ShoutOUT! Twice the number, double the depth at National Youth Film Awards 2018

 Still from 'Better Together', a standout entry for its brave attempt at modelling a film after familiar scenes of the General Elections

The finalists across 28 award categories of the fourth edition of the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) have been announced and a jury selected them from over 450 qualified entries received across three sections: Live Action, Animation and Documentary and in both the Student and Open category. 

Awards that finalists are vying for include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, among others as well as the combined awards for both Media Student and Open Youth categories for Best Actor and Best Actress. 2018 marks the first year that NYFA introduced the Open Youth category, in addition to the Media Student Category, which had been introduced in its inaugural year of competition in 2015.

The new Open Youth Category offers an unprecedented opportunity for youths aged between 15 to 35 years old, with or without formal media training, to compete in this nationally recognised film award. Forty percent of the overall competition film entries were for the new Open Youth category. Several of these films are by youths without film experience from diverse professional backgrounds and fulltime National Servicemen. 

The finalist films are spread across multiple film genres and topics range from social issues looming large such as foreign labour, aging and gambling addiction, to the more private and personal contemplations over friendship, personal tragedy and family relationships and sacrifices for the Live Action and Animation films.

Films in the Documentary section focus on issues and topics that are close to home such as Singapore’s history, heritage and living environment and also delve into topics from the Southeast Asian and Asian regions that explore social and cultural practices as well as gender and refugee issues.

Here are some interesting entries from the competition.

The Parchment by director Pavithran S/O S Pathmanathan is part-horror, part-thriller and part-drama and engages with its boldness to take brutality pretty far. A LASALLE College of the Arts BA (Hons) Film, it is about a father who lost his son, and can’t contain his grief. He then kidnaps another boy and performs a ritual on him. Not for the faint-hearted and a courageous attempt. This film has nominations in the Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Camerawork, Best Lighting, Best Colour Grading, Best Editing and Best Sound. It also stars lead actor of K Rajagopal's A Yellow Bird, Siva Palakrishnan.

If you watch Better Together, you may register in your mind certain real-life characters in our Parliament. This film about a girl running for general elections is a film like no other seen in Singapore. Don't be prejudiced by the fact that she wears white, the film is really more an exploration of family relationships, priorities, and growing up. Of course, it take a dig at some of the familiar things we have seen at our GE. Made by Phoebe Zoe Ho Rui Lin of NTU, this film is up for the Best Direction, Best Production Design and Best Actress award. 

According to Phoebe, people asked why she has such a narrative and why such a way of writing it. She initially wanted a simple narrative but it evolved into a full ensemble family film. Taking inspiration from her family life, all their idiosyncrasies, the protagonist has to grow to accept and grow to love her own family. As the story goes, she will learn to appreciate them and their unique ways of life. She then thought of a unique ambition that is hard to support? Why not the next female president of Singapore? The General Election scene in Singapore has not been touched on as a film, the whole aesthetic of taking risks, tacky banners, and Phoebe thought it would be fun. 

Living in Chains is a documentary about the mentally ill being put behind bars in facilities in Indonesia, made by Atikah Hasimen, Nur Humaira Sajat, Kannan Vijayakumar and Ria Chia Cai Yun from NTU. It is up for the Fujifilm Best Documentary Award. The filmmakers wanted to spotlight the practice of putting mentally ill in Indonesia behind bars in facilities. In the film, one can see raw footages of the patients, and some of the patients in chains are talking to the producers. 

Getting access to the subjects was the biggest challenge and it was hard to communicate with Human Rights group in Indonesia. Thankfully, one activist managed to help. Throughout the 10 days, the team was able to cover. The team hopes to send a strong message out to the public.

Sylvia, in the Open Youth category is up for several awards including Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Production Design. It is the story of young lady at a work pace, experiencing some pressure from her colleagues and wanting to find an escape somewhere and technology comes to the rescue. According to the director Sabrina Poon, it is about the understanding of mental health, perplexity of the human mind and emotions we go through, and how it affects actions we didn’t know. 

According to the team, one of the biggest undertakings of the film was that they had to convince a Taiwanese actress Phoebe Lin to fly all the way to Singapore to be part of a short film like that. Also, Sabrina shared that was hard to get permission to do underwater scenes in Singapore.

