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10/23 (Sat) Q&A - Wind of Asia "Memories of a Burning Tree" Sherman Ong (Director)

10/23 (Sat) Q&A - Wind of Asia "Memories of a Burning Tree" Sherman Ong (Director)

10/23 (Sat) Memories of a Burning Tree by Sherman Ong (Director) Q&A @Cinemart Roppongi

This year's opening film for Tokyo International Film Festival, Winds of Asia Middle–East section was helmed by Sherman Ong who is known as a contemporary artist from Malaysia, as well as, an up and coming film maker. The film was photographed in the capital of the United Republic of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam. Memories of a Burning Tree is a new type of Asian film where neither Asian scenery nor Asian actors appear in the film.

Because the previous film by Director Ong, hashi (2008) was filmed in Fukuoka prefecture of Japan, many of the director's "Japanese friends" visited the TIFF screening venue. The Q&A began in a very relaxed mood with the Winds of Asia –Middle East's Programming Director, Kenji Ishizaka performing as a host. .
©2010 TIFF

Greetings from the director to the audience.

The script development and the production of the film was created based on the concept made in Rotterdam Film Festival. The concept was made on a notion of, "What kind of impressions would the filmmakers have if they were to make the films in Africa and if it were their first time visiting there." The choice of the country to visit in Africa would be left to the director's choice. The reason why Mr. Ong has chosen this country as the location for this film was because the place was politically stable, and also for the reason that people from India held a strong power there and also had a great influence from the Arabian cultures.

When the auditions for choosing the cast was held, Director Ong discovered that the professional actors had too strong of a tendency to over act. According to Mr. Ong, "Tanzania is the country that receives a strong influence from Nigeria which is referred to as "Nariwood"(Hollywood of Africa), for having a thriving commercial film industry. Perhaps this is the reason why Tanzania's full time actors are very entertainment oriented." Therefore, eventually Mr. Ong asked the ordinary people that he met in the street to act for his film.

They used the Canon EOS 5D Mark II for the making of the film which is the digital single-lens movie camera currently receiving a lot of attention in Japan as well. We also used three university students from Dar es Salam as the cinematography assistants.

The cast of the film was fixed in the beginning and interviews were held with each of the cast members. Mr. Ong wrote the script based on the life stories of the chosen cast. Mr. Ong also mentioned that his film style advances beyond borders between the documentary and fiction genres. The border doesn't mean much for him.

What the Director Ong wanted from the cast was not the superb acting techniques but rather their own character built from their "life" experiences. The more the director trusted in the cast, he believed that the certain kind of miracle would happen for him.

The Director told us about the various stories with fluent English.

Questions from the audiences.

Q1: Is the Malaysian song in the end of the film an original music for the film?

Director: I’ve found this song in the Internet. The song holds an ideal and diverseness of Malaysia and it is perfect for the film.

Q3: There are numerous tight shot in the first half of the film. But in the later half it changes, leaving the impression of the wide shot. What were the intentions for distinguishing the first and the later parts of the film?

Director: There were numerous shots made in first half of the film, but I think it was incidental and not intentional. I like the film shot in the standard lens, but this time, we’ve shot the whole film in 50mm short focus lens.

Q4: Do you have an episode to tell us regarding to your collaboration with the amateur actors?

Director: I talked about a lot of thing with the people of Tanzania, but what stands out in my memory the most is a story regarding to the religion.
People of Tanzania change their religion quite easily. For example, a person changes the religion just because they move close to the church. As a Malaysian, that is quite difficult to believe in, but this makes it even more interesting.
I believe that there isn’t much meaning in drawing a line between documentary and fiction. Pedro Costa and Werner Herzog are also similar in this respect but when you are filming, what is most important is to experience the reality that is ahead of you.

Q5: Within the film, there is an episode about the witch doctor. I think this is an effective method to present the religion of Africa, but why didn’t you cover this subject in depth?

Director: I wasn’t interested in the typical image of Africa such as the great wilderness of safari. I was interested in depicting the real Tanzania. People from all over the world have seen my film, Memories of a Burning Tree. I found out that there was a person who have lived in Tanzania amongs the audience. “It was like I’ve returned to Tanzania,” the person told me. This made me very happy.
Of course, the existence of the witch doctor is rooted deeply in the real life and there is no mistake about it. So rather than exaggerating it, I carefully expressed the feeling of harmony or balance and mediated the unique (extraordinary experience) within an ordinary life.

©2010 TIFF

Memories of a Burning Tree

Film Information

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KEIRIN.JPThe 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival will be held with funds provided by Japan Keirin Association.TIFF History
22nd Tokyo International Film Festival(2009)