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Hungry Ghosts Wooing
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Of hungry ghosts and Olympic hosts Wooing the supernatural: Genevieve Woo ‘Chinglish’ is the new English: Lian Pek

One has made a documentary about hungry ghosts, the other about China’s fetish for the English language. CNA’s Genevieve Woo and former CNN anchor Lian Pek are coming from the newsroom to a cinema near you, reports Genevieve Loh (genevieveloh@mediacorp.com.sg) :

:Genevieve Loh
:genevieveloh@mediacorp.com.sg

WHAT knowledge of the Hungry Ghost Festival could a Channel NewsAsia newscaster and an ang moh editor/short film-maker impart to you, a true-blue superstitious Singaporean, born and bred in the thick of our island’s melting pot of cultures and rituals, that you don’t already know?

Quite a lot, apparently.

And, they’ll throw in a couple of “lucky numbers” to help you along the way.

“The English-speaking, white-collar locals all seemed very uninterested when we asked them about what they knew about the Hungry Ghost Festival. It’s like, we all grew up here, so it’s a blind spot.

“‘Yes, people burn stuff during the month, so? Let’s not romanticise it.’ That’s what we got,” said Genevieve Woo, the 38-year-old producer of the new documentary, A Month of the Hungry Ghost. You may recognise her as the producer and presenter of Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Tonight.

“To be honest, I was one of the naysayers. I thought I knew a lot, but I actually didn’t when I thought about it,” she admitted. “It was only when I got into the whole month of meeting with the people who practised it that I realised I was so mistaken all my life. I felt that I was given this chance to learn this and I was very humbled by it.”

“You’re going to see (the Hungry Ghost Festival) from a different perspective,” said Tony Kern, the film’s American director. “You’re going to invite the spirits, give the offerings, see the getai backstage, go through the rituals, make your way to the cemetery and get your lucky numbers — all in the comfort of the cinema and in 90 minutes.”

“We’re both going to be buying the lottery after the film opens,” quipped the 39-year-old film-maker. “You guys better look out for the lucky 4D numbers!”

And to think it all started with an American and his inquisitive mind back in July 2005. What began as a conversation with Woo over coffee about local superstitions suddenly became research for a potential feature film and eventually grew into this self-financed documentary. Woo and Kern, who are dating, set up their own film production company Mythopolis Pictures together in 2006.

According to the pair, the unexplainable existed not just in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, as well. One supernatural moment happened when they went deep into the jungle with a Tibetan Buddhist congregation to film a ritual known as the “Invitation of the Spirits” on the eve of the first day the Hungry Ghost Festival.

“As we went deeper into the woods, I stayed behind to capture a shot of the whole group walking off. I suddenly became transfixed and mesmerised by the wall of trees behind me,” recalled Kern.

“I felt so good and so peaceful that I actually forgot my camera entirely. I was told only just last week by the Lama who was leading the group that it was only when he looked back for me that he saw that I was completely surrounded by spirits and was just about to be possessed.

“By breaking away from the group, I had left the protective shield that is around to keep everyone safe.”

But perhaps the most shocking thing gleaned out of this whole experience was how helpful Singaporeans turned out to be. “It was very heart-warming that so many of them would go out of their way to help us, giving us contacts and telling us where to film,” said Woo. “Because here we are filming somebody’s religion and beliefs — it’s very private and personal, and what we do can get very intrusive. So, we’re very touched that Singaporeans let us strangers into that part of their lives and to film.”

You’re welcome. Now where are those 4D numbers you promised?

A Month of Hungry Ghostswill be released on Aug 7 by Golden Village

WRITERS, when stumped, are often told simply to write what they know. Likewise, actors areinstructed to find the emotion needed by drawing from their own personal experiences. Documentary film-makers, like former CNN anchor Lian Pek, are no different.

“Being a journalist, I am very into language. I was always interested in accents and I love the way the Chinese speak English. They speak very deliberately and they curl their words in such a wonderful way,” said the first Singaporean to be hired by CNN International as a broadcast journalist.

