The multi-award winner at SCAPE’s 2021 National Youth Film Awards talks about her film “To Kill the Birds and the Bees”.

“My film was screened at a video animation festival at Annecy, France. It was funny because my film has a lot of music in it, and the people in the cinema were just clapping along to the songs.

To hear clapping and laughter was a nice experience. Because it’s actually very scary to be in a cinema filled with strangers watching a film that you made in your bedroom for seven months. You don’t know how people will react; they might fall asleep for all you know.

I was 11-years-old when I became obsessed with learning about animation. My obsession started after I stepped into Pixar’s 20th anniversary exhibition at the Science Centre. I thought it was Disneyland because of the Monster’s Inc. sculptures displayed at the entrance.

As a kid, I didn’t have any idea what animation was, so I went home and did my own research. I watched a lot of behind-the-scenes videos of various productions. Along the way, I started becoming more serious and studied in SOTA for Visual Arts (Fine Arts).

Animation has always been looked at only for kids, especially in conservative Singapore. But animation is not just for kids, it’s for everybody and it’s a medium we use for storytelling.

Animation is also not an easy medium to handle. It is a very intricate and time-consuming art form because you have to draw countless amounts of frames just for that one second in the film.

In my films, I have been exploring more risqué imagery and themes. My latest work, To Kill The Birds & The Bees, is a satirical slice of life film that talks about sex education – or lack thereof – in Singapore. It follows the crazy sexual encounters of four Singaporeans and how they unfold.

When developing the film, figures of authority were worried that some scenes might be too disturbing. They would say no to certain scenes, like a scene that references abortion, and it was something that me and my team had to fight for to be kept in the film.

Although I do get that there is a possibility of backlash because of the sensitive nature of the topic, I managed to convince them that there was a meaningful reason for it to be included in the film.

My depiction is a reflection of the reality that’s happening. My team and I have had friends who have experienced going through these uncomfortable sex education classes. Eventually, we won their support after much debating.

I submitted my film last year to the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA), a national competition organised by *SCAPE that recognises youth in filmmaking. Thinking that I wouldn’t win anything, I didn’t even want to watch the ceremony until my parents insisted we do. To my surprise, we won three awards.

As the artist is always the harshest critic of his or her own work, I wasn’t confident in the film as all I could see were things I wished I did instead. So, I couldn’t believe that the film was getting recognition. It was encouraging and felt like a reinforcement that I was on the right track.

I would have never thought that I would be going to places like Germany and France to have my film screened at film festivals. It’s crazy because this whole film was mostly done in my team’s bedrooms during the pandemic, from animation to live action to even recording music.

A lot of people from Germany were really hyped about To Kill The Birds & the Bees. I had Germans coming up to me to tell me that the film was spot on for them. They could relate to the film because their sex education was similar to Singapore’s.

I think I’m lucky to be surrounded by a lot of supportive, like-minded people in the industry, like my friends and the people that I have met through *SCAPE. It’s not common for Singaporean or international female directors to have this recognition that I received as a young director with comedic work revolving around more complicated topics.

It is rare to find the support that I’ve been receiving, and it has helped me keep going in this industry. They believe that my work and I are going in the right direction.

My mantra nowadays is, ‘Do not ask for permission, instead ask for forgiveness’, That’s what my teacher in SOTA told us. It’s about pushing boundaries and not working within constraints. If something done has gone too far, then it is ok to take a step back. And it has helped me become bolder as an artist.” – Calleen

Interview by: Cindy Abner