Ahma in the Bardo
A short film between life and death, heaven and earth, Singapore and America, grandma and granddaughter. And a turtle. Created as part of the AFI Directing Workshop for Women || 一部有关生死，天地，东西，婆孙，及灵龟的短片。
100 Days of Optimism
Inclusion StatementWe don't see many stories of Southeast Asians represented in media. Fittingly, our film about a Singaporean girl in America will showcase a majority female cast and crew pulled from SE Asia and its diaspora.
About The Project
Updates + new STRETCH GOAL of $20,000!
OH MY GOSH! Thanks to YOUR generosity, we have reached our first goal in just 3 days! This is beyond our wildest dreams -- we turtle-ly underestimated ourselves and how much this story resonates with so many of you.
To be honest, we were conservative with our initial goal because we’ve never crowdfunded before, and it’s scary! We were hoping to raise our actual budget of $30,000 from multiple sources, but now, with this incredible response, we’re shooting for the sky -- with our $20,000 STRETCH GOAL! We want this film to be the best it can be, so this additional money will go towards:
- Recreating Singapore in LA: Affording our dream locations and props, such as a house with a backyard, and a Chinese funeral home! ($3500+)
- Finding the perfect 9-year-old girl for this film: We’ll scour the U.S for the right actress, transport her to locations, and ensure she’s as comfortable as possible on- and off-screen! ($2500)
- Bringing the lush colors of Southeast Asia to life! We’ll hire a great colorist to ensure the dreamy, tropical richness of Singapore is evoked onscreen. ($3000)
- The best sound design and musical composition: Such a personal story deserves an original soundtrack and the evocative sounds of our homeland -- such as the cry of the Koel bird (ask any Singaporean; they’ll recognize this sound!). ($1000 for composition + $2000 for sound design)
What's the story?
AHMA IN THE BARDO is about a 9 year old Singaporean girl who is new to America. Unable to attend her Grandma’s (Ahma’s) funeral, she searches for Ahma’s departed soul in a pet turtle. But Ahma struggles to stay alive under the well-meaning but amateur care of her grandchild...
*art by turtlewayne
Why am I making this?
Five years ago, my Ahma passed away in Singapore. I stayed in Los Angeles and watched her funeral on Skype because I feared re-entry complications as an immigrant in the U.S. A cascade of guilt descended, as I had failed to spend the final years with Ahma who raised me, and missed the final chance to say goodbye.
Compounded guilt and homesickness are stubbornly persistent emotions, and as a filmmaker, I kept returning to this desire to bring Ahma back to life. I thought, maybe I could write a story about a girl finding her Ahma’s reincarnation in a turtle -- an animal I’ve always associated with my Ahma for their wise and stately nature. And now, I am going to make a love letter to Ahma, and bring her back to life, in the best way I know how. Dealing with the death and loss of a loved one is intensely personal, weird and subjective. Channeling my grief into film, into a visual love letter, is idiosyncratic to me, but we’ve all been there.
*(wish I had documented her life more, but these are the only 2 photos I have of Ahma)
The timeless emotions of the story, to me, transcend geography and language, and I hope to bring it out through the universal medium of the film form. The helplessness I felt when stuck on the opposite side of the screen made me feel like a little girl again, and I wanted the story to be told from her perspective, for us to empathize with how a young girl deals with sadness and loss.
What’s this program?
The AFI Directing Workshop for Women is a prestigious training program in narrative filmmaking. I am one of eight directors (out of over 300) -- and the first Singaporean! -- chosen for this cohort. The program provides unparalleled resources and support, but they require us to raise our own funds to take the script to screen, which is why we need your help.
Notable AFI alumni: Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman, Monster), Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Mudbound), Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Requiem for a Dream), David Lynch (Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive), Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight, Inception), Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan)
How you can help!
To make this a reality and bring the story to life, I have to raise my own funds. Any amount helps and sharing it with anyone you think might be interested would be so greatly appreciated! Also, AFI is a 501(c)(3) organization which means your donation is tax-deductible under the fullest extent of the law. (Contact your tax accountant for more information on tax-deductibility.)
Your contribution means we get to make this film. And your generosity means fewer concessions will be made during production. It could mean shooting in an ideal location instead of a sub-par one, better lights and crew support so that each scene will be a worthy, beautiful manifestation of our little girl’s story.
