11th Singapore Short Cuts (2nd Weekend Highlights)

This discovery this year at Singapore Short Cuts were two animation shorts, commissioned under BOTH SIDES, NOW, an arts program that aims to bring light to the subject of dying and dealing with death. A look at the website www.bothsidesnow.sg gives an immediate idea of what the initiative is about – tombstone, coffin and wreath ‘stick figures’, drawn to ‘humanising’ effect. In a similar fashion, ‘Departing’ by twin brother Henry Zhuang and Harry Zhuang, and ‘Swing: An interview with Sally’ by Tan Wei Keong (picture on left), blunts the gravity of the issue of death and offers us a dreamy glance through the use of 2-D drawing-animation.

Director: Henry Zhuang, Harry Zhuang
Producer: Jasmine Ng
2013 / 4 min 
I guess there is a purpose 2-D drawing serves. It sets a distance and dilutes the emotional rawness of the issue. Both shorts, in fact, are built on heavy-going accounts of encounters with death. In ‘Departing’, Dr Wong Sweet Fun, lets us in on her personal reflections on her father’s last hours and the conflicts in her dual role as daughter and doctor. The poignant account is tinged with regret and dilemma, yet when juxtaposed with the dreamy stylistics of a children’s book (think pencil sketchings), the campaign has achieved its aim of lending death a less frightening face. In fact, the rather pared down approach to the sketching seems to serve the narrative well, with the empty white spaces mirroring the unanswered in the film and the simple pencil strokes serving to help the story manifest itself but for us to complete the details in our mind.

Director: Tan Wei Keong
2013 / 3 min

Similarly for ‘Swing’, drawings that remind you of a Roald Dahl novel are used to subvert your typical notions of hospital drama. A nurse, Sally Pang Ai Cheen, gives an account of her difficult experience in the emergency room in which a life was on the edge and how she later had to break the news of the man’s death to his wife who was pregnant. The short opens with the face of the nurse in textured colouring. It is a little unsettling at first putting a voice with a strong everyday Singaporean accent to a ‘Roald Dahl-esque’ drawing. But the genius in this combination was of course, how this made us view death through a different microscope and left spaces for us to imagine it in flesh and blood through only showing us lines and shadings.

Director: Marie Toh
Texture Painter, Dress Simulation, Composition and Lighting: Teo Kiki
Animator: Michelle Wong
2014 / 9 min
Rustic colours with gradient shading on objects of distorted proportions, that’s the cabbage-patch-kids world filmmakers Marie Toh, Teo Kiki and Michelle Wong want to transport you to. In this 9 minute animation, two characters exist in what seems like a world when the sun is up at 3am and no one is out. Of course I gave the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt that some suspension of disbelief is needed in animation viewing. Some.

The story is about a little girl who is intrigued by a boy who keeps making his rounds near her alley in whale suit. When her curiosity is fanned to the breaking point, she decides to get down from her balcony and follow him. It then becomes a stalking game around town. What really matters in this simple tale is really the aesthetic details. As one of the filmmakers Teo Kiki shares – she now works as a texture painter at Lucas Films, you get the point of the piece – a real visual achievement with unflinching attention to details. The two characters are so richly imagined and finely airbrushed that you feel like plucking them out of the scene and taking them to bed.

The piece is symptomatic of many graduation show pieces, which display good structure, concerted execution, pleasing aesthetics and most important of all, closure. This makes them sometimes inherently boring.  But of course, formula, when applied with precision, can produce vivid results and the spectacle in this short film is clear for all to see.

Director, Writer & Animator: Srinivas Bhakta
Music and Sound: Teo Wei Yong
2014 / 8 min  
Link to film here
The traditional style of the pencil sketching frames in ‘Curry Fish Head’ belie the progressive territory the animation film covers. The first few minutes of the film will make you feel like you are reading a social studies textbook. You see a mother instructing her daughter on the wet market shopping items she needs to get for her to cook curry fish head. But the real fun begins when the central character of the while playing hopscotch, falls into a time-warp that puts her on a life-cycle kind of a journey.

What follows are a touch and go drive through a woman’s lifetime from dating a man to marrying to having kids to, having your man stray when your kids are in their teens (gasp!), to having your kids or rather daughters grow up and marry. What is delightful is veteran animator Srinivas Bhakta’s acute jabs at the myths of progress through stylistic representation of life’s episodes which bear the speed of television commercials yet also the acerbic wit of opinion section cartoons in newspapers. There is also an unmistakable demonizing of icons associated with Singapore.Inc. like MBS and other skyscrapers through linking them to the de-nucleation of the protagonist’s family. While the film jogs our visual memory of these ubiquitous symbols of Singapore-on-modernisation-steroids, it takes the opportunity to subvert our connection with these  familiar icons, making it a strong anti-eulogy on time and progress. 

Reviews by Jeremy Sing 
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