The Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition

It was inspiring to see the series of 7 short films that were part of the Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition. The competition involved a rigorous process that required the submission of a paper proposal, by a committee comprising of heritage and film experts, before being shortlisted into the qualifying round of production. In the end, The Passion of the Lion Dancers bagged the first prize out of the seven, although Lion City Dreamers too came quite close in my preference for the better made film.

The films covered a range of topics and identified with various themes that touched the hearts of Singaporeans, from cultural-related issues of the Hakka and Peranakan culture, to artistry based ones like Taiji Quan, lion dancing and chinese opera. One should not forget too the exploration of the last surviving kampong in Singapore, as well as a unique group of Chinese performance artists who were active in the 60s in Singapore.

It was really however, the stories depicted of the performance artists in Lion City Dreamers and the kampong dwellers in The Village in a City that truly captured the essence of what I believed heritage could entail for a small island city like Singapore.

The film of the lion city dreamers began on a simple premise of a member of the younger generation wanting to find out about his father and a group of close-knit friends who lived life to the fullest in carrying out passionate performances and creating outreach programmes for the younger community. This group of elders who still kept in touch well into the middle ages, were a source of fascination for the young man, who was invigorated by their unity, zest and unbridled unconcern with the conventional expectations of society and their families. It was an intimate look into what drove that particular group in that day, and was a nostalgic taste of perhaps that do-or-die mentality that is difficult for the generation of today to relate to, yet so admirable in many respects.

The topic of kampongs is not a very new concept in Singapore, especially in the oft-cited example of the last kampong in Singapore. However, The Village in a City really sought to capture the flavor of groundedness and deep-rootedness that the kampong dwellers inhabit constantly and present that as a well-wishing sentiment for the rest of us city folk to ruminate and remember. There were many reminders of the importance of keeping one’s feet firmly rooted into the simplicity of life, without the over-distractions and stress pointers of modern city life, where more is made to seem better. The pared down quality of kampong life is displayed with great candour and charm, and in that sense the film is successful in presenting an idyllic quality of heritage and nostalgia.

The Passion of the Lion Dancers presents a picture of community at its best, with a montage of characters all committed to the craft of lion dancing, and trying their best to recreate the external image people on the observing end might have towards the craft, as one that is linked to gang activity. The film definitely does it best to present the craft in a good light, as one that really bridges the gap between different generations, and even different races. The great merit of the film was its ability to portray both the excruciating training behind the art of lion dancing, as well as the deserving rewards that come at the end of it, all the while anchoring the art in the simple relationship between the owner of the lion dance association, and his daughter as well.

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