Not everyone is able to give monetarily, we understand – we have been there too! You can help us enormously by following and sharing this campaign with friends and family via email and on social media!
How much can I donate?
Glad you asked! You can donate ANY AMOUNT and you will be helping us reach our goal. $1, $10, $1,000, sky's the limit! Click on "Make a Pledge" above, or check out our suggested donation levels that come with our merry incentives. (Total goal and incentives are in USD). Above all, you will be a part of making this film possible and we will be eternally grateful.
What happens if the goal isn’t reached in time?
If we don’t reach our goal, our project will receive no money for production. It’s a gamble, but we believe in the story and believe we can make it. Anything helps!
I’m excited! Aside from donating, how can I help?
We’d be so thankful to anyone who shares our crowdfunding link by forwarding the email with link, or on Facebook. Like us on Facebook to keep up with updates and announcements. Contact us if you think you might be able to help in other ways! (E.g. Do you know a 9 year old Singaporean girl who wants to be a star?)
When do you plan to release the film?
AHMA IN THE BARDO will be showcased at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood (April 2019) in front of A-list producers and executives, with extensive media coverage. We will work to have a strong festival run. The best outcome would be to pave the way for us to make a full length film!
Can you exceed the goal?
Yes, we can! The money we are raising is only a portion of our overall production budget. Raising additional funds will help us cover other expenses like our post production needs - color correction, score, and sound design!
Where will the money go to?
We’ve already dedicated a portion of our own money to the pre-production. We still need to cover the following expenses:
- Actors: We are looking for a very special girl to play our lead and to carry the film. We are also looking for the parents, and the other adults of this world.
- Studio teacher: There are many strict rules for having a child actor on set, and we want to find a fantastic studio teacher who can make our actor comfortable and bring out her best moments.
- The turtle: Of course, our turtle! And a turtle wrangler!
- Production design: We need funds for our production design team to design the locations, including designing Singapore in Los Angeles and their new home in America.
- Miscellaneous: Food for cast and crew for 5 shooting days, a truck to haul our equipment, locations, wardrobe, make-up, gear rentals, to name a few! All these are necessary elements of film shoots to keep the crew and cast happy and healthy. It all adds up!
Risks and challenges
There is always the chance that locations will fall through, actors will get sick, the turtle will misbehave. Any number of things can happen to forestall production, but we have a very committed team that is dedicated to bringing this project to life.
*all photos used for reference only.
Use the WishList to pledge cash and loan items - or - Make a pledge by selecting an incentive directly.
About This Team
Siyou Tan is a writer and director based in LA. Born and raised in Singapore, she is a printmaker and graduate of the film studies program at Wesleyan University. Before settling in LA, she tended bar to travel across Southeast Asia, photographed the Silk Road and documented her family's search for their ancestral village in Southern China. For the past five years, she has been an art director at Wondros, working on international productions and a range of film content including music videos, documentaries, branded content, virtual-reality pieces and campaigns for cause-based organizations. Some of her commercial clients include Chanel, Mercedes, Nike, Taschen and Vanity Fair.
Sam is a multimedia journalist and video producer based in NYC. She has a Masters in Journalism from the City University of New York, and currently produces short, doc-style videos for the web at New York Magazine. In the course of her work, she’s filmed naked yoga classes, live leech facials, and the inside of Adriana Lima’s carry-on bag (go figure). Sam was born in the steamy climes of Singapore, where her heart and stomach belong. One of her life’s goals is to convey the rich, complex experience of living in Southeast Asia -- a region sorely underrepresented on the world stage -- to a larger audience, and to tell stories that have a lasting impact on the communities she cares most about.
Aditi works as an arts manager, writer, editor and researcher in Singapore. She manages onsite educational programs at Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film, and previously worked in gaming marketing at Facebook and on graphic novels, young adult fiction and art books as an editorial assistant at independent publisher Epigram Books. She has contributed writing, primarily on literature and film, to The New Paper, The Wesleyan Argus, The Aerogram, SINdie and gal-dem, where she is also an occasional sub-editor. She holds a BA in English from Wesleyan University.
Andrew is an independent film producer. He had spent four years working in Warner Bros’ corporate finance department in Burbank, CA. While there, he used his nights and weekends to produce numerous music videos and short film projects. He is now spending time in both LA and the Philippines and aims to produce compelling narrative cinema in both the United States and Southeast Asia. He began working on films while double majoring in Film Studies and Economics at Wesleyan University.