by Jovi Tan (15A01B)
Images courtesy of Raffles Film Society
I am going to borrow from the closing remarks of Gong Haoran, Chairperson of Raffles Film Society, to begin talking about Film’s recent showcase, Rewind II: Life in Technicolor. He compares the array of films on show to the black-and-white, 3-second long, stop motion experiment, the Horse in Motion (‘Sallie Gardner at a Gallop’). It is a series of photographs compiled in 1878, dynamically depicting a man galloping atop a horse, and is often considered one of the first silent films.
For many of the filmmakers at the event, this is their virgin attempt. Much like Eadweard Muybridge, many of the filmmakers are in a stage of excited experimentation, eager to figure out just what kinds of magic can unfold beyond the lenses of their video recorders. In some instances, they stumble over their ideas, or are clumsy in navigating the terrains of storytelling, but as Haoran elucidates, these limitations are something they can be proud of. Really, these shortcomings are inconsequential when compared to the immense honesty, energy, enterprise and hard work that undergirded each film presented at the showcase.
Held at the Arts House, seven films were showcased in a homely and cozy screening room, namely: Home Ah Long, Frozen In Time, He is a Friend of Mine, Love x Death, Heart Disc, Spire, and Letters from Home. Spanning different genres, each short film was impressive in their commitment to telling a story. Whether it was a quick-fix comedy, or a moving drama, there was an authenticity that surfaced. Each filmmaker showed an awareness of the genre, playing to their strengths and, overall, creating a strong set of enjoyable short films, and an enjoyable Saturday afternoon.
The first thing that strikes you when the first short film begins is the impressive technical quality that audiences sometimes overlook. When the camera pans, our eyes pan comfortably with it. In many instances, the filmmakers get the lighting just right, and the effective use of music serves to enhance the experience. At first glance, few would be able to pick these out as student-created films. In particular, Spire by Brandon Ong and Xie Peiyi displayed a sound competency in video editing and special effects. As Brandon and Peiyi describe in the post-show dialogue, video editing is often arduous, and the fact that Spire lapses between reality, and a fantasy sword-fighting realm makes their effective storytelling even more impressive. To be able to not only imagine, but also crystalize their comic-esque fantasy world is nothing short of a feat, testament again to the concentration and variety of talent in our midst. In Frozen in Time, by Wu Jia Min, the filmmaking is well able to caress the nuance in the actor, Bill Teoh, who is convincing as a dementia-stricken old man. The scenes are crisp and yet manage to be continuous, highlighting the craft of the directors and videographers. Though some of the dialogue is lost to poor sound editing, the effect on the audience is mild, and is mostly made up for by the apt use of music.
Another aspect that I personally appreciate is each filmmaker’s attempt at honest storytelling. The stories mostly have an element of fiction, no doubt, but this honest storytelling is rooted more in the fact that each filmmaker says what he/ she means, and is unafraid to do so. In Home Ah Long, the story included bits about Ah Longs playing Monopoly for money, which for me captured a lightheartedness, and a willingness to take on the absurd. Heart Disc by Wu Jia Min, on the other hand, sought to present a somewhat typical boy-meets-girl romance, and yet dared to include snippets that were visibly personal, which would differentiate it from a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. It is a comfort when, instead of borrowing jokes and tropes from the long tradition of romantic-comedies that came before, filmmakers instead use humor that is funny to them, without too much fear that it would not be quite so funny to someone else. The idea that ‘bump file sharing works on organic beings as well’ is evidence of the inventive wit some of these filmmakers possess. In Letters from Home by Ang Zi Yun, some of the footage was gathered on the filmmaker’s personal trips to Australia and England. It is very evident that each filmmaker comes from a place, or a perspective. The fact that none of these filmmakers abandoned these perspectives, but rather embraced and immersed themselves in them was both brave and effective.
It is no coincidence that the most honest pieces were the ones that managed to move audiences the most. While every film had an evident personal touch, some moments still came across as contrived and uninspired. In a particular scene in Letters from Home, the protagonist is at a phone booth phoning her sister overseas, and in the process conjures an elaborate spiel about hope. In the final scene of Spire, a corny message about love and how we sometimes don’t notice it fades out before the credits roll. In Love x Death by Claudia Chu, Tan Yan Ru, and Wang Yan, the bone-shuddering plot twist at the end was chilling for all the wrong reasons. Instead of focusing on the stories they wished to tell, these filmmakers sometimes felt the necessity to force a moral of the story, or a plot twist, when in fact, storytelling can and should be simple. In the end, our creativities can betray us but our experiences cannot. As director Wu Jia Min shared at the post-show Q&A, some parts of her film was inspired by the fact that her grandfather was afflicted with dementia. Some of the more honest and moving dialogue was pebbled into Frozen in Time, whereas other films were not as able in crafting convincing conversation. In fact, the dialogue can sometimes appear stilted and scripted, which can be very distracting.
Nonetheless, Rewind II: Life in Technicolor was thoroughly enjoyable, and was another piece of evidence of the sheer talent and ambition of Raffles Film Society. Though Haoran speaks of the Horse in Motion to remind us all of Film’s inexperience, the Horse in Motion is all the more powerful because it depicts us moving forward. Film has managed to straddle its limitations, to present a coherent and charming showcase, and we should all look forward to their next one.