Review - NTU ADM Film 2015 Graduation Shorts - Part 1

Where do you draw the line between film, TV, reality-TV and content you feed on from YouTube? Is the Blair Witch Project really YouTube genre that got lucky on the big screen? But hey, we’ve seen some films which are arguably brilliant in the most rigorous definition, on YouTube. A case in point was the recent graduation showcase by the 2015 graduating digital filmmaking class of the NTU ADM Film School. 10 short films were presented at the showcase and they spanned a whole spectrum of genres from narrative to documentary to experimental films. They are so diverse in style and content, sitting through the screening reminds you of the experience of surfing YouTube, a sort-of freewheeling ride through a multitude of experiences, often sensational and some crossing the line between film and that YouTube quick fix we need at the end of a working day.

The last film of the evening ‘Happily Ever After’ by Shaun Neo, Apple Ong and Pek Hongkun, an experimental film, stood out as the ‘maverick’ piece among the rest for its lack of a story and its very touch-and-go approach to observing weddings through the generations. This is either a very poorly-conceived experiment or a single-minded pursuit of certain visual aesthetics. The film is cleanly parted in three, with each segment showing family members at a wedding getting in line for a family photo. The stylistic and behavioral differences between the generations (60, 80s and current) are starkly portrayed and each segment takes us through the same routine. The punchline in the film seems to be last segment which tries to show disconnect between the young couple and the parents, a reverse from the state of closely-knit big families in the 60s. However, the rather anemic delivery of this punchline, made this film seem like incomplete in its conceptualization. There is also very little exposition of the characters beyond just ‘period-clothes-horses’. Yet, this film is what sits on the intersection of the film format and the consumable social media format, something you certainly would feed on and share with your friends. Flaws and all, it’s click-worthy.

Another film that sings its own tune is ‘In Search of Memories’ by Daniel Chong. This film, though not inventive in its genre, is deeply personal and largely esoteric in its approach. The film takes us on a mental road trip with the narrator, through her musings, dilemmas and questions. The film has quoted a brilliant line from French filmmaker Chris Marker’s film ‘Sunless’ – that the human eye captures images at one-24th of a second, very much like film, implying that the lines are often blur between what’s in film and what’s real to us. The lines are thoughtful in this experimental piece and so are the images captured. Straddling between Singapore and somewhere in Europe and Japan, the filmmaker has an eye for capturing the poetic and lyrical in his travels, from people to even paintings. However, this combination of wanderlust and navel-gazing is akin to a train going nowhere. The ride is breath-taking but you question the point of it. For me, I question the narrator’s voice – a languid female voice that sounds like a teenager who is sick of school. Does life have to be as fatalistic as she sounds? It could be if the context of this is explained in the film. If.

The documentary film ‘Invisible Voices’ by Liu Longhao explores the life of migrant workers in Singapore. While most of it sounds like another run-of-the-mill peek behind walls of their living quarters, the film inserts an additional angle to the film, the point of view of Kavan Lim, a young financially successful man who lives in Sentosa Cove. The choice of planting a stimulus like this borders on breaking the rules of documentation. It reeks of reality TV where the audience feeds on the meeting of unlikely characters, often to sensational effects. However, the film actually pans out like any other documentary as the presence of Kavan seems inconsequential. His interaction with the workers is a kin to the filmmaker interacting with them, drawing the expected responses and in some talking head interviews with the workers, the lines are blurred between watching Kavan conversing and the filmmaker conversing with them. The film however, succeeds on achieving a high degree of intimacy with its subjects, getting them to be comfortable with expressing some genuine feelings about their situation. Particularly eye-opening is the tour of the workers’ quarter, a world hidden from the common view of Singaporeans but brought to light by the conscientious efforts of these filmmakers.
The other documentary in the evening’s line-up, ‘Children of Mon Mot’ Rachel Siao is another labour of love, shot entirely on the island of Alor in East Indonesia, the film is an interesting peek into the lives and psyche of the Abui tribe on this island. The tribe’s means of passing their ‘endangered’ language is through the telling of folktales and the film is centred around one folktale about a gigantic snake that ate up the whole village and how the village fought back. This is a very polished attempt at a documentary with technically-accomplished cinematography, editing and not to forget storytelling, pun intended. The villagers take turns to tell the story and their accounts are interjected with snippets of the drawings, which are highly evocative of the imagined mystical world of this snake. The entire experience, with the men’s long whiskers of white hairs and weathered skin and the intensity of their accounts, is authentic and intimate. This is really a safe attempt, treatment-wise, at a documentary, set off the beaten track, but immaculately framed for an audience spoilt on National Geographic.
I remember ‘Little Maud’ by Petrina Anne De Souza, as the film with the subtitles appearing like picture captions on a condominium TV ad. This film, which straddles between reality, memory and fantasy is a stylistically strong attempt at telling a story about the relationship between a father and his daughter. The premise of a father who is watching his daughter grow and fearing being alienated when she is mature, is both familiar and potentially affecting. However, the film suffers from production design overkill. The dreamy treatment with soft-focus filters and pastel colouring fails to cover up for many visual clich├ęs in the way their relationship is being portrayed. Perhaps it was an attempt to visually interpret the source of this story which is a actually an American poem ‘Little Sleep’s-Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight. But the foreign context of this got a little lost, not in translation, but in the whiffs of fairy dust clouding most of the film.

Review by Jeremy Sing

Our reviews of the other 5 films from the NTU ADM graduation film showcase will continue in another post.
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