Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Making of To Speak - In the beginning...

Writer/Director Craig Ower and Producer Lionel Chok held at Q&A session on the making of To Speak at the Singapore Esplanade Library on Saturday 12 April. They covered the full history of the production from the initial concept through to the most recent screenings at the Singapore Film Festival. This entry sunnarises their comments on the initiation of the project.

The origin of the film lies back in 1991 when Craig read the book "Feature Films at Used Car Prices". The basic proposition being that a film could be made for the cost of a used car, and that if you were going to the effort of getting funds, equipment, people etc together to make a film - it might as well be a feature.

Flashing forward to 2004, Craig decided it was finally time to do something about the idea of making a film. He quit his day job and got to work. He had written 2-3 screenplays since 1991 but realised that they were all a bit too ambitious and complex for a first-time director to sucessfully execute. He decided he needs something a little more straightforward and simple with which to begin. In his own words - "Naturally, the idea of shooting a film in a third-world country where I didn't speak the language seemed like just the sort of basic project that was needed!!".

In 2002 a friend had invited Craig on a housebuilding trip in Cambodia. It was on this trip that Craig first learned of the Tabitha program - an innovative program of micro-savings which has lifted more than 600,000 Cambodians from absolute poverty to what would be considered a lower middle-class income. Impressed with a program that had such a profound effect for the tiny average cost of US$50 per person, Craig lead several more building teams back to Cambodia.

Having heard many of the stories told by the Tabitha staff, Craig wrote the first draft of To Speak in a week. "I showed it to the founder of Tabitha to see what she though about the story and the possibility of actually making it into a film. She said she thought it was a good idea. I suspect she thought that nothing would come of it". That was October 2004.

In March 2005 while rehearsing for a small part in "Adultery", a play by writer/director Lionel Chok, Craig discussed the idea of his film with Lionel. Very quickly Lionel came on board as the producer and then things started to move very quickly indeed.

So quickly that only 3 months (and 6 drafts of the screenplay) later the crew were shooting To Speak in Cambodia. "I'd put aside about S$30,000 which I was fully prepared to lose, in order to make the film. Most of this was spent on getting the crew to Cambodia and then accomodating and feeding them while we were there."

According to Craig "I was totally unprepared for what happened next".

The next entry will cover the 17 day shoot in Cambodia...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

To Speak Wraps Up at SIFF with Sell Out Screening

To Speak wrapped up its screenings at this year's Singapore International Film Festival with a sell-out. Fans who had waited too long to secure their tickets were turned away disappointed. Those lucky enough to make it inside, packed themselves into the Sinema Old School auditorium for the screening and Q&A session, which once again, ran over time.

The session was moderated by internationally celebrated Singapore filmmaker - Tan Pin Pin - winner of a Student Academy Award and 2 Asian Television Awards amongst others and director of acclaimed documentaries including Moving House, Singapore Ga Ga and Invisible City.

Once again the audience was full of praise for the moving soundtrack composed and performed by young Singaporean Reuben Kee, and the central performance of Ratana Peuw. Hailing from the village where To Speak was shot, Ratana carried the entire film without rehersal and without having seen television prior to filming. Pin Pin herself was most impressed with the construction of the screenplay, commenting on the deft interweaving of the multiple plot-lines, the strong character arcs and the overall pacing and unfolding of the story.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

TO SPEAK makes Asian Premiere at Singapore International Film Festival

TO SPEAK made its Asian Premiere last night at the Singapore Panorama section of the Singapore International Film Festival. Despite a day of torrential rain To Speak debuted to a full house at the new home of Singapore independent film - Sinema OldSchool.

First time writer/director, Craig Ower, introduced the film explaining the long road this self-funded feature had taken over a development period of 3 years. Craig thanked many from the Sinagpore film industry for their help and support in bringing To Speak to the screen including, Infinite Frameworks, Home Studio, Objectifs, The Substation, the Media Development Authority, the Singapore Film Commission and of course, the Singapore International Film Festival.

Craig also paid tribute to composer Reuben Kee, one of the 5 Singapore National Dragon Boaters who drowned last November in Cambodia, while competing in the annual dragon boat festival on the Tonle Sap river. Reuben composed and performed the entire soundtrack for To Speak. Craig spoke of how proud and grateful he was to have Reuben's wonderful music as part of To Speak.

Following Craig's introduction a short video memorial to Reuben was screened before moving on to To Speak itself.

Craig and producer Lionel Chok, then took questions from the enthusiastic audience at the end of the screening.

Monday, September 3, 2007

TO SPEAK - Final screening a "Happy Ending" at Montreal World Film Festival

"I've seen so many sad and depressing films this week - what a joy to see such an uplifting film. Thank you!"

"Wow - if the humanitarian program portrayed in this film was used around the world - it would be dynamite!!"

Coinciding with the last day of the Montreal World Film Festival, TO SPEAK's final screening bid festival goers adieu with a "happy ending" to remember.

