Director’s Statement

Films have always fascinated me. I find their ability to cut across cultures and languages to tell important stories of ourselves and those around us to be nothing short of magic. It was a strong desire to be a part of this magic that drove me to filmmaking. My father was a playwright, actor and director and understood how strong that pull can be. He encouraged me to have big dreams and then ferociously pursue them. He remains my greatest inspiration and my greatest teacher. I also continue to learn a great deal by watching the films of master directors and by constantly experimenting with new ideas and stories.

The subject matter I chose in 1999 is important for its topicality and universality. The movie explores the unique challenges faced by immigrants who are survivors of devastating armed conflicts in other countries. Growing up in Toronto, I experienced many challenges (and by that token availed myself of many opportunities) as a Tamil who escaped the brutalizing civil war in Sri Lanka. Through the eyes of my three main characters, I wanted capture a previously untold story about the immigrant experience by focusing my lens on youth who have to negotiate a hyphenated new reality in Canada.

Consequently, I dove into the topic of youth violence and why many of these immigrant youth fall prey to gang culture. Though the film is not based on a true story, real-life events that took place in the late 1990s in Toronto and my own experiences as a first-generation Tamil Canadian were what inspired this film. After conducting extensive research over two years that included interviews with youth workers and reformed gang members, I wrote the script with the hope that it would accurately reflect the thoughts and emotions of those who inspired the film and its characters. Judging by the tremendous reception and grassroots support of the movie in the Tamil diaspora community in Canada and around the world and the fact that it has started to garner critical acclaim on the international film festival circuit, it would appear that we managed to do this story some justice.

About the Director

Lenin M. Sivam was born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka and raised in Toronto, Canada. He graduated from the University of Waterloo with a degree in computer science and presently works as a software architect in Toronto where he also lives with his wife and three young children.

Sivam’s many responsibilities, however, do not deter him from his passion for making movies that matter. He is a talented and self-taught storyteller who writes, produces and directs most of his movies by drawing on the skills and knowledge he gained from taking part-time filmmaking courses at Ryerson University. Sivam has a number of short films to his credit, including the award-winning A Few Good People (2006), the critically acclaimed Strength (2007), and the thriller Next Door (2008). His diverse and controversial body of work is well respected in the independent film community. His debut short film, A Few Good People, won the Best Short Film of the Year Award from the Independent Art Film Society in 2006. With a well-researched script, he tackled the stigma attached to mental illness in Strength. It won critical acclaim for its portrayal of a clinically depressed young man finding the strength and conviction to ask for help. Finally, his short thriller, Next Door, explored the psyche of a serial killer.

1999 marks Sivam’s full feature directorial debut. A labour of love, the film was written, directed and produced on a shoestring budget financed by family and friends. Shot over 12 consecutive weekends in Toronto, the film features an entirely volunteer ensemble of talented cast and crew who were passionate about telling a story that needed to be shared with fellow Canadians.

Filmography

Next Door (Pakkathuveedu), 2008

Strength (Uruthy), 2007

A Few Good People (Iniyavarkal), 2006