Chattin’ with filmmaker Jennifer Phang

Filmmaker Jennifer Phang (photo: Shameel Arafin)

JENNIFER PHANG blew people away at Sundance with her 2008 feature debut HALF-LIFE, and was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film.  (If you haven’t seen the film, it is now streaming on Netflix. For you New Yorkers it will be at the Anthology Film Archive May 11 ).

She’s also a really good friend of mine, but we feigned some professional distance for the following interview in which we talked about production vs. promotion, the Tokyo International Film Festival, and her new projects LOOK FOR WATER and CRAZY BEATS STRONG EVERY TIME (directed by Moon Molson).


me: ‬ ‪So, I first met you at SFIAAFF where HALF-LIFE had somewhat of a “coming home” screening in 2009, ‬but you guys had already been all over the world with the film by that point.
Which part of a filmmaker’s life do you enjoy more?  the long process of putting a movie together, or the (sometimes) even longer process of getting it out there and engaging an audience?

Jennifer Phang: ‬ ‪I think the great thing about filmmaking is that you rarely have time to get bored of any part of the process. Each step relieves us from the last step.  But I think I’m most happy in the creation phase.   Working with other talents and being able to marvel at their creativity is something that can feel really “pure.”  And I think everyone wants to feel that as much as possible in their lives. I think we’re all searching for the freedom to be creative and honest about our perspectives and visions.  How about you?‬

me: ‬ ‪It’s hard to say.   Whenever I’m promoting a film, I get really impatient to get back to the creative work.‬  But whenever I’m shooting or editing, I just can’t wait to get to the end.

JP: ‬ ‪Well maybe your impatience is what makes you so prolific ‬…

Still from "HALF-LIFE", directed by Jennifer Phang

me: Just purely out of curiosity, what was your experience at the Tokyo International Film Festival like?

JP: ‬ ‪Tokyo International was pretty much the most glamorous festival I played at.  Where to begin… I got to meet my childhood idol director Nikita Mikhalkov who directed “Burnt by the Sun.”  I praised him and he gave me a cheek kiss of appreciation. Also sat down for drinks with Jon Voight.‬

me: ‬ ‪Haha!  Of “Anaconda” fame?  Nice!‬

JP: ‬ ‪Very nice. He did an impression of Toshiro Mifune in SEVEN SAMURAI at one of the receptions.  ‬

me: Whoa…

JP: Yeah…right? I also got to talk a lot with Cesar Charlone (DP of CITY OF GOD) who was a fan of the HALF-LIFE, thank goodness.

me: ‬ ‪Wow, not exactly lightweights.  I’m impressed.  If I was in the same room as either of those guys I would sip my Diet Coke, and mind my business.‬  I’m a coward.

JP:‬ ‪No, you’d find a way to charm the pants off of them. Overall the Tokyo Fest experience was highly moving. I was treated with such generosity, and the audiences were incredibly engaged with ‬our film and, from what I gather, cinema in general.

me: ‬ ‪So HALF-LIFE racked up all kinda awards (deservedly so), ‬and now you’ve got this great script LOOK FOR WATER, and also the short that Moon Molson directed.  How’s it all going?

JP‪: ‬ ‪Right. We’ve been pre-visualizing  LOOK FOR WATER like crazy and developing art direction with production designer Aiyana Trotter and CGI concepts with VFX Supervisor Catherine Tate. We’re also building a social network for the film called “Loople” and an animation inside the film called  “Angel E & Mott the Limbo Guardian.” It’s about a Turtle who has  unrequited love for an Angel Warrior. It’s gonna be nerdcore-to-the-max.‬
We showed that and our script to Christine Vachon’s Killer Films and they’re working with us now. The Sundance Institute is also continuing to shepherd us along, hopefully to cinematic greatness.

Image from "CRAZY BEATS STRONG EVERY TIME," directed by Moon Molson

JP (cont’d): And yeah I recently helped EP, cut, and arrange post and VFX on Moon’s CRAZY BEATS STRONG EVERY TIME. In January we premiered it in Sundance and has been doing the fest tour since, to very positive reception.  I’m very happy about that because the cast and crew so deserve the recognition they’re getting. Plus, while there are some overlaps in our passion for drama, Moon has an entirely different kind of directing and writing style from me. And so it was a very broadening and exciting experience and I was so happy to be able to contribute a little of what I knew to the creative and promotional process…I think CRAZY BEATS and SURROGATE VALENTINE crossed paths at Dallas, right?

me: ‬ ‪Yeah, but not on the same weekend…‬

Look for HALF-LIFE on DVD, or watch it in New York on May 11th! Moon Molson’s CRAZY BEATS STRONG EVERY TIME is currently playing at film festivals nationwide.