By: Nicole D’Andria
Sponsored by The Ministry of Culture in Taiwan, Cemacemas is an upcoming animated film based on Taiwan’s indigenous population’s folklore. I interviewed producer Claire Dodin and voice actress Courtney Lin about this ambitious project.
This project intertwines Taiwanese Indigenous sorceress culture with local development history. The animation takes place in Taiwan and follows a young tribal girl, Samilikan, who wants to become a sorceress. She goes to find the magical millet that will help her tribe, which is facing an invasion of alien clans and an unprecedented food shortage.
Cemacemas is currently in development and will be releasing sometime in 2021. I spoke in-depth about the project with producer Claire Dodin and voice actress Courtney Lin. A big thanks to David Boone over at Another Anime Review for introducing us, you can check out his piece about Cemacemas here.
Me: Can you tell us the story about the inception behind the development of Cemacemas? Why did you decide to become part of the project?
Dodin: I discovered Cemacemas at Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Market (MIFA) in 2019, when we were still allowed to travel to events and meet in person. I instantly fell in love with the project and knew this was something that I wanted to help produce. Cemacemas is based on an original story by Mr. Ljavuras Kadrangian, who belongs to a Taiwanese indigenous group called Paiwan. The film is directed by Tai-Yu Liao and created by MK Origin Studio.
The story talks about a curse that plagues greedy people who do not understand gratitude and giving back. It was re-written to make it more approachable and easier to understand. It is full of magic as well as incredibly beautiful music and graphics.
I instantly related to the Taiwanese aborigines’ care for nature, and their philosophy of life resonates strongly with me. I’ve always been fascinated by foreign cultures, in particular by people who live a much simpler life than us, and yet seem to be so much wiser and happier. I think that we have much to learn from them. Nowadays, these seemingly ancient ideas and cultures may be the philosophy we all need in our lives.
Me: What are some of the other unique qualities of Cemacemas that we don’t usually get to see in animated films?
Dodin: First, it is incredibly rare to see on-screen stories about aboriginal people, let alone written by aboriginal people. It’s a culture that we are nearly never exposed to and deserves to be known. The sorceresses of Taiwanese origin are very different than the usual witches of the Western world that we are used to seeing on our screens.
With striking visuals, sprinkles of fantasy, and gorgeous music, we aim to keep a record of this gradually declining culture and inspire future generations to love and nurture our beautiful planet.
Me: The story focuses on the folklore of Taiwan’s indigenous population. Why do you feel this is an important topic to explore?
Dodin: The Taiwanese aborigine stories teach people to love and respect nature. They show that human desires and greed are the cause of much destruction around us. “People progress because of desire, but they are also cursed by desire.” This rings so true to me, especially every time I think about global warming.
The sad reality of life is that indigenous people have been and still are victims of industrialization and development, particularly in Taiwan. In order to protect their homeland and natural resources, the aborigines are constantly fighting and making a stand.
I feel that it is time for us to stop and listen, learn from them, and help, so we can all live happy and fulfilling lives regardless of where we come from and how we were raised. I feel that this message is important to everyone, not just in Taiwan, but also in America, Australia, and everywhere there still are indigenous populations that just want and deserve to live happily and in harmony with the world around them.
Now that I live in America, I am very aware and concerned about how we treat and interact with First People, particularly on the eve of Thanksgiving. I see how we chose a pipeline over First People’s wishes, and I know we should do better. This also affects people who will never meet indigenous people; taking care of our beautiful planet and nurturing harmony between all elements is something we should all aspire to. We have much to learn from these folk stories.
Me: Who are the main cast of characters in Cemacemas and what are their everyday lives like?
Samilikan is a 14-year-old girl who is determined to become a qualified sorceress and help the tribe, but she struggles and people in the tribe make fun of her and do not respect her. She must overcome her fears and inferior complex in order to get a magical millet that will save her tribe. The styling is divided into two types, and the reference comes from the Taiwanese indigenous tribe Puyuma.
Akay is a 19-year-old sorceress with strong magic power. For many years, she has been monitoring aliens with Kuljelj and Puljaljuyan and maintaining peace in the forest. She is a tough and gifted young woman with a Siliq bird, which is a symbol of luck in the Taiwanese indigenous culture. In the script, she guides and supports Samilikan throughout the journey and helps her become a sorceress. The reference comes from the Taiwanese indigenous tribe Paiwan. And this tribe still has a sorceress.
Camak is a 16-year-old boy. As a descendant of legendary warriors, he trains hard every day and wants to become a warrior who can protect the tribe. He is open-minded and responsible but jealous of Samilikan’s success. He ends up not being able to balance his envy and desire, which leads to a horror that could never be redeemed. His greedy heart turns him into an Alien.
