Written by Janice Chua
For Singapore Shorts ’19, 139 entries were submitted, and 21 titles have been selected to be screened. These selected films bring about a unique mix of themes and self-expressions, with relevancy, representation, creativity and diversity identified as criteria by the selection panel alongside the films’ quality.
This year’s selection saw several ‘cross-country’ films that explored the topic of identity between two borders. SIN-SFO by Leon Cheo takes viewers on a journey to San Francisco with the lead characters contemplating their decisions to give up their Singaporean citizenship. Two Islands by Nicole Lim follows a young lady’s journey in reconnecting with her ancestral home in Hainan. Idette Chen’s evenly paced storytelling in Bangla sheds light on the foreign-local relationship, a prevalent subject in Singapore while A Waking by Clare Chong delves into the ‘sexual awakening’ of a young girl during her travels. These films explore the perception of national roots and identity, the notion of ‘fitting in’ – be it physically into the environment or metaphorically, their state of mind.
Understanding communities and people are reflected in the next series of films – Ah Beng in Wonderland by Carla Castillo is a quirky, whimsical take on a simple stereotypical ‘Ah Beng’ through the sarcastic British narration on the twists and turns of his story, navigating to seek answers to his life. Documentaries are usually neutral observers, but Trailer Boys by Yusri Shaggy Sapari and Club 555 by Chew Jia Hui’s documentaries are personal and informative. We were led right into the passenger seats of the trucks in Trailer Boys, an ethnographic film with its intimate and unique take on the widely unknown trailer driver community. Similarly, Club 555 is a conventional but truthful piece that relates to the lives of people who run Thai nightclubs. Both titles offer us windows into facets of Singapore’s social fabric that are more commonly tucked away in corners.
Approximately half of all the submissions center around family and parent-child relationships, a phenomenon also evident in our previous edition. This serves as yet another affirmation of how strongly familial values are held on by Singaporeans and in our narratives. Vios by Ler Jiyuan and Wendy Toh is a personal and touching piece that alludes to the grief associated with the passing of a family member, albeit their family pet. Siblings by Tang Kang Sheng demonstrates admirable chemistry between the actors opening the film with the brother-sister rivalry on who should take care of their ailing father. Set against the backdrop of Singapore’s highly competitive education system, Chasing Paper by Shoki Lin finds a mother struggling with moral boundaries to salvage a broken relationship with her daughter. Sunyi (Still) by Khidir Kassim is a short but lyrical piece looking at the gift of giving, paralleling the broader themes of loss, love and hope.
The following three films see a generation of filmmakers seeking to carve out an expression that is the best reflection of themselves, critical of self and surroundings. You Idiot by Kris Ong is a keen observation between two young men. The two meandering characters adequately bring viewers into their happy-go-lucky world with their filmic performance. In Beyond the Chamber that Externalises All The Time, or Séance by Chong Lii and Milon Goh, we see an otherworldly Singapore. An experimental response piece to its surroundings, the film seeks to explore the urban trappings of identity within a state of millennial emergency. Similarly, Flexier Than You by Zhiyi Cao is a self-aware and subverting essay film that explores the relations between creativity, competition and control. Through the voices of two millennial figures, Flexier Than You showcases a unique and fresh way of expression.
A Dance for Ren Hang by Lei Yuan Bin, Kingdom by Tan Wei Keong and Bare by Martin Loh may share obvious affinities with varying degrees of “baring”, but they are also imaginative and intimate films in nature. A Dance for Ren Hang is a captivating, daring tribute to the late photographer, Ren Hang, who is best known for his provocative pictures of the naked body and his poetry. A minimalist animation, Kingdom employs a quiet, layered approach to a man’s psyche, hinging on isolation and a sense of vulnerability, as he gets lost in an unknown space. While Bare is an inventive enough take on the documentary form, it still takes on a personal exploratory mode examining naturism and society’s take on nudity.
Faith also comes into focus and expressed in almost-ritualistic ways with Religious Procession by Dave Lim and Dance of a Humble Atheist by Toh Hun Ping. Drawing references from two religions, Hinduism and Taoism, Religious Procession patiently compares trance, acts of penance and rituals in a composed, observational split screen, calling into question religious harmony in fragmented societies. Dance of a Humble Atheist, on the other hand, uses stop-motion and the digital scans of over six hundred ceramic reliefs painstakingly sculpted by the filmmaker himself in a meditative exercise on existentialism and spiritualism.
Foul Ball by Li Kayue and Tenebrae by Nicole Midori Woodford are both pieces that capture the rigours of everyday life with meticulous detail and unhurried ease. A beautifully nuanced piece, Foul Ball’s cinematic shots of a boy’s best attempts to improve baseball is matched with quiet dialogue. Based on the demolition of the Pearl Bank Apartments in Singapore, Tenebrae equally captures the mundane day-to-day of life, as well as the souls of urban spaces caught in the whirlwind of displacement.
SINGAPORE SHORTS ’19 is an annual showcase celebrating the best and the most promising local short films. A critical platform for excellence and diverse thought in moving images, the selection is overseen by a panel of respected professionals across Singapore’s film industry. Alongside screenings of the selected cinematic works, the programme will also feature post-screening discussions with the filmmakers and dedicated reviews from critics.
The 2019 edition will also include a special section of older titles curated by local playwright Alfian Sa’at from the Asian Film Archive’s collection.
Aishah Abu Bakar
Independent Film Programmer
Senior Manager, National Gallery Singapore
Assistant Director, Singapore Film Commission
Assistant Professor of Asian Cinema, Nanyang Technological University
Thong Kay Wee
Outreach Officer, Asian Film Archive