Bedtime Chatter on Hearty Films from Civic-Life Part 2 of 4

Photo: Alvin Pang -

Over the last few days, many people have been tuning into the Civic Life website by the British Council to check up on the Top 20 entries in the 'Home is where the Heart is' competition. SINdie could not resist 'playing God' a little with our review of the 20 films vying for the top prize. So here our 'critical analysis' of the films. We have also created a little rating system as well. So the films are rated in the following 5-point scales in this order:

Is it creative?
Does it engage you emotionally?
Impressive technicals?
The X-factor

Here's part 2 of our review / dialogue.

Dancing on Waterloo Street from David Stewart on Vimeo.

Alvin (A): Dancing on Waterloo St gets a 2, 2, 3, 2.5
Jeremy (J): When do we see a 5?
A: Haha! (pause) Title feels like a bit of a misnomer as first half of the film was on anything but Waterloo Street.
J: I kinda like this one for its visuals really (pause) Why 3 for technicality?
A: Decent music accompaniment and nice shots and cinematography. Though have to say it barely adds much to the film.
J: Mine is a 4 for technicality. The telephoto, dolly and tracking shots are executed with such grace. So it’s 2, 3, 4, 3.5. (pause) For me, it’s a 3 for emotional quality because it marries a stirring score with epic-like visuals quite well.
A: Yup, though I felt there was little continuity from one place/scene to another. Generally felt a little too detached for my liking.
J: I agree that the content of the shots don't add up to a cohesive narrative.
A: That said, I liked how the ending was put together. Beautiful shots of normally-stoic faces come alive in dance. With the music accompaniment, it does stir the emotions like you said.
J: It seems like a hobbyist approach to making the film - David goes around with his expensive machine capturing random moments of beauty without a plot and strings them into visual sequence. (pause) Sometimes, it's hard to strike a balance between a organic approach like David's and single-mindedness of a scripted approach so you may miss out on accidental beauty, like the faces that came alive in dance. (long pause) What do you think of the shot when Quan Yifeng's face on the bus whizzed pas the trishaw rider? …….It happens to be my favourite shot.
A: Hmm, I didn't notice it much honestly. What do you think it added to the film?
J: It was a moment of transcendence. It was like Quan Yifeng, a feisty public figure known for her keen eye on social matters and inter-personal relationships was looking at the trishaw rider. (pause) But that's just my things with Quan Yifeng.

Civic Life - Paintings from David Gan on Vimeo.

J: Paintings happens to be my favourite clip title becaise of the pun and the metaphor, though the film then slipped into becoming very literal. (pause) My scores are 3.5, 2.5, 3, 3.
A: That's interesting. what do you think the pun/metaphor was? (pause) My scores are 3, 2, 2.5 and 3 by the way.
J: I think it is very clever and the use of the word suggests the idea of a veneer which really applies on a social, psychological and even political level. And I always saw HDB flats as a PAP political icon in their blocked, rigid shapes, so the concept of painting over a HDB flat bore an intellectual kick for me. (pause) What do you see in Paintings honestly?
A: I actually did a double-take in "creativity" because initially I didn't understand what the filmmaker was getting at. I noticed then perhaps there was a metaphorical element in the "renewal" of the block's facade, especially in shots contrasted against the "showy" commercial buildings in the distance. (pause) It's also worth noticing how the filmmaker makes meaning out of an otherwise seen as mundane activity. Perhaps it makes you see a block upgrading programme in new light.
J: But does it engage you or is it just a 'oh that's smart!' fleeting thought?
A: It didn't work much on a emotions level with me. Perhaps like you said, it drifting into the literal made it lose some of its lustre. (pause) What do you think? Did it engage you?
J: Only when the film opened and the titled was flashed.

