Veteran television actor Chen Tianwen, who stars in the film, recalled that the director had very specific ideas for the film, including the challenging use of hand-held cameras.

The 49-year-old actor said: "We spent quite a lot of time rehearsing as he wanted a feel that was very slice-of-life and not at all exaggerated. You had to be very clear of what was placed where on the home set unlike in TV shows where what you need might be simply placed on a table in front of you."

Anthony Chen graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic's film, sound and video course in 2004. He later completed his Master of Arts in Film Directing at the National Film and Television School (UK) in 2010 with the assistance of the Media Development Authority of Singapore's Media Education Scheme.

Ilo Ilo, which cost $500,000 to make, was partly funded by the Singapore Film Commission's now-defunct New Feature Film Fund and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

His alma mater's $200,000 investment is the first time the institution has invested in an alumnus' work in the 20 years the film, sound and video diploma has been offered.

Director of Ngee Ann's School of Film & Media Studies Anita Kuan said they did so in part to support an alumnus. "Not just any alumni. Anthony, when he was a student here, had a very good track record."

In what she called a win-win situation, Chen held sharing sessions on his movie-making experience for Ngee Ann, and some students even did internships on the film.

Since the awards ceremony, congratulations have been pouring in on social media. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong posted on Facebook: "Ilo Ilo has won the Camera d'Or at Cannes! It was judged the best first feature film of the festival. Congratulations to Anthony Chen, the cast and crew. This is the first time a Singaporean has won the award. Well done indeed!"

Film-maker Boo Junfeng, 29, whose debut feature Sandcastle (2010) was also screened at Cannes, told The Straits Times: "The success of Ilo Ilo sets a new benchmark for film-making in Singapore and I hope people will come in full force to support it when it is released in theatres here." Ilo Ilo is slated to be released here on Aug 29 by Golden Village.

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