By Loh Lin (19A01D) and Kuang Shane Qi (19A13A)
Photos courtesy of Kathryn Oei (19A01A) from Raffles Photographic Society
Opening to a full house last Friday, Five Ways to Build a Home showcased films which — you guessed it! — revolved around the theme of home. The films, with their eclectic mix of subject matters, aimed to shed some light on what home means to the filmmakers, and in doing so display the outgoing batch of Film Society’s talents one last time. Emcees Alicia Seet (19S03L) and Arron Tan (19S03C) kept up a stream of lively commentary with a host of puns. It was on this animated note that they introduced the films of the night.
In Chrysanthemum, a stern mother and a withdrawn son buy flowers for a dead husband and father. This task is not as easy as it seems: tension and unspoken words underlay their interactions. The film powerfully establishes this in the opening scene where rumbling static overwhelms a conversation between them, building in intensity and culminating in a sharp blackout. This tension left the audience with bated breath, waiting to see the the inevitable argument.
However, the conflict did not come. The following scenes seemed carefully devoid of antagonism, as the boy avoided eye contact and his mother masked concern with impatience. As they headed to the columbarium, the son kept his eyes down and hunched over his chrysanthemums as though he could not bear to put them down. “I think this was because the boy was too apprehensive to talk to his mum,” shared Viktor Loh, who played the character. “It also shows how his dad was always between them.”
Most notable in this film was the use of sound. Initially, the film had nearly no sound, the silence emphasising the gaping distance between them. The turning point came when the boy enveloped his mother in a hug, his voice cracking as he said I’m sorry. As they make their way home, Edelweiss played softly in the background, filling the silence with a comforting sense of home.
We move on to Just Jane, which threw the audience into the midst of a makeup commercial. Jane, the girl advertising makeup products, is radiant. Her lips are a glossy pink, and she tops the effulgent look off with cheekbones that seem to shimmer with her every movement. Against a cheery pink backdrop, this is a heart-stoppingly pretty picture. But the artificial oversaturation prompted the audience into suspecting there is more to this than meets the eye, and a tentative question hung in the air as the scene played out: what lies behind this beauty?
The answer comes in the scrutiny of Jane behind the scenes. This Jane is pale, with dry skin, heavy eyebags, and chapped lips. She mirrors the actions of the previous Jane, smearing makeup on her face frantically, but looks sickly against the scene’s dark palette, nothing like the girl from before. She is perceived in parts rather than a whole — a close-up shot of her throat while her face is hidden in the dark implies a chilling deconstruction of her as a human being. Her gradual loss of control is also reflected in symbolic scenes, such as the tearing of rose petals and the collapse of jenga blocks.
This jarring departure from the picture of perfection engulfed the PAC in uneasy silence as the audience was left to ponder: how many Janes exist around us, and have we unconsciously exacerbated their insecurity with our careless remarks about people’s appearances?
The next film, leaves, follows a series of heartwarming exchanges between Emma and Aiden, two kids who first meet at a playground. From the start, Emma departs from the usual portrayal of children in her interaction with her surroundings. Where most children would be content to run amok together on the playground, she keeps mostly to herself, taking solace in talking to a tree. It is clear she would rather be alone, but Aiden doesn’t seem to understand that, which may be for the better after all.
This film’s charm lies in its sincere attempt at exploring loss and reconciliation through a child’s eyes, all the while maintaining its tender narrative of childhood and innocence. Through cleverly interspersed cutscenes that introduced Emma’s mother and paralleled the interactions between Emma and Aiden, we were soon privy to the reason for Emma’s fixation on her scrapbook — it is a remnant of her time with her mother, before the latter was somehow displaced from the picture. Deeply affected by the loss of her mother, she guards herself fiercely, but eventually wrestles some form of acceptance thanks to Aiden’s gentle persistence.
One would expect it’d be difficult for children to drive a story that explores heavier concepts like loss, but leaves manages this with no pretences whatsoever. It forwards a straightforward portrayal of Emma’s emotional upheaval, as well as Aiden’s earnestness in his continued extension of friendship; in doing so, it underscores the vulnerability and sincerity with which children navigate the world around them, and leaves (haha) us with a sad and sweet nostalgia.
The penultimate film of the night, going home, follows Mark through an ordinary day. He seems to be like any other 35 year-old — he goes to work, strikes up awkward but amiable enough conversations with strangers about shoes, and meets a date. When it is time to head home, however, the place he ends up returning to appears to be the furthest thing from home: a few flat cardboard boxes take up space in the middle of a narrow alley, and are the only things keeping Mark’s back off the hard concrete as he lies down to sleep.
The heart-wrenching portrait this film paints of loneliness even in the absence of physical solitude is one that would undoubtedly resonate with many of us. Even with a steady foothold of human contact, perhaps there are certain kinds of emptiness that other people simply cannot provide a tonic for. In the preceding scenes, we see Mark engaged with the world and its various occupants, and it is only in the alley scene that the sense of isolation heightens. The close-up shots of Mark, along with the background bustle of late-night shoppers, sharpened the sense of claustrophobia and suffocation he felt.
The film was inspired by “the feeling of being lonely in a big city”, explained Director Lim Liting (18A03A), adding that “you see people being tired and sad in crowded places [and in train stations]”. Indeed, Mark’s makeshift cardboard home seems to be a figurative representation of the lack of belonging people feel from time to time, drifting in a world as large as ours.
Oh Boy! was a trip to the past for much of the audience, who was undoubtedly reminded of their childhood days. The film painted a pastel-and-nostalgia-tinged picture of childhood, which was filled with toys, snacks, country erasers, and friendship.
