I’ve never had Jollibee,” Anthony Chen muses, “In Singapore you always have to queue for hours.” It’s his third time in the Philippines, and this Cannes Camera d’Or recipient is craving something Filipino. He’s in the country to promote Ilo Ilo, his first full-length feature about Aunty Terry, a Filipino maid who wins over her problem child of a ward. It took three years for Chen to complete the project, requiring him to dig deep into his past. His efforts are paying off. Since his Cannes win in May, he’s been touring the globe non-stop, making him and lead actress Angeli Bayani, prominent names in world cinema. On Dec. 4, Ilo Ilo will be on screens nationwide.
SUPREME: When you started making films, did you ever expect that you’d get this big?
ANTHONY CHEN: No. I remember when I was a student, my dream was to win an award by the time I hit 40. I did it when I was 23, with my short film (Ah Ma, at Cannes.) Did I expect that I’d go back to Cannes and win again? No, I didn’t.
What was going through your head when you went to Cannes this time around?
I was very anxious, because we were this humble little film from Singapore. We didn’t have the huge budgets like other films had. We didn’t have big stars. I was worried that our film would be overshadowed. I was also very anxious that the Western audience wouldn’t understand a film so intrinsically Asian.
What kinds of stories do you like telling?
Is that why you picked your Aunty Terry to be the subject of your first full-length feature?
I don’t know. When I was trying to find an idea, all these memories came back. I think in Singapore, you spend most of your time growing up, chasing grades and then chasing a career. When you spend time being an adult, you forget your childhood. And at that point in time, somehow my childhood memories came into my head. I remembered a lot of events, a lot of people, and a lot of things. And then of course, Aunty Terry formed a big part of my growing up years. She was with us for eight years. I thought there was a film in there. I wanted to explore it.
How is Ilo Ilo different from your real-life experiences?
You can never take real life and turn it into a film because it would be too boring. It doesn’t sit into a narrative structure. I had to dramatize certain events and characters, but there were certain devices and events that were really taken from real life. I had little chicks when I was growing up. That was in the film. The father in the film lost his job during the 1997 financial crisis. That happened to my dad as well.
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