The man behind Singapore's two Cannes-bound films

Spain-born Fran Borgia, who has lived in Singapore for 14 years, produced Apprentice and A Yellow Bird

Producer Fran Borgia's Akanga Film Asia has made seven features.
Producer Fran Borgia's Akanga Film Asia has made seven features. ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

Cannes-bound Singapore films Apprentice by Boo Junfeng and A Yellow Bird by K. Rajagopal have one thing in common apart from their prison themes - producer Fran Borgia.

But Borgia, 36, who was born in Spain, is quick to dispel the idea that he somehow has this magic touch because two of his features are at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival at the same time.

He says: "It just happened that the timing is perfect and both of them are ready at the same time. It has been almost five years in the making for each of them."

What he does not dismiss is the importance of the achievement for the two directors. "Cannes gets more than 3,000 submissions every year and only 50 films are picked. There are no other films from around the region, but Singapore has two films," he says of Boo's psychological prison drama and Rajagopal's debut film about a man released from prison.

"We do need to take this moment and let people see that we have stories to tell and the creative people who can come up with these kinds of films."

It is not incongruous for Borgia to include himself with Singaporean film-makers in his use of "we".

Married to Singaporean house- wife Joey Lam, he has called Singapore home for the past 14 years and is very much a key actor in the independent movie scene here. In fact, the Singapore permanent resident proudly introduces himself as a Singapore film-maker at festivals and speaks with a light accent that suggests both Europe and Singapore.

His love of film is palpable.

"I really like to take projects where I believe in the person who drives it and that is the director. I always feel the director is like a fire and he has to burn me," he says during this interview at his set-up Akanga Film Asia in Kelantan Lane.

And when he feels the burning passion, he will take the plunge.

"As a producer, I like to be involved from the very beginning to the very end. I like to develop a project and add as much to it as I can."

While he relies on commercial work to pay the bills, he adds: "If I do only commercial work to earn money, I won't be able to live."

He lives his life the same way he makes films, by following his heart.

When he came to Singapore as an exchange student, he fell in love with Ms Lam, 37, who graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film, Sound and Video Department, and ended up moving here. They have two sons, aged three and one.

He has a bachelor's degree in film directing from the University of Barcelona and producing was something he got into when he came here in 2003 because he "needed a pass to stay".

"The way to easily get an entrepreneur pass was to create a business, so I started Akanga."

Of the seven features Akanga has made, four were picked up by Cannes - Apprentice, A Yellow Bird, Boo's debut coming-of-age feature Sandcastle (2010) and Ho Tzu Nyen's Here (2009).

The other three went to the Berlin International Film Festival (Lav Diaz's A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery, 2016), Rotterdam International Film Festival (Vladimir Todorovic's Disappearing Landscape, 2013) and Edinburgh International Film Festival (Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor's Mister John, 2013).

Borgia says he does not miss directing: "I am totally fulfilled with the films I've been involved in."

Given how intensely he involves himself, it is not surprising to learn that he likes to work with friends and that the films burnish the friendship further.

"I feel that I can work only with friends as I need to know them very well. I need to feel that friendship with a director in order to give 100 per cent of my time," he says.

He first met Boo when the latter was in Barcelona as an exchange student in 2003. They worked together on Boo's short films and Sandcastle was a natural extension. Rajagopal acted in The King Lear Project: A Trilogy, a conceptual theatre piece Borgia co-directed with Ho in 2008 for the Singapore Arts Festival.

Borgia says: "I'm excited to work with young film-makers who have done only one or two films. I want to have the chance to work with as many directors as I can."

He is toying with a "crazy policy" - that he would work with a film- maker no more than two times.

Then, with his collaboration with Boo in mind, he adds with a grin: "Maybe you should put three times in the article because we're already talking about the next one."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 27, 2016, with the headline The man behind Singapore's two Cannes-bound films. Subscribe