A filmmaker by trade, Dharfianto (@dharfvader) works on commercials, reality shows and short films for a living in Singapore. Despite discovering his passion in secondary school, getting into the film industry wasn’t a straightforward process. Nevertheless, his hard work and commitment has gotten his works recognised both locally and internationally, such as at the Cornwall Film Festival and the Singapore Short Film Awards.
We speak to the self-deprecating 29-year-old about his other hobby—photography, his journey towards filmmaking, food (of course), and travel.
Stay till the end for a visual treat made by Dharf himself!
How did your Instagram handle (@dharfvader) come about?
D: I used to be a sergeant in Tekong (island off the Singapore mainland where male citizens would begin their compulsory 2-year National Service term). My recruits called me Sergeant Dharf. Whenever they saw me when I was trying to do impromptu inspections, they would hum the Darth Vader tune—like a warning to everyone. That’s how I got the name.
How did you get into filmmaking?
D: There was once we were assigned a book report assignment in secondary school. My form teacher said we could do anything we wanted. So instead of writing a book review, I made a trailer for the book. I found it very fun and my teacher advised me to consider filmmaking. Fast forward 6 to 7 years and I think I was studying economics. [Laughs] I decided that it wasn’t for me, so I went to Lasalle College of the Arts and the Puttnam School of Film to study film.
I also made films in the army. Every year, all of the commanders have to put up either a play or a film—anything—for National Education. It’s an ongoing competition once every 2-4 months. I’m quite proud of the stuff I did there—two plays and one film. Before I came in, there was apparently a company that never lost. But after I came in, we won three batches straight, of course I have all of my recruits and colleagues to thank as well. I guess it’s because I really loved what I was doing. And my position as a commander made it a lot easier. I could just say, “You, go there and say this line.” and they would do it very nicely. [Laughs] It’s like an order. Everybody would get their jobs done. It helped a lot.
Tell us more about your filmmaking approach.
D: In my films, I prefer something that has a personal touch to it, so the films that I make tend to be a bit more personal. One is based on my grandfather, another on a very special person and the upcoming one will be based on my mother. These are kind of universal, because everybody can relate to these relationships.
How did this interest in telling stories about human relationships come about?
D: My school had film screenings every Monday, and during one of these screenings, I caught a Brazilian film called Central Station. It is a film about relationships. The film starts with an old, jaded woman and a boy who are forced under circumstances to be with each other at first, but subsequently developed a close to mother-son-friends bond. I’m not doing the film justice with my synopsis, but please watch it. It’s really heartwarming. I didn’t understand the language, but I sympathised with the characters at the end. That kinda hit me, and I realised that I wanted to do something like that.
What is your favourite film?
D: Central Station. I also like Taiwanese revival films; it’s those high school romance films. They revolve around youths. Relatable for everyone, because who doesn’t have a first love?
Any film recommendations for an aspiring filmmaker?
D: Central Station, definitely. (NB: Centro do Brasil in Portuguese, produced in 1998). Everyone that I’ve recommended this film to has liked it.
Any advice for aspiring filmmakers?
D: I’m still learning. I started out when I was 17 or 18, as a coffee boy. I think it’s the conventional start for filmmakers. We buy coffee, do crowd control, hold the actor’s shoes. I think it really tests your patience. But if you really like what you’re doing, it shouldn’t stop you, because you’re going to move past that eventually. Patience, I guess, patience.
Tell us about your interests in photography.
D: I prefer warm tones. I like the Golden Hour—the hour before complete darkness. I try to replicate the mood in all my photos. I find them very cinematic.
I also try to make sure that every photo I take has a personal touch. If I have a sunset by the beach shot, I don’t just want to see the beach and the sunset. If you can have someone doing something there, it adds on to the picture, and that image becomes yours. It doesn’t turn into something very generic.
Any favourite photography places?
D: I love Taiwan. I tend to take more nature shots than architecture ones. I went around the entire island, and one of the most iconic locations is called Xiang Bi Yan (Elephant Trunk Rock). There are rocks by the water, and they resemble an elephant. There’s another place called Bu Yan Ting (Bu Yan Pavilion). It’s a driveway that leads up to a pavilion, and when you look down, it resembles a never-ending path. There’s also Tian Tang Lu. But I went there at the wrong time. It’s supposed to be full of rice fields, so when it’s fully grown, it would be very tall. However, when I went there, it was only a paddy field. [Laughs] There’s another place called Green Island. It’s like a Taiwanese version of Singapore’s Pulau Ubin.
How was your experience with the OOWA lens?
D: It’s really awesome. I have some issues with my camera. You know how the image would warp with wide-angle lenses on cameras because of the shape of the lens if you don’t go far enough? OOWA doesn’t give me that problem. That is really awesome!
How about videos?
D: It’s very easy, because the phone is very light compared to my own camera (a Canon 5D Mark III). The camera’s movement was made easier, definitely, and you get very intense flares. The lens flare is very strong. I love it. The wide lens gives you rainbow-patterned flares and the telephoto gives you a very strong light streak. And if the sun is at the right spot, it gives you a very aesthetic long streak of light. I use it a lot in the video (see below). [Laughs]
Was it difficult doing post-processing for videos shot on mobile?
D: This is actually my first time working with videos shot by phone. It’s not really a problem. It’s pretty much the same as those shot by my camera. It’s definitely quite easy to process mobile videos, and I’m one of the worst editors you can ever have. [Laughs]
What is your favourite part of the whole journey thus far?
D: Watching your own film on a screen. When you go through the entire process, when you’ve played a part in a film, and people watch and react to it, every slight chuckle—they laugh or giggle—or in emotional scenes, they begin tearing up, that’s a very big accomplishment, because whatever you wanna say is said and it’s effective.
Any hobbies apart from filming and photography?
D: Hmm...I like to eat. [Laughs] I like to travel. I travel whenever I can and whenever given the opportunity. This year has been a Travelling Year due to work. I’ve been to the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the US. They’re all for work. [Laughs]
Your favourite local dish?
D: Because I’m quite health-conscious, I try to avoid very oily stuff like fast food. In the mornings, I like a teh-o peng (iced black tea) with two eggs and a toast. It’s what I had this morning too.
Any parting words and/or words of inspiration?
D: In the photography and Instagram scenes, there are people who do things for likes and there are those who replicate the same things as others because they want to get the likes. Don’t do it just because you want the likes. Try to enjoy the process. If you really like black & white, then do black & white; don’t go for colour because others like it. That’s just a random example. So I guess...keep doing what you love! And...don’t get lost in the process. Something like that. [Laughs]
Dharfianto shot all the photos and the video above with the OOWA 15mm and 75mm lenses. Shop here.