She is now the director and executive producer of the documentary Mad About English, her feature debut about the Chinese and their almost fanatical rush to learn English in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic games.

Pek told Today that she had been spending a lot of time filming in China when she discovered that people on the street were speaking more and more English.

“You get the sense that they are really making the effort and practising every chance they get. They practise with each other, watch English movies and go for English classes. They are trying so hard to make the effort and communicate with the rest of the world. It’s pretty underrated, what they are trying to do there,” said the 39-year-old.

“If English were an Olympic sport, China would definitely win, hands down!”

The award-winning film-maker shared with Today how “viewing China through an English lens” was one of the best ways to capture the depth and pace of change in China today. “It’s fascinating because you’re documenting change. For all the talk about change in China, one need only see how the Chinese have embraced English to grasp how far and fast China has evolved and how the country intends to interact and interface with the rest of the world.”

Pek, a former news anchor on MediaCorp TV Channel 5, agreed that it’s a combination of factors — and not just the impending Olympic Games — that started the sleeping giant on this intense fervour.

“It’s a huge transformative experience for them. Mixed up in all that is the internationalising of the economy, saving face and serving the country. Speaking English is almost like a patriotic act.

“And when you deal with them one-on-one, like some of my subjects (in the film), you realise they are very earnest. There is a sort of innocent charm about them that is still very untainted. Very different from the rest of the world we live in today.”

The double-winner at the 2007 Asian Television Awards for Best Director and Best Cinematography for her documentary-short Born-again Buddhists compared the process of making this documentary to “knitting a bit of an English quilt”, saying that it all comes together to add to the larger story and to “the bigger picture of China”.

“Above and beyond the political, the national …. The story and the subjects speak for itself. You can take English away and swap it with any other goal or objective and it would be the same,” said Pek. “The Chinese spirit is indefatigable and fantastic. This is exactly it. You need to be hungry and you need to be driven. And then you’ll make it in the end.

“These (Chinese) people themselves are the stuff of film material.”

Mad About English will bereleased on Aug 7 by Shaw.

One has made a documentary about hungry ghosts, the other about China’s fetish for the English language. CNA’s Genevieve Woo and former CNN anchor Lian Pek are coming from the newsroom to a cinema near you, reports Genevieve Loh (genevieveloh@mediacorp.com.sg) :

:Genevieve Loh
:genevieveloh@mediacorp.com.sg

WHAT knowledge of the Hungry Ghost Festival could a Channel NewsAsia newscaster and an ang moh editor/short film-maker impart to you, a true-blue superstitious Singaporean, born and bred in the thick of our island’s melting pot of cultures and rituals, that you don’t already know?

Quite a lot, apparently.

And, they’ll throw in a couple of “lucky numbers” to help you along the way.

“The English-speaking, white-collar locals all seemed very uninterested when we asked them about what they knew about the Hungry Ghost Festival. It’s like, we all grew up here, so it’s a blind spot.

“‘Yes, people burn stuff during the month, so? Let’s not romanticise it.’ That’s what we got,” said Genevieve Woo, the 38-year-old producer of the new documentary, A Month of the Hungry Ghost. You may recognise her as the producer and presenter of Channel NewsAsia’s Singapore Tonight.

“To be honest, I was one of the naysayers. I thought I knew a lot, but I actually didn’t when I thought about it,” she admitted. “It was only when I got into the whole month of meeting with the people who practised it that I realised I was so mistaken all my life. I felt that I was given this chance to learn this and I was very humbled by it.”

“You’re going to see (the Hungry Ghost Festival) from a different perspective,” said Tony Kern, the film’s American director. “You’re going to invite the spirits, give the offerings, see the getai backstage, go through the rituals, make your way to the cemetery and get your lucky numbers — all in the comfort of the cinema and in 90 minutes.”

“We’re both going to be buying the lottery after the film opens,” quipped the 39-year-old film-maker. “You guys better look out for the lucky 4D numbers!”

