Stone Turtle at Locarno Film Festival

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Woo Ming Jin: Stone Turtle is a time traveling revenge film about a woman played by Asmara. Her name is Zahara. She’s a stateless woman living in a remote island who subsist on basically selling illegal turtle eggs. And one day a man played by Bront Palarae comes to the island saying that he is a turtle researcher and he’s doing research and and wants Zahara’s help to bring him around the island. But obviously as the day goes, you can see there’s sort of more than meets the eye. And and each person, someone is hiding some secrets and she has a dark past that is about to sort of emerge.

Woo Ming Jin: Well, basically it started with a small idea, and it started with the location. So I was there for another film producing another film and I saw this place which it’s the east coast of Malaysia, has a lot of beautiful islands and it used to be a haven for turtles. They would come to shore to lay eggs and stuff. Not so many anymore, but twenty thirty years ago. And there’s a very famous folklore in the region about the stone turtle. Basically, the story is a children’s folklore, about how a turtle who defies the warning of the crab to eat anything in this magical pool. So it’s sort of I wanted to pay homage to the cultural and richness of the region. At the same time, we wanted to update the story and make it more contemporary for the newer generation. So that’s sort of the inspiration and the catalyst for the film. We wanted it to be a collaborative effort, among the artists and creative types from around the Southeast Asian region, from Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. So we brought in Asmara from from Indonesia and a lot of our crew, the cinematographer was from Thailand and in post-production the sound and composer were from Thailand as well.

Edmund Yeo: So it was just like things that we’ve done in the past where, you know, like we have met so many collaborators over the past decade so there was some long time collaborators that we had or there were also collaborators we had from our separate projects that we brought together for this film. So, you know, I mean, filmmaking is fun, it’s supposed to be fun. And I thought it would be great if we bring in all the cool people involved in this. So yeah, it was really fun. I wasn’t really on the set at all. I was in office in Tokyo. So I was producing from afar.

Woo Ming Jin: Ed is a creative producer and how we work usually is we would bounce ideas and talk about who to cast and we went to the location several times to basically check the locations and it’s been a very organic, collaborative process. And I think because the film focuses on just a few characters and just one main location, even though there are smaller, and many locations within one main location it was very intimate set.

Edmund Yeo: We scouted locations and trying to think of the actors and actresses that we want to work with. We had worked with Bront before and Amerul, for first time. They’re all actors that we’ve really admired for a really long time. I’ve always been a big fan. And of course, finally, the missing the missing piece, we needed a lead actress for the role.

Woo Ming Jin: Yeah, I asked Bront who he thinks could carry this role because it’s really, I would say a complicated and and a difficult role to play, but Bront, thankfully suggested Asmara when I immediately saw her I thought, oh wow.

Edmund Yeo: The film is done. (laughs)

Woo Ming Jin: Yeah, it actually made our job so much easier, you know, really.

Asmara Abigail: I remember the day when we had to shoot the dancing scene, and you were like, asking Asmara, how are you going to do the dancing scene? (laughs)

Woo Ming Jin: Right, there is a sort of a dance ritual in the movie. It’s sort of like a Wicker Man scene. And she does this traditional but in her own way, sort of a ritual dance, a contemporary mixture of contemporary and traditional dance. And initially I had planned on hiring a choreographer and then a couple of weeks of rehearsal and all that. And I was really worried that the actor we would cast would not be able to pull off what we wanted. But then when we cast Asmara, who has a dance background, it is just, we didn’t even rehearse, we just go “all right, just do it.” And we did in one take.

Edmund Yeo: We all react to her dance. The camera, my editing. It’s all based on her dance.