Production Talk - 'This Too Shall Pass' by Ang Aik Heng

Aik Heng : "This Too Shall Pass" is an accidental documentary project that turned out to be a bigger and more intimate piece during the filming and post production process. It is not only about how a 70-year-old old man faces cancer, death and issues larger than life, it is also very much about me coming to terms with family issues of my own.I feel fortunate for being able to complete the film and share the results with an audience. Produced without a dime of support from any bodies, this documentary would not have been possible without the support from some my best production kakis in the industry.

Jeremy (J): What do you mean by an accidental documentary?
Aik Heng (A): Most of the time, documentary makers look for stories to tell. But somehow for this piece that i've completed, i always had the feeling that "it" found me. Three years back, the daughter of my subject approached a fellow industry friend of mine to shoot a documentary on her father's final days. The dad is in the terminal stages of nose/throat cancer.My friend was unable to commit and i was introduced to the daughter.I agreed to help the daughter to film as much as i could. But as time passed, i develop a relationship with the family and a bond with the dying father.I gained access to the family and this resulted in the documentary.
J : This as you mentioned is a personal story? Could you share more if it is not too sensitive for you?
A : This documentary reveals intimate details about the dying father's relationship with his wife, and his beloved son.It is also personal at the same time, because the relationship between the dying father and his wife, parallels that of my own parents.And unfortunately at this very juncture, my dad had a medical examination and he was discovered with a tumour, which till today, he refused to take any action about it...It was an awakening call for me.Why do you want to make a film of it? I wanted to raise awareness about the importance to discuss death, especially with the dying patients, eye to eye, heart to heart. Many Singaporeans still find talking about death a taboo.
J : Could you take me through the development process of this idea? Did you have a very detailed and contained plan or was it more organic?
A : I have never dealt with the issue of death in my range of work, and i thought it is time i go through this journey. There are no concrete plan per say, i was told by the daughter, her dad would probably not live past 3 months, and if he is lucky, another 3 years. That is the uncertain timeline i am working on.But as it turns out, the worst prediction came true...
J : Is the old man in the picture related to you?
A : No. He was a total stranger when i first met him.
J : What did you shoot this on?
A : The documentary was shot on mini-dv format, mainly using Panasonic DVX.
J : Did you actually try applying for financial help or grants to shoot this?
A : I tried to apply for a grant from SFC, but i did not meet one of their requirements.
J : What were the biggest challenges making this film?
A : I was holding a full time job, traveling quite often during the production period. Trying to manage work, independent work and personal life is challenging. Working without grants can be demoralizing as i have little to offer for the professional help i am receiving. My heartfelt thanks to production friends like Lau Hon Meng (cameraman), Amelia Su (editor), Teo Wei Yong (music composer), Alan Chong (sound engineer) and Geogette Soh (poster design).They are my beacons of light. :)
J : Any interesting anecdotes to share?
A : I felt really emotionally on the new year's eve on 31st dec 2006. Mr Lee (dying father) was critically ill and i was filming the fireworks at Esplanade. I remember the cheering and countdown vividly.
J : What are the top 5 movies you wish you'd made? (This is just a fun question, please feel free to not take it TOO seriously or intensely. And note: it's top 5 movies you WISH YOU MADE, not top 5 fave movies!)
A : 1. The Reader 2. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 3. Buddha's Lost Child (A documentary) 4. Slumdog Millionaire 5. 新不了情
Ang Aik Heng's This Too Shall Pass will be screened under Singapore Panorama in this year's SIFF.
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