National Library Board's Short Film Showcase - Take by Saleem Hadi and Black Rat by Perry Lam

On 9 July, two local short films Take and Black Rat were presented at library@esplanade as part of the National Library Board’s Short Film Showcase. Held in a cosy corner of the library, a Q&A session followed each short film, where directors Saleem Hadi and Perry Lam shared candidly about their film, the various inspirations behind their film, and their hopes for the local film scene.

Take, a 3-minute documentary directed by Saleem Hadi is an investigation into the topic of death. Director Hadi and his team went around Singapore for 12 hours asking people from various walks of life “Are you afraid to die?” Their answers are interspersed with images of various objects that are associated with how different ethnic groups in Singapore deal with death. One particularly poignant moment came in the form of an interview with the caretakers at the Lim Chu Kang Muslim Cemetery—people who are more acquainted than most with the topic of death and its accompanying fears.

However, not all talk about death in the film was met with solemnity; some interviewees brought light moments to the film. When asked “What would you do if you had half an hour more to live?”, one lady replied “buy lots of insurance”. Take is Hadi’s 8th short film, and it was awarded the Distinguished Community Documentary Award at the Student Cannes Film Festival.

Black Rat is a student film by Perry Lam about “Sydney’s real life superhero”— a civilian who patrols the inner city streets of Sydney to help reduce crime in the area at night. Going by the name of “The Black Rat” (you can even find him on Facebook), he was inspired to don the role of a “street safety activist” and take up martial arts lessons after becoming a victim of street crime. After director Lam decided to make a film on “The Black Rat”, Lam emailed “The Black Rat” and met him in person. Sharing how the meeting went, Lam revealed, “He was actually very real about things… he didn’t have any ‘fantasies’ about what he was doing. Everything he did was very much rooted in reality, in what he saw happening on the streets.” What stands out about Lam’s short film is its clever blend of genres—cheekily playing with both documentary and action filmmaking conventions to tell the story of “The Black Rat”. The film packs a punch within its short screening time, and it has been shown locally as part of The Substation’s now-defunct First Take programme, as well as in film festivals in New York, Melbourne, Sydney and at the Comicon Film Festival in Phoenix, Arizona where it clinched the Best Documentary award.

After both short films were screened, the two directors came together for a short Q&A session with the audience. Lam shared about his time abroad as a film student in Australia, where he is currently enrolled in a course for a master’s degree. “One thing I’ve learnt from the filmmaking community there is to diversify my skillsets. Being able to take on cinematography jobs, in addition to editing gigs really helps, at least at this stage. I also write film reviews for Australian websites.” Hadi is no stranger to this as well—he acts for both stage and screen productions and teaches filmmaking too.

When asked how they felt about the platforms available to screen short films like theirs in Singapore, Hadi responded that he was encouraged by the increase in quantity and quality of such platforms, including “SCAPE’s recent media programming initiatives”. However, he also confessed that he was disappointed to see the curtains fall on The Substation’s First Take series, as it was “a really constructive space to showcase new works”. Adding to Hadi’s comment, Lam said, “we all need an ‘armour-testing’ ground of sorts, where we can get feedback… spaces like these also help to legitimise the new filmmaker and his/her film”.

Written by Sara Merican
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