Ten years ago, Singaporean actress Jeanette Aw was in the midst of filming a television serial when her godmother, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, died.
The ache of not being by her godmother’s side still remains, she tells The Straits Times in Tokyo, and she has tapped what is “still the biggest regret of my life” for her first directorial effort, The Last Entry.
The 25-minute film, which cost $45,000 to make, premiered in Tokyo last week, where it was in competition at the Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia.
The festival received more than 10,000 submissions from 130 countries and territories around the world, from which 250 short films were selected for screening.
“Some of the pain never really goes away,” she says, adding that she broke down in tears when she wrote the script and during the shooting process. She hopes the film can be a fitting tribute to her godmother and also raise awareness of Alzheimer’s.
“Every second, three people in the world get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which has no cure right now,” she says, “A lot of people are in denial – thinking that they’re just being forgetful and not get checked. Or maybe they’re also scared because it is not just the patient who suffers, but also the people around them.”
The Last Entry depicts the final months between a daughter and a mother, who is suffering from the degenerative brain disease.
Aw plays the lead role, with veteran actress Li Yinzhu as her mother.
The title stems from the last journal entry that was written by the mother, in the form of a letter to her daughter, whom she was unable to reach in her final moments.
“I hope audiences will realise they shouldn’t wait until it is too late,” Aw says. “I wanted to project the sense of loss and regret of losing someone, of being slowly forgotten. I felt that if I could bring people into that very emotional world, then at least I’d have achieved something with this film.”
Aw, who turns 39 next week, left Mediacorp and Hype Records in November last year to “go solo” after acting 18 years, in what she says is a “natural career transition”.
“The whole reason for me leaving is because I wanted more creative control,” she says.
“I wanted, at this point of my career, to be able to carefully pick the kind of dramas and roles I take on. Being contracted means I have to fulfil a certain number of episodes, I have to fulfil the dramas they give me no matter what they may be.”
She set up her own production company, Picturesque Films, in 2012 and says of the challenge of going behind the camera: “As an actress when I read a scene, I’d sometimes think to myself what I’d do. Maybe I’d prefer to do it this way – though I wouldn’t impose my thoughts on the director.”
“As a film-maker, standing behind the camera and thinking of how to piece the shots together and the style of storytelling was something I had to figure out on my own.”
The entire experience of having her debut directorial film selected for competition in Tokyo was “surreal”, and she hopes Singapore audiences will get to see it soon.
Meanwhile, she says that for her second short film, she hopes to experiment with a different way of storytelling in a story that “may be a bit darker”.
Aw, who most recently starred in Eric Khoo’s movie Ramen Teh, will next appear in the Channel 8 year-end blockbuster drama, Till We Meet Again, which is slated to broadcast in November.