Corridors from Isazaly Mohamed Isa in Vimeo

A: How did you find Corridors then?
J: Ingenious, inspiring and in a league of its own. (pause) Let my numbers talk : 4.5, 3.5, 4, 4.
A: Wow. (pause) Mine would be 4, 2.5, 3.5, 3.5. (pause) How did you find the narrative as a whole?
J: It was toying with the concept of using sound to redefine a banal everyday space. Not much narrative except for a certain sequence of different genres to the sounds that are stringed together. I thnk what I enjoyed about watching it was the fact that it was a very simple idea executed to precision and that simplicity triggers a mental off-shoot or escapade.
A: Must agree its impressive and original creative flair sets it apart from the competition. However it did leave a tingling feeling that it dragged on for more than it should have. And somehow drifted into what felt like a contrived attempt to end it. Nevertheless it's certainly the most well-executed film so far in the collection.
J: Well, it's a slow burn... forces you to observe and take in the details. (pause) If you preferred it not to drag on for that long, how would you have done it differently?
A: In a way the conceptualization of the corridor as simply a place of memories didn't come off that well for me, as it looked very much still a place with life. Thus maybe it might have left a better impression/memory with a more conceivable ending in light of the fact that it's still got life left in it...rather than the seemingly hopeless end it seemed to portray.
J: I didn't see the film as trying to pitch the corridor as a place of memories. It was quite a mixed bag of sounds, some even sounding like someone was watching Saving Private Ryan. So I saw it more as playing with sound and perceptions.

Swing Me Back from mihir desai on Vimeo.

J: You know, after watching Corridors, I felt I was not going to be impressed with 'Swing Me Back' form its thumbnail shot. It looked pretty standard. But I was wrong. It delivered good old nostalgia but with a little visual twist - the writing animation over the photos, giving it a very personal and sincere touch.
A: Besides good use of the said swing as a plot device, it felt a little bare. What’s your score?
J: 3, 4, 3, 3.5.
A: Mine’s 3, 2.5, 2.5, 3. No doubt that the visual touches made it feel like a walk through memory lane, but I must say I wasn't too emotionally-engaged by it. (paused) what were the emotional triggers for you?
J: It was simple portraits of family, which I found easy to identify with. And the photos really captured the family members were 'freezed' in honest and sometimes vulnerable moments. What do you not identify with?
A: Perhaps because of the film's centering on the inanimate swing and old photographs, it didn't quite engage in a way the raw candidness of the photos did for you.
J: But didn't you find anything special about the pictures?
A: Well, I thought the metaphorical use of the swing was well executed as it formed almost-the centerpiece of all the old photographs, in that forms the emotional attachment for me.
J: For me, it was special because it featured an Indian family captured in sepia tinged yesteryear images - something done to death with Chinese families in local films. So it present a different track of history and nostalgia peculiar to Indian families and seen through the eyes of an Indian.

from Esna Ong on Vimeo.

A: There is a close tie between Home and Corridors for my favourite film so far. One of few films which I felt had more to offer than pensive reflections of a bygone era. (pause) So, I am giving it a 3, 4, 3.5, 3.5.
J: I like it but it is a little low on creativity. Mine’s a 2.5, 4, 3.5, 3.5. (pause) I felt it answered the competition brief like how the model pupil in class would write a grade a composition….stuck by the rules... kept within parameters... safe... relevant….and conventional.
A: I must say some parts did feel a bit premeditated, especially the dialogue which didn't quite convince the point that the narrator had lived there so many years. And when I compare the narrator's delivery with that of 'Remember', I do see the contrast of emotional engagement between both.
J: Really? I felt the narration was quite sincere, even though the structure was very scripted. I still felt I was listening to a friend speak about her growing up experience. In fact, I felt the narration in 'Remember' though honest, but was a tad clumsy.
A: Is it due to the fact it's spoken in heartland mandarin?
J: No. I think the narrator is quite at ease with herself. Perhaps the tone of voice and choice of language made it more accessible than it might have been. (pause) I appreciate the personal touches like showing where she waited for the school bus though it could be a little less literal. I also found that she had a trained pair of hands in the cinematography, being able to emotionally heighten some moments like skirting around a pillar in the coffeeshop.
A: Good spots. Agree that it generally gave a sense of heartland authenticity, in part due to language used, in part due to the cinematography.
J: You said this is 'more than pensive', how so?
A: It felt more forward-looking, as if the past was just a conduit to where the narrator is now...ending off with a view to the future in the said place.

Read Part 1 here. Part 3 and 4 will be continued...

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