by Dov Kornits

Did you map out the trilogy of Covid-related films before you set out in making the first film, The Neon Across the Ocean? Were you making them at the same time?

My work is very reactionary. I was working on these films, chipping away, writing and filming at the same time, putting my ADHD to good use. The world suddenly shifted, I decided to stay loose and adapt, but it kept on shifting, so my mania took over and the films now exist. As I talk about prejudice and genuinely tell stories from my unique perspective (working close with people like Lorena [Zarate] who co-wrote and starred in the film) the themes were relevant pre-pandemic but then suddenly there were all these documented individual shared experiences to go by. My goal was just to present the reality of what people were going through.

What are the themes/focus of A Pencil to the Jugular that differentiates it from your previous film and the next one?

I think the pandemic film told between February and March of 2020 is a different way to tell the story. The story is universal because everyone can relate to their lives suddenly coming to a complete halt, literally shifting from colour to black and white. More than anything, this one captures the shift in time which was 2020. The previous film The Neon Across the Ocean (which also had its Australian premiere at Revelation Perth FF last year) is set in the not-too-distant future and was more focused on looking forward to the potential woes of our future, where Jugular is a more urgent examination of the present fault lines which exist but have been ignored. Despite this all sounding very bleak, I feel there is a poetic beauty to these films as they’re still told from a youthful perspective. Most of the creative teams are in our twenties, so our point of view genuinely comes from the youth of today.

What’s the significance of the title of the film for you?

The pencil represents storytelling. For a long time, Asian diasporic stories were overlooked, and in recent years films like Crazy rich Asians, Everything, everywhere all at once, The Farewell and After Yang have proven there is an audience hungry for these stories. I feel my narratives can’t be fully categorised and are subversive, but in Australia my work represents the marginalised and I’m writing their story into Australian history. I take a pencil to the jugular and create a work of art to give our experiences during the pandemic a historical context. The films are poetry, they are our art written in blood, a pencil to the jugular.

How did you manage to shoot some of the film outside Australia?

This one doesn’t have much outside Australia, although The Neon Across the Ocean does. This one was made with Lorena who worked on the script, and as a co-producer with me our other producer Daniel Schultheis. Unfortunately, Lorena is not in Australia right now but is across the ocean still creating amazing work and one day I hope to collaborate with her again. A lot of the cast, who are dear friends of mine, are in other parts of the world but now that travel is starting to become normal again, I look forward to the day I see them again.

Are you excited about heading to Revelation? What are your expectations?

I’m keen to just see the film on a big screen for the first time. I’ve not seen the film in a long while, so I expect it to move me differently. To be honest, most of the last two years was a complete blur, but at least these films exist as a time stamp.

The film played at the Moscow Film Festival, how was the response there?

I wasn’t able to attend. I’m not too sure how it went but it’s the second oldest film festival in the world outside of Venice so I’m sure the audience of cinephiles enjoyed the film. That’s also something else I’ve experienced post-pandemic. I don’t have the same responses or feedback as I used to before. I think the world is just operating differently so I’m also learning to adapt to these new expectations.

Do your films tend to play beyond film festivals?

I tend to mostly only play at film festivals, and through the pandemic across my films I played over 30 film festivals which I wasn’t able to attend. Until recently, I only felt my films should be physically seen. With less physical screenings, I’ve come to understand the shift in the landscape. Fortunately, Revelation does have an online component this year for Australian residents. People (especially those in Melbourne) who are keen to see the film, do have a chance through the duration of the film festival. Please join us for A Pencil to the Jugular (content warning!).

A Pencil to the Jugular screens at the 2022 Revelation Perth International Film Festival, July 7 – 17, 2022

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