IN TOUCH: Three Dots

Set on 9 August 2020 in Auckland, Singapore and Davao in the Philippines, Three Dots touches down into the lives of three women as they go about their day, each impacted in their own way by Covid-19. We talk to the short film's writer and director Alyssa Medel and producer Chye-Ling Huang about what inspired them to make the film, the film-making process and what they hope audiences will take away from it. Three Dots was funded through the Foundation's IN TOUCH arts commissions.

Watch Three Dots

Can you describe the work?

Alyssa: Three Dots follows three women simultaneously at a moment in time in Singapore, Auckland and Davao on one specific day, the 9th August 2020.

The 9th was the day New Zealand celebrated its 100 days Covid-19 free mark, and Singapore celebrated its National Day, while we see a seemingly “normal” day in Davao.

By creating a triptych, we wanted to show these different experiences of “normal” side by side to accentuate the contrast in experiences.

Underneath it all remains a universal mix of anxiety and discomfort simmering within these characters, emotions many of us felt at the centre of the pandemic.

The film is also about connection and how that goes beyond borders. We have a strong sense of community building in the arts industry. There’s so much care and love for fellow creatives, regardless of distance; once a connection has been made - it’s there for a really long time. 

 What inspired you to make this film? How did it evolve?

Alyssa: The film is very much inspired by mine and Chye-Ling's deep connections to Asia, not only as Asian-New Zealanders ourselves, but also as creatives who actively make an effort to go back and learn from our counterparts in those regions.

I personally love visiting Singapore and the Philippines, not only as home to me, but there’s so much art to immerse yourself in - there are incredibly talented practitioners there that set precedents for the arts industry in their regions, Asia as a whole, and globally.

But, regardless of travel coming to a halt, the effects of those experiences had not ceased, they were still effervescent in how I thought about my creative practice and what I wanted to write and develop under lockdown.

A scene from the film of a girl sitting at a table

Three Dots is also very much inspired by how I felt at the time being in Aotearoa, the immense privilege in being safe, while my family in the Philippines were struggling, and grieving for family lost.

Family and friends in Singapore also had their unique experiences, my friends who are dancers had to teach choreography and classes from their bedrooms - most of them live in small HDB apartments and were challenged to create with small spaces.

The film evolved as change came rapidly and unexpectedly throughout the past few months - it went from something that seemed more straightforward ie. “let’s make them all do the same thing at the same time”, to “let each character be more fluid and have their own story”.

What was it like creating a film set in three countries? Can you talk about the collaborative process of making it?

Chye-Ling: Having both organic and arts-inspired connections to the three countries we’d chosen, it was crucial we made each location as authentic as possible within budget and location.

It was difficult to find and manage locations through the shoot as Covid levels fluctuated through our first attempt, but once we had them locked, the art department could work their magic. Faith Tapsell went above and beyond with help from advisors who had lived and worked in those countries including myself and Alyssa.

Details such as a haze machine for the Philippines shoot day to give it a hot and humid feeling were all considered and added to the overall vibe. Many of the crew met over zoom as we were going in and out of Covid levels across pre-production, and many of the team met on set for the very first time, which was really unusual but a sign of the times. 

Watch a slideshow of images taken behind the scenes during the filming of Three Dots

Alyssa: As a 1.5 generation New Zealander, I still have my close ties and links back to the Philippines, and that really informed how I crafted Teresa’s story.

We brought on Ravenne Jariol, who is a young Filipino creative here, to help with the art department for that location, through her own personal experience and research it really helped in making sure the Davao location looked as genuine as it could be.

All of the Filipinos involved felt like we teleported back home. It was really awesome to have Cheryl Chua come on board from Singapore, she’s an amazing dancer who I met in Singapore. Our on-set choreographer, John Khew, already had a working relationship with Cheryl; having trained and collaborated together in Singapore before he moved to New Zealand, they knew each other really well and it made working remotely much easier.  

Why do you think it’s important for artists in NZ to collaborate with artists overseas (specifically Asia)?

Chye-Ling: Working in and collaborating with Asian artists has had a huge impact on the broadening and deepening of my own practice as a New Zealander.

The artistic sensibilities and practices of artists are so diverse across Asia - from Singapore to the Philippines for example, there is so much to be mined in a collaboration with someone whose artistic practice has grown out of a vastly different environment.

A person getting a white balance from a photographic reflector

What does it look like when you have unlimited resources but limited artistic freedom, censorship and government officials monitoring your show’s message? Or when you have no resource at all, but your art is vital to educating communities?

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Singapore, Bangkok, Shanghai and Beijing with the Foundation, and I’ve found my practice around puppetry and visual theatre change, but most fundamentally I felt a shift in the drive I had to create works that took advantage of our freedoms as New Zealanders to challenge narratives, political institutions and social constructs.

As a person interested in taking my work overseas, perspective is important. Making this short, collaborating with overseas artists added a layer of depth and connection organically that we were trying to achieve with the film itself, which elevates the film and its message.  

 What do you hope a New Zealand audience will take away from the film?

Alyssa: To not take our privilege for granted. New Zealand has also had its own struggles with the pandemic, not only economically but also in the mental health and wellbeing of our society as a whole.

I’d really like people to see that “normal” is different for everyone and everywhere, this was true before the pandemic and it’s still true now - that’s why empathy is important, and shouldn’t be lost through all of this.

The pandemic may be keeping us away from our counterparts overseas physically, but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep connecting through other means and definitely does not destroy our pre-existing connections.

A woman in a golden dress looking at herself in a mirror

Chye-Ling: I'm a fan of truly short short-films, and at three minutes, I'm hoping as many people will see it as possible! There's a lot of Asian excellence on screen and behind - I'm hoping everyone on the credits can catch someone's eye for future projects.

What does Proudly Asian Theatre have coming up next? What’s in the pipes?

Chye-Ling: Alyssa has just directed a short called ‘Mekeni’ by PAT’s creative producer, Marianne Infante, produced by Marianne and Todd Waters, which is mostly in Kapampangan dialect, releasing later this year with Someday Stories.

We’ve got a full scale theatre show premiering in August called Pork and Poll taxes in colab with Hand Pulled Collective, which is incredibly exciting.

We’re also running writer’s workshops and gunning for a season two of our acting workshops, fingers crossed, and another project connecting Singaporean, Filipino and US creatives is in the works and in funding rounds.


For more insights from Chye-Ling on this work and her connections to Asia, listen to her podcast episode in the Asia Media Centre's podcast series, 'Asia Insight':


About the Foundation's IN TOUCH arts commissions

Three Dots is one of ten digital art works to be produced through the Foundation's IN TOUCH arts commissions. The commissions were offered to New Zealand arts practitioners who had previously participated in Foundation programmes to develop new works suitable for digital channels and which draw on the artist’s ongoing connections to Asia.