SeaShorts 2020 Film Festival: Moving Panorama

Focusing on emerging directors from Malaysia, SeaShorts 2020 Film Festival’s “Moving Panorama” presents seven short films curated by guest programmer Yow Chong Lee from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak. The seven shorts are all thematically unified by their shared explorations into the interstitial spaces between life, death, and everything in-between.

The Cloud Is Still There (2020), by Mickey Lai Loke Yee

One of the greatest strengths of “Moving Panorama” is the programme’s ability to tap onto the emotional depth of its content. This is captured by its opening short, The Cloud Is Still There (2020) by Mickey Lai, which sees the collision of traditions when a young woman struggles to reconcile her Christian beliefs with her family’s Taoist rituals in the family’s spiritual treatment of her dying grandfather. The woman begins to secretly pray for her grandfather, but her prayers are eventually uncovered by her mother. Marked by a complex inter-generational conflict that only escalates with each passing minute, the two female protagonists present a gripping performance filled with intense and convincing emotions: feelings of mutual anger, sorrow, and grief are capped off with an all-too-Asian moment of silent reconciliation at the end – all within 19 minutes. With such committed performances, it was thus no surprise when The Cloud Is Still There won the Best Performance Award under the SeaShorts Film Festival 2020.

By The Southern Sea (2019), by Vincent Kong Yentao

Tracing the complexities of family relationships is a theme that also find its way into By The Southern Sea (2019) by Vincent Kong. A film that self-reflexively admits its influences from films such as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and Groundhog Day (1993), the film’s protagonist finds himself trapped in a time-loop that replays a day of his mundane life as a student who self-alienates from society. As the protagonist tries to recollect why he is trapped in this loop, he also struggles to remember where and who are his parents. The direction of the film takes a surrealistic turn towards the end, as he eventually breaks out of the loop with a newfound attitude and maturity towards life. Playing on the ideas of a forgotten past and an unimaginable future, By The Southern Sea (2019) bridges these two ideas by tracing the spiritual transformation of the lone protagonist through commendable cinematography, well-timed pacing and a sentimental ending.

Peon (2019), by June Wong, Shaiful Yahya, and Syaz Zainal 

Of the seven shorts, Peon (2019) was indisputably one of the main highlights of “Moving Panorama”. Peon bagged the SeaShorts Award, Next New Wave Award, and Best Editing Award at the virtual festival, and was lauded for its innovative narrative that was inspired by true events concerning the predicament of migrant workers. In the film, a delivery driver is tasked with delivering the passports of Bangladeshi migrant workers. His task is complicated when his route is abruptly changed. The urgency of the film picks up as the driver is put in a quandary and as he starts to understand what is really at stake in this one delivery. With the story being framed predominantly through the delivery rider’s phone screen, Peon pushes the film form to its innovative limits. Bridging its complex ethical ideas with brilliant editing and an engaging method of storytelling, Peon presents itself as a riveting story that both thrills and stirs contemplation in audiences from start to finish.

As a programme, though, it was curious that the first half of “Moving Panorama” felt less like a selection focusing on Malaysian-based films and more like an exploration into the lesser known aspects of Southeast Asian Chinese culture, with many films seeming to heavily draw syntactic influences from Sinophonic cinema. Notably, I noticed the predominantly Chinese-Malaysian representation of filmmakers and film content in the program. While not a problem per se – as cultures of other Malaysian ethnicities were later examined in “Moving Panorama”s last few films – the segment did feel like it could have done better in featuring Malaysia's larger multicultural and multilingual landscape, as stated in the programme’s vision to capture the emerging generation of directors in Malaysia.

Nonetheless, “Moving Panorama” still presented a unique thematic concern that saw the exploration of tensions, conflicts, and resolve in the transitional spaces between life and death. It is through exploring these juxtapositions that the programme’s better films manage to create the most meaning. 

Written by Bryson Ng
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