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Victoria filmmaker’s ‘Obscura’ nominated for nine Leo Awards

Arnold Lim credits Vancouver Island’s amazing talent for film’s success
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Arnold Lim works with crew on the filming of Obscura. (Courtesy Arnold Lim)

By Tim Collins

A filmmaker and journalist, Arnold Lim has already secured his place as a man who’s made a lasting impact on the Canadian film industry.

His list of accomplishments is long and impressive. For example, his short film My Name is Arnold, played at the Vancouver Asian Film Festival in Vancouver 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).

But it’s his latest project that has people talking.

Obscura is the story of a young man, Kay, who has withdrawn from the world and become what is known as a hikikomori. The syndrome – the name of which also refers to the recluses themselves – is a form of severe social withdrawal in which (generally) young men become hermits in their parents’ home – never venturing out of their rooms to work or school.

“In a way, it’s a reflection of a theme that I’ve been exploring for some time now. It involves understanding the barriers that we put up to protect ourselves. They’re barriers that prevent us from seeing and experiencing others,” said Lim. “It’s something that I’ve discovered within myself and, for whatever reason, it’s something that I can reflect best in film.”

Lim’s understanding of how society deals with mental health issues is rooted in his own youth, growing up as a Korean-Canadian child in the small mountain town of Blue River, B.C.

“There were times when I chose to be alone, and I can still recall the feelings of isolation from that time.”

In Lim’s telling of the tale in Obscura, the main character has locked himself away, but has turned his room into a camera obscura as a conduit to the outside world. For those unfamiliar with the term, a camera obscura is a darkened room with a small hole or lens at one side through which an image is projected onto a wall or table opposite the hole.

But when the power goes out and that link is lost, the story takes a turn.

It’s an idea that Lim explained was first conceived by his co-writer Claire Mulligan.

“She’s an amazing talent and I couldn’t have made this film without her genius and the work of the passionate group of artists and crew. Everyone involved in the film put their own mark on the final work.”

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Arnold Lim works with crew on production of Obscura. (Courtesy Arnold Lim)

Mulligan is similarly quick to credit Lim and the others who worked on the film.

“My original idea was a sort of Sci-Fi concept. And I’d involved too many characters and had an ending that was a bit too ‘Pollyanna’ in approach,” said Mulligan. “It was Arnold that came up with the film’s brilliant ending and we went back and forth a few times to get to it. My approach was too light, and Arnold’s was too dark, but we found this place in the center, and it worked.”

That collaboration was a critical part of the film’s success.

“I come from a short story background but I’m not a filmmaker. It was Arnold that kept reminding us that it was a visual storytelling and, with his vision, he made it happen,” said Mulligan.

The film was created entirely on Vancouver Island – a process that Lim acknowledges as having its own challenges as some of the resources needed for film production are less abundant here than might be found in Vancouver or other larger urban centers.

“I’ve had offers to move and live in Vancouver, but my home is here and every film I make is shot here,” said Lim. “I want to help expose our film community and help them get the credit that they deserve. We have so much talent – world-class talent – on Vancouver Island and they deserve to be recognized.”

“When you have an artist making a painting, it’s their brushstrokes that create the art. In film, it’s literally the brushstrokes of hundreds of people contributing to put their mark on the film,” Lim said. “That’s what has made my work possible. The talented people who have buoyed me up and made these projects their own.”

Obscura has been nominated for excellence in Program, Direction, Screenwriting, Cinematography, Picture Editing, Sound, Musical Score, Production Design and Performance at the 2024 Leo Awards. Winners will be announced June 15 and 16 at the Centre Stage in Surrey B.C.

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