective to my audience. I seek inspiration of how I see the world in my own view, how I perceive myself taking up different roles to different individuals. We are all like facets of a diamond, same person at its core, but each facet reflecting and playing a different role to parents, grandparents, spouse, children.

I am the eldest daughter in my family, hence I must be able to lead, decide, and care for the family. I’m grateful that my parents did not take up a conservative stance of thinking sons are better than daughters. I look up to my father and am glad he seeks out my opinions.

My earlier film works were written with a strong female lead in mind, removing the father figure from the family. For ‘Pa’, I show the daughter’s perspective, bringing back the father figure. I wanted to acknowledge a father’s love, as a daughter. After all, daughters look up to their fathers as superheroes.

What does strength look like to you and how has it been portrayed in your work?
Strength isn’t just physical.
To be strong, you have to not only bear heavy chores, but heavy responsibilities.
To be strong, you have to learn to protect and fight for your worth.
To be strong, you have to be ready to fend for those around you.
To be strong, is to be able to empathise, understand and make a difference.
To be strong, you have to be sure.

Take your time to think and reflect, but in the end, be sure and able to decide what you want.

In my works, strength is portrayed when my characters are tested. Love? Family? Self-worth? Strength is when you fight for what is important to you.

What would you consider when developing female characters?
I find it easier developing female characters as it is relatable. However, there are some stages in life I have yet to experience, such as motherhood. Be it female or male characters, I like to chat with people who share their life experiences with me. I always find the need to insert authenticity to my respective characters.

One thing I never see in any of my female characters is weakness. Women are strong. Gone are the times when women are portrayed as damsels in distress.

When developing female characters, they can be set in challenging situations. Their actions determine who they are, yet they are strong and sure of their decisions. They can be mean and harsh, yet still empathetic and concerned.

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?
At first glance, it seems like a male-dominated industry. But after collaborating and working together over the years, you don’t feel the distinction. There are just as many talented female directors, cinematographers, and even technical crew out there too. Likewise, many talented male stylists and makeup artists are part of the filming industry.

Filmmaking is extensive and exhaustive, and great collaboration is key. I have made many awesome friends who share the same passion, and we are always eager to create something new. Treating each film and project as importantly as the last one.

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 am glad Patty Jenkins did a great job in creating depth for the female characters in ‘Wonder Woman’. The relationship between Diana and her mother Hippolyta is a wonderful and authentic representation of a mother and child’s love when the child wants to journey into the outside world.

Gal Gadot is sexy and confident, casting her as Wonder Woman was perfect. However, I feel its box office results are still strongly driven by the sex appeal of characters, especially the physique of fit Amazonians. At some point in the film, I can’t help but wish that a more dynamic group of Amazonian women are represented, be it different body shapes, or ethnicity.

As for ‘Lady Bird’, I have heard great stuff about it, and can’t wait to catch it soon. I think I’ll enjoy it!

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?
It’s no longer the time of the male gaze. Female directors can lend their own authenticity to the film and characters, voice out the focus of the story. No longer only casting sexy individuals, and perhaps, a stop to the whole Weinstein saga?

What important lesson has had a positive effect on your films? Feel free to elaborate.
It is an ongoing learning process. I always find something new that helps me hone my craft as a director. When working with my talents and crew, it is refreshing to hear their thoughts and perspective on the story and characters.

Who are your recommended filmmakers who create meaningful female stories or interesting female characters?
Agnès Varda. Some of my favourite films of hers are ‘Vagabond’, ‘Cléo from 5 to 7’ and ‘The Beaches of Agnès’.

What does the power of possibilities mean to you?
It means everything. Everything is only possible if you are sure that you want it to be so.

Watch Sabrina’s films on Viddsee now!

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