Wearing a promotional T-shirt for the new documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above, you don’t have to second-guess David Lee’s passion for film. After distributing promotional goodies around the room, he kicks off the seminar by divulging about the recently acclaimed social-environmental documentary by filmmaker Chi Po-Lin.
Upon first watching Chi Po-Lin’s film at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards, it (as described by David to be ‘half documentary and half horror film) had struck a chord with him. As a programmer and fierce supporter of films such as Beyond Beauty, David went through painstaking efforts to get the film the attention it deserved in the local Singaporean market. As a result of these efforts, the film became his company’s, The Filmic Eye first theatrical release on Singaporean screens.
He also provided insight on the variety of ways he promoted the film from sponsorship endorsement to the classic “word of mouth” and even to school tours. Fate also plays a part in the limited release of the film. He recalled how initially he had managed liaise with a representative from Cathay Cinemas, only to find out that she would resign a few weeks later. But fate intervened this setback to the film’s release, allowing him to bump into the CEO of Cathay at Cannes Film Festival just weeks later. With this, the theatrical release of Beyond Beauty returned to its rails.
Like the students in PSOF, David Lee began his career as a film student and is of course, a major film buff (He claims to have watched over forty eight thousand films). After varying stints from being a script translator to becoming a Marketing Manager at Innoform Media, he found his true calling as vice chairman and festival director at the Singapore Film Society (SFS).
It was at SFS that he discovered the potential to introduce Singapore film lovers to more obscure and controversial film that weren’t granted even minute limited releases in Singapore. Armed with his immeasurable enthusiasm and love for film, some of the films that he has screened at SFS Talkies were 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (2007), This Is Not A Film (2011), Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012).
According to David, the resounding highlight of his career as a film programmer was when he drove the screening Steve Mcqueen’s Shame (2011). It was amusing how he likened each controversial film he screened as a ‘victory’ against Singapore’s still improving censorship programmes.
In his visit to the Puttnam School of Film, David never failed to provide interesting stories from his intriguing line of work. For example: the controversial film Salo (1975) by Pier Paolo Pasolini was granted release only to be rejected later by the MDA when there were plans to re-release the film on a smaller venue.
David ended the seminar with a screening of Let The Wind Carry Me (2009); a documentary on Li Ping Bin, an acclaimed Asian cinematographer who works mostly with Hou Hsiao Hsien.
After the seminar, and to his delight, I managed to ask David a few question regarding the demands of his line of work as a film programmer. When I asked him which film festival was the most memorable for him, he replied that aside from Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo winning the best film in the recent Golden Horse, it had to be the 2011 Golden Horse Awards. When I asked why, he told me with great pride that he managed to attend a film screening despite the fact that his wedding, which was also held in Taiwan, was actually a day after and was a great distance away from the festival.
This amusing anecdote impeccably symbolises David Lee’s love for film. It is clear that his immeasurable passion and vigour for the medium transcends past himself. As a film programmer, his career and his life blossoms in the sharing and admiration of cinema, be it from home or beyond.
Afiq Jaafar is a second year film student. Aside from watching movies and TV shows, his hobby includes watching NBA, listening to 80s music and lurking around the web for any updates on the new Paul Thomas Anderson films.