By Mah Xiao Yu (20A01B), Ng Ziqin (20S03H), and Jermaine Wong (20S03R)
Photographs courtesy of Geng Heqin (20S06S) by Raffles Photographic Society
In this day and age, the number of things that can be bought with $5 is rapidly declining (notable exceptions to this rule: a packet of ice gem biscuits, lecture notes, and the RI foolscap). You might not be able to buy happiness with $5, but you can certainly buy an admission ticket to Film Showcase, and—as our experience at this year’s edition would suggest—that’s pretty much the same thing.
From as early as 6.50p.m., audience members could be spotted milling around near the entrance of the Performing Arts Centre (PAC), where booths displayed props, call sheets, and behind-the-scenes photos.
Having arrived early, we took the opportunity to speak to some of the Film Society members who were at the booths.
Said Alicia Seet (19S03L), director of As Easy As ABC: “The inspiration [for our film] is from the kinds of things me and my cousins used to get up to when we were kids.”
“Our film is about happiness,” added ABC’s director of photography, Joellene Yap (19S07A).
“I’m very excited because it’s been a while in the works and we’ve been working very hard on it,” said Ellery Tan (20S06L), speaking on behalf of his batch as the incoming Film Society Chairperson. “Because everyone is making a film. The Y6s are making the thesis films, which they have spent six months on, and for the Y5s, it’s our big screen debut in front of the whole school, so it’s really a big deal for everyone. I’m very proud of how it turned out.”
“I hope that you’ll feel they are genuine, that they show some part of the filmmakers,” expressed Alyssa Marie Loo (19A13A), director of Firsts and the outgoing Chairperson of Film Society. “Even if they are not of professional perfection, they have a lot of heart.”
Our expectations were certainly raised.
Doors opened at 7p.m. sharp. As we waited for the event to start, the warm yellow lighting and pensive background music created an atmosphere of cosy intimacy. Emcees Kim Yeoeun (20S07B) and Higan Kang (20S06Q) were a veritable delight, succinctly summarising the essence of each film with their tongue-in-cheek humour and easing the transition between one film and the next for the audience.
The first thesis film screened was Mimpi Trail, a dreamy story (fitting, considering “mimpi” means “dream” in Malay) of friendship and forgiveness that transcends time. Right from the start, the wistful music, warm colours, and vintage cinematography combine to produce a strong sense of nostalgia that pervades the entire film. Time plays an important role too, as the film shifts continuously between the past and the present before finally confronting each other, when a younger Jonathan from the past visits the present to urge his older self to forgive his friend, Meng, before it is too late. Finally, when the older Jonathan relents, the two Jonathans return to the drain at the beginning, mirroring the actions of the younger Jonathan and Meng from the start of the film, signalling that the friendship is on the road to recovery. Despite the confusing timeline, the film was visually stunning, with several lovely wide shots of the HDB estate which seemed to come straight out of a well-produced documentary.
The night’s second thesis film, Tangyuan, was yet another film where the past and present blended together seamlessly. Initially, the film appeared to centre on the tense relationship between a girl and her forgetful older sister. However, a surprise twist revealed only in the final moments of the film seemed to change the meaning of all the events which had taken place before, leaving the audience reeling in shock (evident from the many heated discussions about the film’s ending which we overheard during the intermission).
Here are some of the fan theories we overheard:
- The “older sister” was actually the mother all along (widely accepted as canon), because the mother had dementia or another memory-related illness which caused her mental regression;
- The mother had already passed away, and the younger sister was reminiscing about how they used to eat tangyuan together.
However, when asked to elaborate on the ending, Tangyuan’s director, Puan Xin (19S03L), replied: “I don’t really wish to elaborate on the plot because I think that the film is up to everyone’s own interpretation, so I just hope you enjoyed it.” Regardless of the ending’s ambiguity, the film was achingly heartwarming. “I wouldn’t mind watching 50 reruns of Tangyuan,” one audience member was overheard saying during the intermission, giving voice to what we believe were the thoughts of many others.
As Easy As ABC, the third thesis film, was a lighthearted romp about three adorable young siblings (the self-proclaimed Agents A, B, and C) faced with a problem of epic proportions: Mummy is not reading them bedtime stories, and Daddy is not checking their homework anymore. Hijinks ensue as the agents embark on “Mission Happify”, a mission to cheer their family members up, with questionable attempts to prepare Milo with tap water and an entire tin of Milo powder for Mummy, and give Daddy a new (toy) car. Shot almost exclusively from the siblings’ perspectives, the audience was immersed in this light-hearted and whimsical adventure, laughing especially hard at the children’s carefree banter. The deliberate color-coding of the agents in bright primary colors, natural lighting, and espionage-appropriate music enhanced the playful atmosphere.
