Reflections of an intern

June 25, 2021, 1:23am

Contributed by Krissa Chan from Anglo-Chinese Junior College who was on a two-week work attachment to the Asian Film Archive.

My time spent as an intern at AFA was short, but extremely enriching and eye-opening. We were told before hand that majority of the work was to be done online at home due to COVID-19. Although I had experience with online school from the previous months, I was unsure of what to expect, as it would undoubtedly be an unconventional experience. None of the previous ELES scholars had gone through anything remotely similar. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to it, the prospects of making new friends and learning about the local film scene were certainly inviting.  

On the first day, I arrived on the dot at 10:30am, and was met with the friendly people at AFA. They showed me the various on-hand films in canisters and other various forms of digital storage. I was intrigued. I had dabbled in film photography, but I had been previously unaware of the extent that filmmakers went through in order to share their art with the masses in the past. I was briefed on the rich history of local film and cinema, including that of popular cinema companies Cathay and Shaw, and I realised that the companies I knew as just cinemas in fact had been extremely influential in the making of local films in the 1950s up to the 1960s.  

Mat Sentol in Mat Magic (1971, dir. Mat Sentol and John Calvert)

Over the next few days, I worked from home and watched a plethora of both local and regional films, writing synopses and cataloguing them. One series that stood out to me were the Mat Sentol movies, it was a genre of slapstick comedy that I had never been exposed to before. These films gave me insight into the film technology in the past, as the movies were filled with special effects and jump cuts. It was both challenging and stimulating to come up with appropriate synopses for these movies, since there were an abundance of sub-plots entwined in the main plot involving the hilarious main character, Mat. With the help of my mentors, I was able to improve on my writing skills, and developed a sharper eye for what was most salient to write about in the synopses.  

Cages (2005, dir. Graham Streeter)

On the second last day of my work attachment, I returned to the AFA office to learn more about the care and maintenance of the physical film reels. I even got the chance to clean a film, Cages (2005), directed by Graham Streeter and starring Tan Kheng Hua, Mako Iwamatsu, Zelda Rubinstein and Bobby Tonelli. Tan Kheng Hua is a family friend of mine, so it was exciting for me to see and touch a physical form of her work from when I was only a two-year-old child. While cleaning the film reels, we discovered that one set was severely damaged. The film had started to become sticky and this caused the film frames to be completely or partially cut off.  I learnt that this was not an uncommon occurrence, and that this was the tragic fate of countless films from the past, as the reels had not been stored carefully and routinely cleaned. Once a film is damaged, it requires hours and hours of manual repair in order to attempt to restore it to a semblance of what it once was. It was then that I truly understood the importance of an organisation like AFA. Their preservation of these films were crucial in documenting the time era that was reflected in the art, and without AFA, these films would be lost forever. 

Although it was not the typical work attachment experience, I must say that I truly enjoyed my time at AFA. I went in hoping to learn more about the local film scene, and I was definitely not disappointed. My time there gave me a taste of working life, and taught me how the skills I learnt in English Language and Linguistics can be applied in real life. I am truly grateful to have been given the opportunity to meet such dedicated people and learn from them. In the future, I hope to attend AFA events, such as the current State Of Motion exhibition, and further expand my knowledge on the local film and art scene.