Why Leroy Lim is one to watch

The name Leroy Lim probably doesn’t ring a bell now but you’ll want to keep an eye out for this up and coming filmmaker. The 24-year-old student from LASALLE School of the Arts is the director of “I Believe” — a popular online short film about an unlikely friendship between an autistic youth and a popular guy in church.

The film was produced as part of 20/20 — The Temasek Short Film Project , which saw 20 groups of young filmmakers producing 20 local short films under the tutelage of established local filmmakers earlier this year.

We sat down with Leroy where he shared some thoughts about his chosen craft, the Singapore film industry — and mosquitoes!

Here are four reasons why we think the 24-year-old is one to watch.

Leroy Lim, a final-year film student and director of “I Believe”. The 24-year-old grew up wanting to be a pilot and paleontologist before deciding on filmmaking.

His first film is already a hit

I Believe is Leroy’s first attempt at a film project outside of school and it already has received glowing reviews from all over. Produced in collaboration with his schoolmates Nikko Koh, 22, and Dhinesh Ravichandran, 25, the trio had veteran female filmmaker Wee Li Lin as their mentor for this project and Ah Boys to Men star Maxi Lim helming the lead role.

The 15-minute short film chalked up close to 150,000 views online, earning critical acclaim from the online and mainstream media along the way . The film also gained traction abroad with an upcoming screening in Italy at the AS Film Festival — an independent international film festival managed by people with Asperger Syndrome.

Praises were heaped on how “real” the film felt, and the young filmmakers for tackling a difficult topic like autism without perpetuating simplistic stereotypes about the condition.

As it turned out, the film was based largely on Leroy’s personal experience with an autistic teenager, whose condition tested the limits of his patience. But an offer of prayer from the teen — just like in the film — turned the relationship around.

“I don’t think, even to this day, I’ve heard a more earnest prayer. That was the turning point for me. After the prayer, he just gave me the most awkward of hugs and walked off. I was left there trying not to cry. It was a realization that I had not only gotten complacent [with my faith] and I had somehow believed that I was better than him,” said Leroy.
Screenshot from “I Believe”

In the works: A first full feature-length film

Leroy will soon have more in common with local film heavyweights like Eric Khoo and Royston Tan. All three can lay claim to have worked with mm2 Entertainment — one of the region’s leading movie production companies.

Recognising his potential, Leroy was handpicked by the firm to direct his first full-length movie. Films in the mm2 stable include Long Long Time Ago and 3688.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the final-year student bent on entering the film business, but not certain how to go about doing it.

“I want to go into film full time, but I wasn’t sure how or in what capacity. Then this opportunity opened up and I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited, humbled and also intimidated.” he said.

Leroy has not decided what the film is going to be about, but he wants it to be set in Singapore.

“Many strive to shoot a film in a place that looks distinctly un-Singapore. But really, the HDB blocks can be quite iconic too. I want to tell a story in a Singaporean space.”

No other details are available at this point and it may be quite a while before we see anything comes to fruition, but with mm2’s proven industry track record and Leroy’s raw talent, we await with bated breath.

Screenshot from “I Believe”

He knows what makes a good story

To the naysayers — Leroy Lim is no fluke. What he lacks in experience, he makes up for it with a key basic ingredient — storytelling.

“At LASALLE, we are taught that story is king and I still abide by that,” said the eldest of three brothers in his family.

Leroy believes that a film borne out of personal experiences is more “authentic”.

“A personal film has the potential to go very deep emotionally and finds people where they are so it becomes easier to relate,” he said.

He also thinks a good story should have an imperfect character and also a strong moral message — whether for good or bad.

“If you give audiences a perfect portrait of a character, they’ll hate that persona because they are reminded that they cannot be that perfect. But if you give them a character who is flawed and easy to relate to, it drives us to question ourselves.”

So it didn’t came as a surprise that Robert Zemeckis’s ode to 20th century America Forrest Gump is one of Leroy’s favourite films. In his words: “Every time I watch it, I like it a little bit more.”

Screenshot from “I Believe”

He sees potential in the Singapore film industry — and is proud to be part of it

Hands-up if you’ve ever cringed when a local film tries too hard to bring home Hollywood. Leroy has too and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.

“It grates on my ears and nerves when I see a Singaporean actor trying to speak like an American, because I know it’s fake.”

The filmmaker thinks that mainstream recognition of Singapore cinema, though still in its infancy, is slowly but surely improving.

“When local films are released, no one watches them unless they have some commercial value. It’s quite sad and I’m guilty of it as well. I think the industry here is small and we have a long way to go, but we are definitely getting somewhere,” he said.

“I see my peers among the millennial generation warming up to the idea that we can produce content that is good, and there are good stories to be found locally as well,” added Leroy, who counts acclaimed local directors Anthony Chen and Boo Junfeng as some of his influences.

In fact, Leroy is directing a documentary for his school’s final-year project about an issue very close to home. His new work explores how the National Environment Agency (NEA) is using male mosquitoes, infected with a bacteria, to control the population of female Aedes mosquitoes. The latter is responsible for spreading fearsome viruses like dengue, Chikungunya and Zika.

The documentary, Leroy said, will focus not only on the scientific part of the mosquito project but will also explore Singaporeans’ reactions to it.

“If you tell a Singaporean that you are releasing [male] mosquitoes in their environment, they’d freak out.”

“People have a fear of this project because they do not really know what it is about and I want to explore this fear of the unknown,” he said.

The success of I Believe can be dizzying for the young filmmaker who says he is heartened by how everyone, including his parents, love it.

But what does Kaven Low, the autistic youth who inspired the film’s main character think?

Leroy said, laughing: “I asked Kaven about it and he said it was so-so.”

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