Filament 2011 - Thoughts on the annual NTU WKWSCI Showcase

I have to first admit that this introspect of Filament 2011, NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information’s graduation film showcase for its Broadcast and Cinema Studies graduates, is written from the viewpoint of a student of the school, albeit of the journalism specialisation. I have also tried to take extra effort to be as neutral as possible, given that some of the people behind the works are my friends.

“What do we see when we watch a film?” muses Dr. Benjamin Detenber in the introductory booklet. Indeed, films are works that take years of scripting, producing, and storyboarding to create over months of shooting. That, is what audiences don’t see. Of course, these final year short films of up to 30 minutes in length are of a smaller scale, but should not discount the hard work that goes into their production. But ultimately film is subjective, and there can only be so much agreement among critics and the average filmgoers, whilst box office figures often do not match up.

So maybe the question to be answered is: “What do we want to see when we watch a film?” Films do not simply comprise of a succession of images and voices that coalesce to form a story. They are ultimately open to all sorts of interpretation, and with people being unique individuals with an assortment of preferences, one man’s meat may be another’s poison.

What sets NTU’s WKWSCI broadcast programme apart from the film programme of its cousin school Art, Design & Media (ADM) is an emphasis of the communication factor in film--how the story is told, as opposed to ADM’s emphasis on the aesthetic. Of course, one element cannot do without the other, but different focal points create different types of film. WKWSCI’s features have rarely been of the indie nature that only a select crowd can appreciate, and this year’s films are no different.

The Saturday morning showcase of this year’s six films (two documentaries and four narratives)--final year works of the Class of 2011--at The Cathay’s Handy Road compound is a step-up from previous editions of Filament. The Class of 2010 screened at The Substation while in 2009 the showcase was at the Singapore Art Museum. Admittedly this has added a veil of prestige to the proceedings that my peers in the Class of 2012 will have to match and exceed in next year’s showcase, both in terms of venue and film quality.

Daughters of God (Anna Karenina Tolentino, Chai Jac-Quinn, Ng Yiling, Lai Kahei) is an investigative documentary that profiled Thirunankais, a group of Indian transvestites in Malaysia whom identify themselves as daughters of God. The pious nature of their beliefs sees them attending weekly prayers, as well as religious festivals, at their temple. Yet running contrarian to their reverent faith is their ignominious act of roaming the streets as prostitutes at night to try to make ends meet. Colourful pristine shots and close-ups of religious accoutrements are contrasted against secretive grainy, fly-on-the-wall footage of the prostitutes in their nightly travails as the filmmakers capture Malaysia’s apparently flourishing sex trade in its seedy red light district. Coupled with individual anecdotes by Anusha, who slit her wrists each time she was heartbroken and Varsha, an undergraduate who has to work to pay off her last semester in school, as well as layman perspectives of neighbours and taxi drivers in-the-know of this subculture, the 25-minute documentary is a well-paced adventure into an entirely foreign world.

Tuition Nation (Say Xiangyu, Ng Wen Han, Bernadette Choo, Jessica Wa’u), the other documentary of the showcase, tackles the billion-dollar tuition industry in Singapore in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The film features a montage of headlines and a cleverly-scripted voiceover, interspersed with voxpops of colourful interviewees including a cannot-care-less 11-year-old, a student of the gifted stream who finds tuition so necessary that she begs her mother for more tuition, an anxious mother who demands her daughter to better her achievements in life, a doctor-mother who finds tuition the ideal medicine to floundering academic achievements, and an education expert. This entertaining 19-minute piece has countless laugh-out-loud moments that also encourages the audience to ponder over the absurdity of it all while poking fun at the otherwise-solemn issue that plagues 97 out of 100 local students according to statistics cited in the documentary.

A Young Man (Claire Matthews, Sharlene Lim, Zoe Lim) features exceptional story-telling in its simple yet effective take on Alzhiemer’s Disease with a strong ending that will evoke goosebumps despite not being entirely unpredictable. It draws you into the world of Freddy, a simple-minded shy person with apparently failing impressions of the world around him. The signs, small but obvious at first, balloon into a sense of permanent deja vu that expounds the sad confines of the illness.

Minted Memories (Joan Lim, Joyce Yong, Jasmine Choe, Norshimah Azil) is a story about a graduate of an Australian university who had just recently returned home, and the conflict between her family members over her long-term absence. Having to live with a mother and a pesky brother again, the 20-minute short film draws to a close with an interpretation of what family really means. Sacrifice, compromise and of course, that not everything needs to be said to matter.

A Long Way Home (Daryl John Ho, Miki Sim, Melvin Chen, Mak Mei See) explores how an HIV-afflicted woman deals with the disease on a road towards self-discovery that is taken both allegorically and literally. Will she ever be willing to accept love ever again, one inevitably questions, as her fondness of motorbiking takes her on a road trip through many picturesque scenes. The metaphorical references between her illness and the state of her motorbike following an accident are manifest in the film that stars Oon Shu An (Becoming Royston) and Benjamin Heng (Eating Air).

The curtain-closer is Allegiance (Guo Wenxu, Welyon Sutjipto, Danielle Ong, Pamy Tan), with an ambitious take on the Hong Kong gangster flick genre. Through a brooding underground mood reminiscent of Infernal Affairs, the police drama of “friendship, betrayal and brotherhood” is gripping in its build up to the final stand-off in a dingy walkway. If only the scriptwriters of MediaCorp Channel 8’s recently concluded C.L.I.F had them as the scriptwriters or filmmakers--it would certainly reduce the insufferable cheesy factor of the drama series.

Every filmmaker dreams of making it to the big screen someday. Hopefully Filament 2011’s showcase on the big screen in a posh cinema hall will be an auspicious start. - Walter Sim
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