James Rowlins, a native of England relocated to Paris for his higher studies. In addition to exploring literature and film through a theoretical lens, he dabbles in filmmaking. Presently, he is Senior Lecturer in the Humanities & Arts Department at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. Also a JLGA 2.0 Winner of 2019.
CULT CRITIC: Hello Sir. Welcome to Cult-Critic Magazine. Hope you are doing great. I read your bio where it is mentioned that you are a Lecturer. How did the passion for filmmaking grow within yourself?
JAMES: I watched Godard’s Breathless and Pierrot le fou as an eighteen-year-old student in Paris. These films changed my life. I resisted at first – put off by their imperfections and oddities. But I was curious and in time seduced by their cool youthfulness, philosophical underpinnings and political revolt. Some years later I continued my studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The faculty is very innovative and allowed me to pursue my research by making films that reflected the New Wave ideals and aesthetics. I’ve since adopted this approach with my own students.
CULT CRITIC:What is the meaning of the title of your film “MONSTROSITY”? How do you relate it with the sprouting problems of society?
JAMES: “Monstrosity” is the story of a young law student, Jason Summers, who kills a vicious loan shark to exact moral revenge. The story is loosely adapted from the Dostoevsky’s classic novel Crime & Punishment. It’s not, as such, a direct commentary on violence in contemporary society. However, in the context of Singapore where the film was made, I would say there is a lack of substantive discourse about darker issues in society, such as injustice and the causes of crime. There is a tendency to embellish and whitewash society’s failings – to pretend everything is just perfect. “Monstrosity” takes aim at this status quo.
CULT CRITIC: What is your favourite genre for filmmaking?
JAMES: My favourite genre is film noir and crime films (e.g. Touch of Evil, Le Samouraï, Get Carter), followed by old-school horror movies (e.g. Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man). I love genre films for their huge potential to be entertaining, intelligent and probing.
CULT CRITIC:“To truly know the mind of a criminal, you have to become one.” – Do you support this? Please explain.
JAMES: It’s an interesting supposition but on balance, probably not. From an existential point of view, everybody is guilty of something – we all take deviations, little or large, from the path that society prescribes. So we are all capable of being criminals! It is fortunately rare for someone to commit murder, as our protagonist does, as a self-appointed morally superior being exacting vigilante justice. Our short story suggests that this course of action is a hiding to nothing.
CULT CRITIC: Tell us some memorable/ funny incidents during the shooting.
JAMES: There is a scene after Jason commits the first murder where he is in the shower, covered in blood. Our lead actor, Jack Hyde, got naked for the shoot, as per the script directions. But the girl whose job it was to dispense the fake blood was rather shy, and when Jack emerged unclothed from the changing room, she couldn’t stop giggling from the shock!
CULT CRITIC:How long does it took to complete “MONSTROSITY”? And what difficulties you faced during the shoot?
JAMES: We completed the film during a university semester. Many of the cast and crew were students enrolled in my filmmaking module and had little, if any, training in their assigned roles. Although they were all keen learners, it meant that they required a lot of extra practice.
The shooting schedule was also extremely tight, as we had to be wrapped by the end of the recess week. We finished the final scene at 4 a.m. on a Sunday night!
CULT CRITIC: Please share the feelings you had after you became the Winner of JLGA2.0?
JAMES: I was delighted on two counts. First, it is truly rewarding to be a recognized by an institution such as Cult-Critics Magazine that loves cinema so passionately and is active in energising the community of emerging filmmakers. Kudos to you guys! Secondly, Jean-Luc Godard is my cinematic hero, so I was thrilled to win an award bearing his name.
CULT CRITIC:What do you suggest to the young filmmakers for making good films?
JAMES: Watch and the critique films by the world’s finest auteurs. Know the rules of narrative – but don’t be afraid to break them. Push boundaries whenever possible and, above all, tell stories that are true to yourselves.
CULT CRITIC: Last but not the least, please let us know something regarding your upcoming projects.
JAMES: I’d like to take the plunge and direct a feature film within the next year. I’m currently at the writing stage and looking for financial bakers. I can’t elaborate too much on the script, but it will a neo noir/horror set in the modern-day UK. I’ll be sure to let you know all about it when the project comes to fruition.