Sinema Showoff! takes place at the end of each month at Sinema Old School – where a fine-selection of short films curated by Singapore Polytechnic are showcased to the public for free.

June’s theme was “Beyond Paradise” as films chosen possessed the common thread of being shot by locally-based directors outside sunny Singapore. The 4 films selected were Lembranca (Reminder), Lighthouse, Yours Truly and Bani Ibrahim (Children of Abraham).

1. Lembranca is directed by Mauricio Osaki from São Paulo, Brazil who is currently based in Singapore.

Osaki’s intention of the film was an exploration of how youths are overwhelmed by electronic gadgets to the extent that it impairs how they deal with reality. It is a stunningly accurate portrayal of the difficulties a youth might face in the advent of technology. The protagonist of Lembranca is Joana, a teenager who has no option but to live with an ‘uncle’ whilst her mother is away. The film unfolds as she proceeds to iron out her problems in reality instead of forever gazing at the world through the screen of her computer.

Young talent Katie Gueroult as "Sophie"

Young talent Katie Gueroult as “Sophie”

2. Anthony Chen, recepient of National Art’s Council’s Youth Artist Award (2009) is the highly acclaimed director of Lighthouse.

In short, it is about a mother who takes her children on a road trip shortly after her husband left them. Poetic with a tinge of humour, Lighthouse enraptured the audience.

Chen reveals that he does not adhere to formulaic styles of script writing. In fact, he started the film with the simple idea of a lighthouse. The idea of “going home and not going somewhere” only came about much later in the process. When asked whether he was inspired by Little Miss Sunshine – Chen replied that though he knew of its existence, Lighthouse was not based on it. Which was why he made a concisious choice of not letting anything yellow (commonly associated with Little Miss Sunshine) appear on his set.

Ironically, the film ended in golden cornfields – there was no other choice since Chen wanted to avoid all semblances of green foliage reminiscent of Asia’s tropical landscape.

Further, it surprised me that his cast comprised of non-actors as their portrayal of the characters were so delicate and genuine. Fortunately for him, his producer had connections with a casting director who had a good eye for seeking potential. 6 year-old Katie Gueroult’s portrayal of ‘Sophie’ was impeccable and true to life. He remarked that she knew her importance in this film and knew how to push his buttons. For example, she would randomly request for a rabbit before shooting a subsequent scene. Although it was not easy working with children since their temperaments may be hard to fathom, Chen will continue to work with them in future productions.

3. Kevin Chan‘s film, Yours Truly,  has obvious references to Korean melodrama which he was quick to point out.

I believe the audience appreciated his candidness regarding the plot and how he thought himself as the “worst scriptwriter who can’t come up with anything original”. What struck me most about his film was the fine cinematography and professional camera angling.  No wonder Yours Truly managed to clinch the prestigious Gold Medal in the New York Festivals. Despite the predictable ending, his casting of the picture-perfect duo coupled with his acuteness of directing saved the short film.

Bani Ibrahim (Children of Abraham)

Bani Ibrahim (Children of Abraham)

4. Bani Ibrahim takes the audience on a thrilling 15 minute roller-coaster ride.

The plot revolves around an Palestine Muslim doctor who is happily settled in Australia until his suicide-bomber brother makes an appearance at his doorstep. He then faces a moral dilemma of whether to rescue his brother who plans on taking the lives of many others.

Director, Raihan Harun, maturely deals with the theme of terrorist bombing in a humanistic way. He does not pander to either side of Islamic ideals but portrays them in a palatable form – perhaps a reason why he received no backlash from the film even though it deals with a controversial issue.

Raihan Harun is known for his horror film, “Pontianak”. He quipped that  he could only “write things that scare and terrify him, and cannot write about happy things” as he was one who believed in “turning demons into cherries”. Inspiration  for Bani Ibrahim first arose when he encountered a Muslim butcher in Melbourne who was very critical of Jews. To him, “Islam can never condone brutal and ugly behaviour”. He believes that as an artist/filmmaker, one should “make stuff that affects us intellectually and emotionally”. As such, he chose this theme and chose the metaphor of a doctor as a healer and placed him in a moral quagmire. “It’s all about pushing boundaries of the characters”, he explains, “only then will they be able to transcend.”

The talented directors were present for a candid Q&A session which was moderated by Jeannine Sheares, Director of the Vancouver Singapore Film Festival. The four of them unanimously agree that directing a film overseas is much ‘easier’ than directing a local film.

Raihan Harun gave the example that in Melbourne, more people were willing to work with you for free as they believed in the work and were less driven by money. In fact, his cast took a week’s leave from work in Sydney and travelled to Melbourne where his film was shot.

Then again, UK safety laws are relatively more stringent. Aside from risk assessment forms that need to be filled up, Anthony Chen finds it easier to get things done there. As long as one possesses determination and heart, money can take the backseat. Unlike in Singapore, where nothing comes for free.

Yet, Raihan Harun pointed out that Singapore’s cinema scene is “not terrible”. It’s just that Singapore has  yet to progress to a stage where the community is present to support local film directors. Singapore could be likened to a gold reserve yet to be mined as Harun foresees the “cultural centre of the world… shifting to the East”.

—–

If you missed this awesome instalment of Sinema Showoff!, fret not as there will be another instalment coming up soon. Do check out Sinema’s webpage for updates and more information about local movie screenings.