Aton is the sacred envoy of Dradrengelan, he can also take the form of a white deer. At first, he just wanted to complete the order from Dradrengelan, but he falls in love with Samilikan and decides to help her instead.
Me: What are your three favorite aspects of Cemacemas?
1. Beauty: Both the music and graphics are incredibly beautiful. This is a work of art I can’t stop watching. The Taiwanese aborigine culture brings striking beauty to this film.
2. Female lead: I love that our lead is a young girl who lacks self-esteem and confidence and grows into an incredible young leader. I’m sure many girls and women will identify with her.
3. Nature: I love the theme and message. Living in harmony with nature and the world around me is something I aspire to.
Me: Describe your role as a producer on the project and what a typical workday looks like for you?
Dodin: When you are a producer in a small company, you basically do everything that needs to be done for a project to see light. So, there is no typical day.
Sometimes we look for projects that get us excited, sometimes we look for scriptwriters to re-write a script, a synopsis, or something else, sometimes we are casting actors, sometimes we are recording, sometimes we are editing audio or video, sometimes we are redesigning the pitch bible, or we hop on a Zoom meeting to pitch the film to investors, distributors, and potential co-producers.
We update the website, we work on marketing and getting the word out there, we research grants, we join film markets to meet industry people and make meaningful connections that will help us move forward, etc. There are about a thousand tasks that we do until we can get the budget to hire more people to help. So, we are busy, but it’s also extremely rewarding, and we get to work on projects we truly believe in. I feel incredibly fortunate to get to work on Cemacemas.
Me: Where and how can people watch Cemacemas when it comes out?
Dodin: We are currently looking for distribution, so we’re not sure yet where you’ll be able to see the film. If you are a serious investor or distributor, feel free to get in touch, all rights are still available at this time. We will keep people posted on the website.
Me: Promote yourself! What are some of your other works and how can people find out more about your work?
Dodin: VOFFLA is mostly a post-production company providing casting and recordings in French and US English. Visit our website here.
On top of Cemacemas, we are currently producing the US English version of an animated series called Tatty and Misifu. This is for small children, about a little witch and her naughty black cat. New episodes come out weekly on Youtube, here’s one of my favorites.
We also teamed up with SmartStudy to bring you the French version of their very popular Pinkfong songs. This will launch on their Youtube channel here very soon.
And we are producing our own animated series for preschoolers called Pet Hotel. We’ll be following a bunch of singing kittens from all over the world in a pet hotel on the French Riviera. The show is not finished yet, we’ve just started the production and we do not have a launch date yet, but you can check it out and stay up to date on the website.
You can also already buy the merchandise, which will help us finance episodes.
Me: Tell us about the character you voice and what you like about her the most?
Lin: I voice the character Akay. Akay is an accomplished sorceress who helps guide the protagonist Samilikan in her journey to discovering her powers and saving her people. Akay is strong and grounded, qualities I find in myself, so I immediately felt very close to this character when reading about her.
Me: What was the audition process like?
Lin: Claire and her team were very particular about casting the project true to its roots, which meant finding Taiwanese talent. I am half Taiwanese so when I saw Claire’s post, I was immediately drawn in. It was so exciting to see a project like this getting posted—the first of its kind that I’ve seen! After a vetting process, I was selected to be a part of it.
Me: Who are some of the other voice actors that you’re excited to be part of this project with?
Lin: Stephanie Sheh and Todd Haberkorn, two absolute LEGENDS. I didn’t even know they had been cast in the project until after the trailer was released, so when I saw that my jaw dropped. It’s a flippin’ honor to be included in a cast list with those two stars!!
Me: Why do you feel it’s important for people to support this film?
Lin: With BIPOC films often being unrepresented, there are so many stories around BIPOC culture that never get to see the light of day. This is especially the case with Asian-centered films, in which even the ones made can often be white-washed.
Cemacemas centers on aboriginal Taiwanese culture, with a fully Taiwanese story produced by Taiwanese staff and brought to life by Taiwanese actors. This film is completely rooted in our culture, and now we can proudly share our culture and stories with the rest of the world. The best way people can support this film is to like and share our trailer for Cemacemas, which can be found on YouTube here.
Me: Promote yourself! What are some of your other voice acting roles and how can people find out more about your work?
Lin: You can find some of my work in Life of Manna, the Shadowverse 19th Expansion, and some other unreleased games and animation series that I will definitely be announcing on my website www.thecourtneylin.com, and on my Instagram, @thecourtneylin.
Me: Thank you for your time, Claire and Courtney. Readers interested in the project can check out their official website here.