MA alumni Mickey Lai on the festival success of her graduation film, The Cloud is Still There
Director, writer, editor Mickey Lai had a successful career working back in her home country of Malaysia, However, like any developing creative, she needed a new challenge and enrolled on our MA Film & Television Production to develop new skills and learn more about storytelling.
Fast forward to the present and Mickey’s graduation film, The Cloud is Still There, is reaching audiences around the globe. In September, her debut short won the Best Performance Award at South East Asia’s SeaShorts Film Festival, and over the coming weeks, it will receive regional premieres at Korea’s prestigious Busan International Film Festival, the BAFTA-qualifying Norwich Film Festival and Seattle’s National Film Festival for Talented Youth.
In speaking about her approach to filmmaking, Mickey feels her work explores humanity and self-identity and it is her passion to deliver stories in the most authentic way possible. We caught up with her to discuss her debut short film and what advice she has for up and coming filmmakers…
How did you get into filmmaking?
After graduating from my undergraduate studies and throwing myself into non-stop work, I started to question my purpose and responsibility as a filmmaker, I was lost at that period of time. I choose to have a break and further my studies at MetFilm School.
This sparked my interest in storytelling, particularly in film. The course helped me to find my own voice as a storyteller and gave me the confidence to showcase underrepresented stories from my homeland.
How did the idea for The Cloud is Still There come about?
As this is my debut short, my intention was to create something which is close to my heart. The Cloud Is Still There is a semi-autobiographical short film based on my real-life experience of being the only Christian from a very conservative Taoist family. I wanted to explore the clashing religious and cultural beliefs at the heart of a Malaysian Chinese family, exploring whether two belief systems could exist in a family without conflict.
The film itself revolves around the relationship between a Christian daughter and a Taoist mother. In the film, we see how both the mother and daughter plea to their own God in order to save the terminally ill grandfather, who is laying on his deathbed.
How would you describe the process of making the film?
I spent a lot of time building chemistry with both my lead actresses, Bee and Ling. I brought them to visit my family, provided background of the characters and spent long hours discussing the contexts and subtexts of the scenes. I think this is very useful for the actors and helps create a believable film. Beyond that, making a film feels a bit like going in circles…
Exciting (pitching and writing) > Frightening (gathering crews and prepping) > Exciting (before filming) > Frightening (filming with all the experienced cast and crews onset) > Dealing with self-doubt (filming and post-production) > Exciting (finishing the film) > Rewarding (festivals run).
What kind of reactions have you had from those who have seen the film so far?
For Malaysia audiences, some could resonate with the story and the emotional state of the protagonist as they’ve been through a similar situation in their family. It represents Malaysia authentically. As for foreign audiences, they are aware there are differences amongst religions such as Islam, Christian, Buddhist, however, they are not aware of the differences in religions between Chinese Malaysian families such as Taoist and Confucian. This film gives them a deep perspective on the diverse culture in Malaysia.
How did it feel to win the Best Performance Award at the SeaShorts Film Festival?
This was unexpected as I consider myself to be an emerging filmmaker and this is only my debut short film. It’s great to have the recognition and it has given me the confidence to continue creating and sharing my work to worldwide audiences. Of course, this wouldn’t have been achieved without my talented cast, as well as my crew. I feel so grateful that they believed in the story and were willing to create this piece with me.
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
1. Keep creating. Filmmaking is not just about the film’s outcome. Personally, I think the process and progressing is more valuable.
2. Surround yourself with friends that can inspire, motivate or even collaborate with you.
3. Film is a collaborative craft. Stay open-minded and be ready to receive feedback and advice. That’s how we improve and become better storytellers.
What are you planning next?
I am currently writing my next short film, which is also based on real-life experience. It depicts the menstrual taboo within the Malaysia multiracial society.
Have a story you want to tell? Find out more about our MA Film & Television Production.