Boy, a perfectionist, organises his cardboard hideout with meticulous detail, with his pride and joy being his collection of country erasers. When he realises that one of his beloved erasers has gone missing, he overturns the entire hideout looking for it, and is not satisfied at the drawn-on eraser that his friend gives to him as consolation. What ensued was a wild goose chase through a familiar landscape of HDB flats. As both boys search for the lost eraser, Boy’s perfectionism nearly drives a wedge into their friendship.
Eventually, they return to the hideout, now in disarray. Boy reintroduces it in a similar fashion to the opening scene, and reveals that the eraser was in his pocket all along, placing his friend’s messy, imperfect eraser in the centre of his collection. This clever juxtaposition of the opening and closing scenes makes the enormity of the upheaval even greater. While Boy did not find his eraser or restore order, he realised the importance of friendship and learnt how to deal with imperfection.
This film was all the more charming with its vibrant, Wes Anderson-esque colour palette and symmetrical shots, which came from Director Elizabeth Xu’s (18A13A) penchant for “nice looking things”. Oh Boy! was not merely “nice looking”, though. Each shot was carefully crafted and evocative, effectively balancing visual impact with storytelling to create a dynamic film.
The five thesis films definitely left the audience members with an ache in their hearts, but not all was melancholy. To provide a much-needed emotional respite, Film Society screened a series of short films titled 5 People to Make a Film, directed by the Y5 batch. Each film followed one member of the behind-the-scenes crew, enlightening the audience about the struggles of filmmaking and the colourful characters that make films happen.
Opening with a freeze frame of the Y5 batch in varying states of duress, the interlude films had the audience laughing raucously from the get-go. The first film shed light on the trials and tribulations of the Production Manager, who is always being pushed around. In a play on the familiar phrase “I’m so thirsty in JC!” that left the audience in stitches, the helpful PM brings water, and then an entire boy.
The film about the Sound Recordist began with the all-too-familiar Dolby Surround Intro, which prompted good-natured groans from the audience. Numerous close up shots flooded the screen, highlighting the comical tension between the Director and the SR.
The other films poked fun at the process of filmmaking. The Director of Photography was presented as the subject of a nature documentary, who often did strange and inexplicable things to get a perfect shot, while the Assistant Director was an over-enthusiastic figure who was plastered with exponentially more pieces of masking tape as the film wore on. The Gaffer was a childish, fun-loving character who enjoyed messing around with lighting equipment, sometimes temporarily blinding his other crewmates.
To wrap up the screenings, a short behind-the-scenes video was played, featuring the process of filmmaking from inception to post-production. It was an amusing spectacle: crew members jumped in and out of frame, occasionally having to hold awkward positions to get that perfect shot.
However, these clips offered more than antics. They captured the sheer amount of work demanded of filmmakers, leaving the audience in awe of the backbreaking effort that was put in. Elizabeth humorously remarked that one of her greatest struggles was “carrying a set the size of a small man down 1km of road”, attesting to the physical labour that went on behind the scenes.
The physical strain involved wasn’t the only thing the members suffered through, for they also had to toil away at editing from June to July. Many hours were spent in the editing suite (and out of it, when they were made to leave after 5pm), dedicated to sharpening their craft. As Film Society member Gan Chong Jing (18A13A) had aptly summed up: “A film is made 3 times: you write it, you shoot it, then you edit it.” And so the month stretched on, until the day came for them to present the culmination of all their efforts thus far.
From the first idea generation session to the long days of filming and hours of skillful editing, it is evident that the films were a labour of love: for the art, for the process, and more than anything, for the people. As Chairperson Elizabeth Xu had declared in her CCA Preview at the start of the year, film “[lets] you build your own stories”, but “no work can exist in a vacuum”.
Fast forward six months later, these words have never rung truer. The films would not have existed without a supportive community — from teachers who answered frantic calls at 6am and stayed back with members till 11pm, to batchmates and juniors who slogged through the process together. While Batch 18’s time in Film Society had officially ended, this made for a stunning epilogue, one that silently gathered the past year of everyone’s efforts and put them on proud display for one brilliant night, as if to say: you made it.
And they did. The small batch of twelve had shown us five ways to build a home through their films, but that night the audience was also witness to the home they have built for themselves.
Y6 Thesis Films
- Director: Gan Chong Jing (18A13A)
- Producer: Morris Yang (18A01A)
- Just Jane
- Director: Hasif Salehin (18A01D)
- Producer: Angelica Ong (18A01C)
- Director of Photography: Matthew Wong Chun Kit (18A01E)
- Director: Wayne Lim (18S07A)
- Director of Photography/Producer: Michael Chow (18A13A)
- going home
- Director: Lim Li Ting (18A03A)
- Director of Photography: Chen Linxin (18S07B)
- Oh Boy!
- Director: Elizabeth Xu (18A13A)
- Producer: Harshini (18A03A)
- Director of Photography: Tan Jing Yi (18S03M)
Y5 Interlude Films
- Production Manager
- Director: Alyssa Marie Loo Li Ann (19A13A)
- Sound Recordist
- Directors: Arron Tan (19S03C), Alicia Seet (19S03L), Kaitlyn Lee (19S03G)
- Director of Photography
- Directors: Charlotte Yeong (19A13B), Nur Aqilah Nuha (19S07A)
- Assistant Director
- Directors: Joellene Yap (19S07A), Esther Lam (19S07B)
- Directors: Puan Xin (19S03L), Hantao Liang (19S06F)