It was only when the siblings delivered a bouquet of hand-picked flowers to Ah Ma, who was looking mournfully at an unremarkable cardboard box in a dimly-lit room, that the mood suddenly turned sombre. The audience quieted down, sensing the sudden change in mood. Gently, Ah Ma lifted the lid of the box to reveal Ah Gong’s belongings, and the audience was finally able to piece the whole story together: Ah Gong had just passed away, and what had initially appeared to be a spontaneous decision to cheer their family up was really the siblings’ earnest attempt to alleviate their family’s grief following his passing. This unexpected twist lent the piece an emotional gravitas which made the film even more meaningful.
Despite the playful vibe of the film, filming was not always fun and games—it was hard to direct children. Joellene commented during the question-and-answer segment: “We changed the way we wanted to shoot the film because it was so hard to get them to say their lines. Instead of wide shots, we had a lot of individual shots and foleyed some of the audio. Before each scene, we would drill the lines with them. Before the Ah Gong scene, we spent half an hour going over the lines, just going over and over with them because that was the longest scene and it was quite hard.”
The final thesis film, Firsts, was set on Valentine’s Day, the most ironic day to struggle with feeling unloved. As her mother has gone on a romantic vacation with her boyfriend, 13-year-old Si En has no choice but to crash at her estranged father’s place for a night. Over an uneasy dinner together, the two confront the awkward realities of love, life, and re-marriage. They speak in different languages: Si En in English and her father, Mandarin. They bump into touchy subjects, like what Si En calls her mother’s boyfriend (“Uncle Richard,” she says, not “dad”) and an English name (“Rachel”) she never told her father about. And while he appeared to ask her which name she preferred, the subtext was clear: Who do you prefer, me, or your mother? The staccato rhythm of water dripping in the background was also a masterful artistic choice, adding to the tension of the dinner and inviting the audience to share in the protagonists’ on-screen awkwardness.
The frustration and awkwardness culminates in a confrontation in the middle of the night. A misunderstanding leads to the revelation that Si En has just had her first period, an important milestone for any young girl made even tougher by her absent mother and clueless father. All tension abates as the duo embarks on a valiant quest to shop for pads at the nearby Fairprice, a scene that was equal parts hilarious and heartwarming. The film ends with Si En asking her father if she could catch a movie with him and his new girlfriend, signalling that the father-daughter relationship is on the road to recovery after their shared ‘ordeal’.
But of course, no article about the film showcase would be complete without making mention of the interlude films. While the Y6 thesis films took centre stage, the Y5 batch’s short creative works, interspersed between the longer, heavier thesis films, left the audience in fits of giggles, while also serving as meaningful transitions to bridge the gaps between thesis films.
The Jock And Nerd navigated the interactions between these two seemingly disparate groups of RI students with its portrayal of the titular ‘jock’ and ‘nerd’, who swap bodies after bumping into each other. The two struggle together, first to reverse the “curse” and then later, to carry on with their regular lives in spite of the body swap. However, their struggle is in vain. It is only when they resign themselves to their fates, and admit that they at least got a friendship out of it, that they look down and realise that they had finally swapped back. While they try to preserve their unlikely friendship and integrate the other into their old life, they soon realise that their efforts are futile. The film’s ambiguous ending of “let’s not force this” certainly gave the audience something to chew on with regard to nerd-jock bilateral relations.
Speaking of chewing, The Fish And Chips was another unconventional interlude film leaving the audience with many questions. Featuring only a single actress from start to finish (unless one considers the fillet and fries from Long John Silver’s to be her co-stars), the audience watched with mounting bewilderment as the faceless actress poured her soft drink into a wine glass and nibbled delicately at her fish and chips in what appeared to be simply an ASMR video. This food-themed, somewhat voyeuristic short served as a nice segue into the similarly food-related thesis film, Tangyuan, which was screened right after it.
While the first two interlude films aimed to confound with their profundity, The East and West seemed to take the opposite approach in wooing the audience. The age-old debate between East and West took corporeal form in this film with the humorous and relatable portrayal of two RI students, ‘Eastie’ and ‘Westie’, who have the misfortune of trying to decide where to meet up for their group project. Their face-to-face conversation is interspersed with entertaining asides as the assertive Eastie and meeker Westie each tell the camera what they really think about the other side of Singapore in a no-holds-barred, reality-TV-style series of interviews which had the audience roaring with laughter. The debate was ultimately settled with a compromise which undoubtedly rang familiar to many PW groups—who cares if its #eastsidebestside or #westsidebestside when the only hashtag you need is #ribestside?