Once again, tears flowed as the ending credits rolled for the final time in Montreal. And again, this was quickly followed by enthusiastic questions about the film, Cambodia, Ratana and when the film would be showing again - so friends and family could watch as well.

We hope that as a result of the screenings at the festival that we might soon be able to announce further screenings of TO SPEAK. In the meantime we would sincerely like to extend major thanks to the Montreal World Film Festival for the opportunity to show TO SPEAK and for all their support while at the festival. And of course, special thanks to all who came along to support TO SPEAK at the festival.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

TO SPEAK - A film with so much heart

TO SPEAK had its biggest screening yet at the Montreal World Film Festival on Sunday night, with a large turn out from the Cambodian communities of both Montreal and Ottawa. Revelling in the chance to see a full feature film in their own language, telling their own stories, Cambodians ranging from 5 - 90 years-old laughed and cried as the story of Ratana and her village unfolded.

Non-Cambodians too, continued to be touched and inspired by the story of struggle, despair and hope. Said one Montreal native, "It is a film with so much heart".

Many school teachers in the audience, from Canada, the US and beyond, commented on how relevant the film was to children everywhere. "I work in a school in a disadvantaged area in the States - this film would really speak to many of the kids I teach. It would be inspirational for them to see how much can be achieved, even in the most difficult of circumstances. What an empowering message it would be for them".

Others felt that TO SPEAK was much more universal in its appeal. "This isn't just a movie about or for kids - the message is for everyone. When you consider all that Ratana and the village were able to achieve you realise that there isn't much we can't do if we want it enough and if we act together".

Audience questions about TO SPEAK

Audiences viewing TO SPEAK at the Montreal World Film Festival have had many questions about the film and the life of the Cambodians it portrays. Key Q&A that has followed the screenings follow below:

Yes - the central story of Ratana and her brothers and sister was based on a family who's parents died and were adopted by the village. In fact, the story was based on the individual stories of many families in Cambodia, and consolidated into the story of TO SPEAK.

No - all the people appearing in the film were either from the village where the film was shot or from the organisation upon which the story was based.

The film was shot in July 2005 over 17 days. There was a crew of 4, a single Panasonic camera, a single boom microphone. The film was shot using only available natural light. Post production at Infinite Frameworks and Home Studio Singapore helped transform the raw material into the wonderful sound and images projected on the big screen.

The music soundtrack was written specifically for the film by the highly talented Reuben Kee. At only 20 years of age, Reuben put together more than 50 minutes of music combining the rhythms and textures of many asia instruments to give TO SPEAK, its unique and moving soundtrack.

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries on earth. Many families living in the poorest villagers only have one set of clothing.

Yes - there are many unusual ways that villagers will find to earn a megre income. It is cheaper to pay people to spend weeks breaking rock into gravel than it is to by a machine to do the same work.

It makes a truly revolutionary change. Certainly in the first few years of saving, the amounts are small and the items the villagers can buy are small. But once they hit a certain level of income which allows them to purchase further income earning assets, their standard of living improves dramatically.

More information on the film and the Tabitha organisation can be found on our website -

Special guests attend 2nd screening of TO SPEAK

The second screening of TO SPEAK at the Montreal World Film Festival was graced with the presence of the first Cambodians (other than cast and crew) to view the film. Bob and Chanti McNaughton, who have recently moved from Phnom Penh to Ottawa, made the 2 hour journey up to Montreal together with their mother June and sister Kate.

As the first images of the Cambodian landscape appeared on screen, Bob and Chanti felt a wave of homesickness as the sights and sounds took them back to their homeland. Then, as the story progressed, they were reminded of the tough early life they experienced as orphans in Phnom Penh. Said Chanti and Bob, "The film tells it like it is - that's exactly the way millions of Cambodians struggle to survive every day".

Bob and Chanti's mum, June Cunningham, lived in Cambodia for over a decade. "The openning scenes of the movie in the village - the voices, the sounds - it was so vivid, I could smell it! For years, I have tried to explain to family and friends the situation in Cambodia - the poverty, the struggles - but could never quite convey the full experience or difficulty that Cambodians faced. This film portrays it precisely and powerfully, while also telling a beautiful but unsentimental story. So many representations of Cambodia are hyper-emotional, handwringing affairs - but this film simply tells its moving story in a direct, reserved way - which is so in keeping with how Cambodians themselves go about their daily lives."

Kate McNaughton, who spent many years growing up in Cambodia before returning to Canada for university and work, was particularly moved by the music in the film. "The music definately had a Cambodian flavor, but also something extra - it was very beautiful and conveyed the characters emotions without going 'over the top'".

The last word goes to Bob and Chanti - "There are almost no films or TV we can watch in our own language - Khmer. So it was fantastic to see a whole movie just about Cambodians, the way we really live, work and speak. Definately 2 thumbs up!!"

"Arkun charran" to Bob, Chanti, June and Kate for making the late night drive to see TO SPEAK on the big screen.