And to think it all started with an American and his inquisitive mind back in July 2005. What began as a conversation with Woo over coffee about local superstitions suddenly became research for a potential feature film and eventually grew into this self-financed documentary. Woo and Kern, who are dating, set up their own film production company Mythopolis Pictures together in 2006.

According to the pair, the unexplainable existed not just in front of the camera, but behind the scenes, as well. One supernatural moment happened when they went deep into the jungle with a Tibetan Buddhist congregation to film a ritual known as the “Invitation of the Spirits” on the eve of the first day the Hungry Ghost Festival.

“As we went deeper into the woods, I stayed behind to capture a shot of the whole group walking off. I suddenly became transfixed and mesmerised by the wall of trees behind me,” recalled Kern.

“I felt so good and so peaceful that I actually forgot my camera entirely. I was told only just last week by the Lama who was leading the group that it was only when he looked back for me that he saw that I was completely surrounded by spirits and was just about to be possessed.

“By breaking away from the group, I had left the protective shield that is around to keep everyone safe.”

But perhaps the most shocking thing gleaned out of this whole experience was how helpful Singaporeans turned out to be. “It was very heart-warming that so many of them would go out of their way to help us, giving us contacts and telling us where to film,” said Woo. “Because here we are filming somebody’s religion and beliefs — it’s very private and personal, and what we do can get very intrusive. So, we’re very touched that Singaporeans let us strangers into that part of their lives and to film.”

You’re welcome. Now where are those 4D numbers you promised?

A Month of Hungry Ghostswill be released on Aug 7 by Golden Village

WRITERS, when stumped, are often told simply to write what they know. Likewise, actors areinstructed to find the emotion needed by drawing from their own personal experiences. Documentary film-makers, like former CNN anchor Lian Pek, are no different.

“Being a journalist, I am very into language. I was always interested in accents and I love the way the Chinese speak English. They speak very deliberately and they curl their words in such a wonderful way,” said the first Singaporean to be hired by CNN International as a broadcast journalist.

She is now the director and executive producer of the documentary Mad About English, her feature debut about the Chinese and their almost fanatical rush to learn English in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympic games.

Pek told Today that she had been spending a lot of time filming in China when she discovered that people on the street were speaking more and more English.

“You get the sense that they are really making the effort and practising every chance they get. They practise with each other, watch English movies and go for English classes. They are trying so hard to make the effort and communicate with the rest of the world. It’s pretty underrated, what they are trying to do there,” said the 39-year-old.

“If English were an Olympic sport, China would definitely win, hands down!”

The award-winning film-maker shared with Today how “viewing China through an English lens” was one of the best ways to capture the depth and pace of change in China today. “It’s fascinating because you’re documenting change. For all the talk about change in China, one need only see how the Chinese have embraced English to grasp how far and fast China has evolved and how the country intends to interact and interface with the rest of the world.”

Pek, a former news anchor on MediaCorp TV Channel 5, agreed that it’s a combination of factors — and not just the impending Olympic Games — that started the sleeping giant on this intense fervour.

“It’s a huge transformative experience for them. Mixed up in all that is the internationalising of the economy, saving face and serving the country. Speaking English is almost like a patriotic act.

“And when you deal with them one-on-one, like some of my subjects (in the film), you realise they are very earnest. There is a sort of innocent charm about them that is still very untainted. Very different from the rest of the world we live in today.”

The double-winner at the 2007 Asian Television Awards for Best Director and Best Cinematography for her documentary-short Born-again Buddhists compared the process of making this documentary to “knitting a bit of an English quilt”, saying that it all comes together to add to the larger story and to “the bigger picture of China”.

“Above and beyond the political, the national …. The story and the subjects speak for itself. You can take English away and swap it with any other goal or objective and it would be the same,” said Pek. “The Chinese spirit is indefatigable and fantastic. This is exactly it. You need to be hungry and you need to be driven. And then you’ll make it in the end.

“These (Chinese) people themselves are the stuff of film material.”

Mad About English will bereleased on Aug 7 by Shaw.

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