A teen shut-in creates a camera from his room as a conduit to the world.
Kay, a screenplay character, currently only lives in the words and minds of Arnold Lim and Claire Mulligan.
A consummate visual artist, Lim’s passion for the project led to critical cash and in-kind funding that puts the short film Obscura in the spotlight next fall.
Just over a year ago Lim – a filmmaker, photographer and photography manager – joined the Directors Guild of Canada, British Columbia (DGC), the national labour organization that represents more than 5,000 key creative and logistical personnel in the screen industry.
In 2021, he pitched Obscura for a Greenlight award that includes $30,000 in cash and $75,000 of in-kind services, which can cover anything from lighting to casting to gear.
He started writing Obscura in 2020 alongside Mulligan. Aside from being among his favourite writers, Mulligan is an accomplished Victoria writer and editor who also teaches at Camosun College and the University of Victoria.
A jury reviews scripts blind and selects five top contenders – Obscura made the short list last year, but didn’t win.
Despite the talent it was up against, Lim said it was a blow to lose. On top of that, colleagues recommended scrapping Obscura and pitching another project altogether this year.
“I had concerns about whether the project would happen,” Lim said.
Heart and soul, he was invested.
Obscura, in part, explores a phenomenon from the 1990s called hikikomori, Lim explained. At that time, doctors and scientists in Japan noticed primarily young men and teens locking themselves in their rooms for months to years to indefinitely – and it spread.
The screenplay follows lead character Kay, a teen sequestered in this room who creates a camera obscura.
“I wanted to tell a diverse story that was not just about diversity. This is a Canadian story,” Lim said.
Some of the explorations of loneliness and how society approaches mental health are reflective of his challenging youth as a Korean-Canadian kid growing up in the remote mountain town of Blue River, B.C. On reflection, Lim says, he at times chose to be alone so it was his choice instead of loneliness thrust upon him.
“I remember how isolating that felt,” he said.
Instead of abandoning the project, he invested time in a rewrite and Obscura again made that short list.
This year, instead of a computer link, he appeared in Van City Theatre in front of an audience of a couple hundred peers. The nerve-wracking appearance started with a five-minute pitch – a pitch he practised for hours alone in his car with the sunshades pulled low.
He had it down to a science, but in front of others his cadence slipped a notch and he didn’t quite finish.
Then came the question-and-answer period, where Lim credits his years as a journalist for feeling far more comfortable. Then the jury deliberated while the audience watched last year’s winning pitch – before announcing Lim’s project this year’s winner in the “established” category.
“I was stunned. There were some really powerful pitches I was impressed with.”
Now Lim as director, producer and co-writer with Mulligan, also a co-writer and producer, have until September 2023 to develop the film to premiere at next year’s showcase.
“I get to tell a story I’ve never seen before … but also it gives me an opportunity to grow and learn as an artist,” Lim said.
He’s already held meetings with those in the industry interested in working on the project. Bringing projects like this to Vancouver Island, and Greater Victoria specifically are important to the Saanich resident.
“My film family is in Victoria. These are the people that I love and love me,” he said, describing the region as filled with passionate individuals who punch way above their weight class, per capita.
“Every project I do, we want to put every dollar we can on the screen and that’s possible because of the people here and how much they give.”
Both his project and accolade lists are long. The award-winning director, producer and photojournalist is also executive producer of the Black Press Video Networks. Known for his work on All-in Madonna, The Cameraman and Godhead, his films have screened internationally including at the Toronto International Film Festival and has programmed for film festivals including the Vancouver Asian Film Festival and Victoria Film Festival.
His latest short, My Name is Arnold, played at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in Vancouver on Nov. 6 and won the audience awards for Best Overall Short Film and Best Performance. The same film earned a Canada Council for the Arts Grant ($35,000) and B.C. Arts Council Media Arts Grant ($25,000) last year.