YIDFF 2013 New Asian Currents
Jalan Jati—Teak Road
An Interview with Lucy Davis (Director)

A Tree’s Story

Q: This is the first “animated documentary” to ever be screened at the YIDFF. Can you tell us about your decision to combine documentary and animation?

LD: Actually, this film cannot be called a pure work of documentary. Since I have created a work that brings to mind fairy tales, fables, and the like, I am actually rather surprised to be here. This film is a work created in the process of a larger, three-year long project: a scientific examination of the DNA of the teak tree. As an artist, I wanted to challenge the objectivist viewpoint of the scientist through the telling of a story.

Q: The emphasis on stop-motion lent your animated film a unique quality—how did you go about it?

LD: I actually created the film through a rather simple method of stop-motion. In practice, this involved spreading ink upon the tree and then using it as a kind of stamp. Through the lens of documentary, by actually making use of the tree with my own hand, I was perhaps able to attain a certain intimacy with the tree.

Q: When aurally expressing the scenery via “soundscape,” how did you go about matching sound with image?

LD: The sounds were created through the collaborative work of Singaporean artists Zai Kuning and Zai Tang. As close friends, we continue to mutually influence each other. As fellow independent artists, they had a certain amount of artistic liberty in the creation of the film. I showed them short images, upon which they created the audio track. In this way the sound was made specifically to match the image. As if in a dance, we created these components together.

Q: What message do you believe can be found in a story starring a tree?

LD: Humanity is the foliage upon the teak’s trunk. Though this is a film starring a tree, the story of humanity is expressed through the variety of branches and leaves growing from the tree’s trunk. The pieces of wood that appear in the film serve as a metaphor for the various stories that grow from the tree. It is not simply a story that allows for the discovery of a single truth, but rather a single story that encompasses a greater truth. There is a shamanistic way of thinking that suggests the spirits of the deceased dwell within trees. To what extent can the story be aesthetically expanded, when the subject is not human? Just as a tree changes as it absorbs water, my project similarly expanded, and with this thought in mind, I exerted great effort to represent the physicality of the tree’s thickness and volume. Ecologically, the teak tree is depicted on both a macro and micro scale. In a story that centers not upon a human but a tree, a human story can still be found. The ending is thus animation manufactured by the hands of many individuals before ultimately being swallowed by nature. No matter how much humans struggle, nature lives on. In this sense, I meant it as a positive ending. I believe the tree itself is just one possible means of spreading this awareness. To a Malayan, there is a belief that this samanka, a spirit being, resides within trees. It might just be the case that this spirit lives in my DNA as well.

(Compiled by Kubota Naho)

Interviewers: Kubota Naho, Takahashi Mari / Interpreter: Tanimoto Hiroyuki / Translator: Jason Douglass
Photography: Matsushita Sho / Video: Yamaguchi Nobukuni / 2013-10-11