The last interlude film, The One and Only, managed to stay relatable while seeking to answer a tough question—“How would you feel about a version of yourself who could do everything better than you could?” Both the hapless beta-male protagonist and his cooler, sunglass-wearing alter ego were played by the same actor and appeared on-screen at the same time with the help of some post-production editing magic. The Tyler Durden to his Unnamed Narrator, the protagonist’s alter ego was cooler, better, and smarter than him, giving voice to the feelings of insecurity that members of the audience could undoubtedly relate to. At one point, the alter ego even took a bite out of an apple, further cementing his air of arrogance and superiority. But at the end of the film, the protagonist finally managed to beat his alter ego at something (albeit slightly insignificant). “My work here is done,” proclaimed the alter ego, as he entered a toilet cubicle and disappeared with a flush. What did it all mean? Guess we’ll never find out.
The showcase ended off with two video compilations of behind-the-scenes footage, one for the thesis films and a separate one for the interlude films. The former combined a side-splitting blooper reel with a soul-stirring montage of the Y6s’ journey in photos and videos, from pitching to production and post-production. Finally, the entire Y6 batch took their place on stage to talk about their films, their batch, and their journey, fielding questions from members of the audience in a question-and-answer segment.
“What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt from this journey?” asked one audience member. Onstage, the microphone travelled from hand to hand as the 12-member batch took turns to respond, the different voices mingling to create meaning in the form of a single sentence.
“The biggest thing I’ve learnt from this journey is that it’s about teamwork.”
“Never, ever giving up.”
“And hard graft.”
The farewell segment of the showcase ended with a speech by outgoing Film Society chairperson, Alyssa, an onstage handover between Alyssa and Ellery, and the presentation of tokens of appreciation from the Y6 batch to their teachers-in-charge, Ms Joanna Ng and Ms Audrey Tan.
However, as the lights turned on, it became clear that the night was still far from over, as the audience members swarmed around their friends in the Film Society to take group photographs, present them with flowers, and congratulate them on their hard work.
Several audience members we spoke to were highly impressed by the quality of the films and the effort that the Film Society members had undertaken to make the night a success, from having to colour-correct all the films just a few days before the showcase to suit the PAC’s projector, to the members’ persistent pre-showcase advertising efforts.
When asked why he had decided to come for Film Showcase, Manish Warrier (20S03H) attributed his attendance to his classmate’s aggressive advertising: “The crazy girl [Sophia] forced me to come.”
His sentiment was echoed by classmate Tay Yu Han (20S03H): “I came because of Sophia,but it was really, really good. I loved ABC. I actually cried. And I liked the fact that Tangyuan was a film I had to [work to] interpret but I also liked the funny elements of the last two interlude films. I was very impressed by the films.”
“I think it’s always fun to see creative output from your peers, especially if you know them,” said Aaron Tan (19A01B), who attended the showcase despite facing a looming H3 deadline. “The fun thing about indie filmmaking is that you aren’t constrained creatively by what the audience wants or what the box office wants and you have almost free reign to express yourself. The real constraint is in terms of resources, and often, that’s how some of the most interesting creative judgements happen. Of course, Film Soc themselves were particularly constrained by time as well as cash. The sheer amount of hard work and sacrifice they’ve made to fulfil their visions is admirable and inspiring, and I think it was only right to respect that by attending the screening to enjoy their works.”
For a night that only cost $5, the showcase gave us the priceless experience of laughing, crying and enjoying the films that mean so much to their creators. Safe to say, everyone left the PAC feeling touched, whether it be by the emotional films or the little bits of their experience the Y6 Film batch shared with us.
Director: Charlotte Yeong (19A13B)
DP: Kaitlyn Lee (19S03G)
Producer: Zhang Yihan (19S05A)
Director: Puan Xin (19S03L)
DP: Liang Hantao (19S06F)
Producer: Nur Aqilah Nuha (19S07A)
As Easy As ABC
Director: Alicia Seet (19S03L)
DP: Joellene Yap (19S07A)
Producer: Oscar Bian Ce (19S06F)
Director: Alyssa Marie Loo (19A13A)
DP: Arron Tan (19S03C)
Producer: Esther Lam (19S07B)
The Jock And Nerd
Hera Lim (20A01C)
Jayabaskaran Jayanth (20S03E)
Loh Jia Jen (20A01B)
Yap Cai Ni (20S03M)
The Fish And Chips
Chloe Nicole Guai (20A01D)
Freddie Ong (20S06S)
Kim Yeoeun (20S07B)
Milton Lee (20S06A)
The East And West
Asiela Binte Hassan (20S06A)
Higan Kang (20S06Q)
Kate Lu (20S03E)
Sophia He (20S03H)
Teo Shu’En (20A01A)
The One And Only
Ellery Tan (20S06L)
Denise Siah (20S03R)
Muhammad Ashraf Bin Nor Hisham (20A01D)
Xiong Ran (20S03C)
Wong Shao-Yi (20A01B)