Rotan has been making its round in several screenings in Singapore and abroad. Written by Hamzah Fansuri B Karmin, it is up for the Best Screenplay Award. Based on the life experiences of the director, Hamzah, the story revolves around a boy who has to be caned by the headmaster, who is also his birth father. The father has to balance between being a father and fulfilling his duties as a discipline master. 

According to Hamzah, it is weird to have a father as a teacher, and you have to juggle between being his son and a student as well. Vanessa, the producer shared that it was a challenge to get the school for the filming, so they had to do cold-calling. With this theme, it was very challenging and they had to explain to the principals of the schools, even our own.  
On being shortlisted for the awards, Hamzah shared that it was quite shocking to have won the nomination. "What they really want isn’t sharp. They want the unspoken tension, which is what Rotan is all about. I was a bit surprised that they were focusing on that part of the screenplay. Most screenplays, the famous ones, they talk a lot, very fast, very good, very witty dialogue. To see that they actually focus on the other side – not dialogue but actions taken by the character, such as the characterisation showing a more nuanced approach is welcoming," shared Hamzah.

What Has to Be by Jerrold Chong, Mark Wee, Andre Quek and Li Yihua won a nominaton for Best Animated Film. The film was adapted from a radio shortplay by S Rajaratnam – early minister, and first cultural minister. The film revolves around a conflicted conversation between husband and wife, discussing a previous miscarriage. While animation is commonly associated with comedy and family,  the filmmakers wanted to create a dark and deep movie. The film uses hand-drawn animation where each frame was printed out in post-production.

Some comments from the Jury...

 “One of the key issues for the sponsorship from HOOQ was how will the films on HOOQ networks sit with the existing movies and television series that we have? A lot us were very surprised at the quality of the films. I think the rawness of the story in Better Together, the presentation of society speaks to all audiences, not just Singaporeans. The beauty in the films is to bring eyeballs from everywhere to get the message across.”

Adrian Teo, Country Director HOOQ 

 “I am looking at storytelling, how the stories are being told. The ones that actually appeal to me are not typical narratives in local television. So, the very quiet ones which don’t have to pounce you over the head with unspoken tensions, those are the eloquences that I am looking for. And to me, that is the germination of the original voice.”
Yeow Kai Chai, Singapore Writers Festival

"Many hours of factual content – “impressed by resourcefulness. I think documentaries are very difficult subjects to take. These are not everyday stories, a broad spectrum of stories. There is one with an undertaker and the theme deals specifically with children. Some schools went to specific locations such as Malaysia and Vietnam. It seemed they were shot in Penang but had time constraints. With the resourcefulness, I applaud the film entries and are able to tell the stories."

Jocelyn Little, Managing Director, Beach House Pictures

“When I was given the first couple of entries, I was blown away.… A lot of effort was put in the films and I see  the thought of sound in the films, very encouraging.” 

Rennie Gomes, Managing Director, Yellow Box Studios

Nicholas Chee Awards Director of the NYFA had this to say, ''We are delighted by the high standards and quality of all the films we received this year for NYFA. This is a testament to the excellent film education that our youths are receiving in the local film schools as well as the passion and commitment they have for their craft. It also signals that there is a growing pool of young filmmakers below the age of 35 who are actively making films."
Some of the winning NYFA films will be accessible on HOOQ, a video-on-demand service started up by media powerhouses Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros. and Singtel. HOOQ currently operates in the Philippines, Thailand, India, Indonesia and Singapore with tens of millions of customers enjoying over 20,000 movies and TV series from Hollywood blockbusters to top rated Asian series and HOOQ original productions. HOOQ offers NYFA award winners the platform for their films to be featured alongside international hits fresh from the cinemas. As co-presenter of NYFA 2018, HOOQ brings a new dimension to the Awards with its international distribution of the winning films to a wider audience.

In addition to the highlight prize of the distribution network offered by HOOQ, NYFA winners will also stand to win cash prizes starting at $1,000 and up; cinema postproduction services with Southeast Asia’s first Dolby-certified facility Mocha Chai and selected animation courses worth $15,000; Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood, including air ticket and accommodation; fast track access to film grant applications with Honour Singapore and concrete opportunities to work with film professionals. NYFA is organised by *SCAPE and supported by National Youth Council and Sinema.

Here is the full list of nominees.

Written by Varun Naidu
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