The concept behind Sudden Nature was originally inspired by my conversations with survivors of natural disasters. These conversations took place as I visited communities in Southeast Asia that have endured frequent tsunamis and volcano eruptions and lahars for centuries.
Most of the disaster survivors that I talked to carried huge emotions about what they had gone through: the shock, the losses, the recovery. These were overwhelming emotions that most humans do not encounter in the course of a lifetime. Some of the survivors were explicit about their feelings while others would let their silence and teary eyes speak. I also talked to earth scientists whose aim is to better understand Nature. The outlooks and opinions of the survivors were different from those of the scientists but they had some significant commonalities.
Earth scientists seemed focused on finding ways to increase Man’s ability to understand and predict Nature and minimize loss of life. Earth hazard survivors seemed focused on moving on from the disasters and embracing life. Both coincided on their opinions about Nature: plentiful but unpredictable, it demands alertness and preparedness in order to survive. These opinions, especially when taken out of context, sounded occasionally like opinions about romantic partners. Inspired by these conversations I slowly crafted the script for Sudden Nature. My initial focus was to create an imaginary conversation between Man and Nature, a conversation that presented the ups and downs of a complex relationship.
This project has a clear Southeast Asian genesis but its central topics are universal. Love and death are possibly the most popular themes in human civilization. For these reasons I tried to keep the visual and musical languages as universal as possible. The narrative takes advantage of the multiple layers available in the art form of cinema, including performance, spoken word, moving image and music.
One of my artistic objectives was to experiment with storytelling and create a somewhat abstract and minimalist story. I also wanted a clear narrative so that the majority of a mainstream audience could relate. Experimental and mainstream in the same package? Not an easy challenge, but I often choose creative challenges that others, including my colleagues, find unusual.
It was clear from the start that the spoken word played a crucial role in providing clues to decoding the story; it keeps us close to the reality of these characters. The original dialogs were written in English and then translated into several languages in order to increase the potential reach of the work. Translating represented a huge effort for our small indie team but the results and the expanded audience are worth it. The DVD offers original soundtracks in English, Chinese (Mandarin), Malay and Vietnamese. Subtitles were produced in these four languages plus Arabic, French, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, and Thai.
I decided to work with non-professional actors as I sought performances with a raw and unpolished quality. I could not be more pleased with the results. The on-screen chemistry between Wendy and Ivan is evident, partially because they had prior experience as dance partners. Acting improvisation was at the core of the production. Actors received their lines for the day in the morning, and they were also shown schematic storyboards that delineated the staging, required actions and camera points of view. We worked out the staging and performance details for each scene on the spot. We kept it simple and direct.