STOP10 Aug 2017: 'The Story that Changed the World' by Daniel Yam

When I was twelve years old, my teacher showed us The Mummy on the last day of school. From then on, I had convinced myself that I wanted to be an Egyptologist. As I grew older and watched more films, my career goals changed with them. Watching Daniel Yam’s The Story that Changed the World reminded me of the intrinsic link films have with our dreams, and how those dreams inform the ways in which the rest of our lives unfold.

This short silent film is set in a movie rental store, and over the course of thirteen minutes we see the store going from renting VCRs to renting DVDs, to finally, closure. The film gains its emotional poignancy by focusing on the importance of building a film community. Central to the plot is the owner of the store, Bill Tan. A veritable cinephile, Bill interacts with all of his customers, giving them film recommendations based on what he thinks they need to see at that point in their lives. For instance, he forces a copy of Dead Poets Society in the hands of a young misguided teenager. In an especially moving scene, he invites a homeless man to a film screening, underscoring the idea that film speaks a universal language; one that can move you regardless of your social position in society.

Yam’s choice to make this a silent film further exemplifies the sheer depth cinematic language’s universality. From simple gestures and looks between characters, Yam conveys affect and emotion. More importantly, however, he shows us our ability to empathize with those emotions, without necessarily needing to rely on words. This film reminds us of the importance of watching films in the first place, because films help us engage our inherent capacity to empathize – something we don’t get to do too often in our day-to-day lives.

By the end of the film, when Bill Tan has to close down the rental store, the flashback sequences are a stark reminder of the inevitability of change. The old always has to go to make room for the new. While the film at times capitalizes on the emotional currency of nostalgia, it is partially saved by its meta-narrative structure. The title of this film is also a reference to an abandoned screenplay Bill Tan was working on throughout his life. One of his young customers, who grew up to become a filmmaker because of Tan’s rental store, sees this and decides to make a short film about all of Tan’s customers who have been influenced in a positive way by his rental store. So, even though rental stores are no longer relevant in the age of online streaming, the impact and importance of film remains.

What I liked about the film was that even though it is quite nostalgic, there is a kind of optimistic nostalgia. This conversation of old places going away to make new ones is a common one in Singapore, such as the one surrounding the Thieves Market. When time comes for such spaces to go, everyone often gets caught up in the nostalgia and worries about the loss of culture. However, when this film ends with showing how the rental store impacted so many lives, the lesson to be learned is that as much as there may be a loss when old spaces are renovated for new ones, there is also an evolution. What’s important is that we remain cognizant of the everlasting value of community.

Watch 'The Story that Changed the World' here.

Written by Tanvi Rajvanshi

For the full list of August 2017's 10 films under STOP10, click here. 
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