Saturday, August 18, 2007

[4th Singapore Short Cuts] 2nd Week

Playing to a full house, this week's selection seemed to veer more into the experimental and arthouse, giving host to plenty of diverse questions during the Q&A Session after the screening.

Wrong Turn - Charles Lim
This is a visually beautiful film. The jungle never looked so nice, and so real, and what more, the soundtrack/effects for the film was performed live. Watching the movie, the first thought that came to mind was, this could be a localised version of JJ Abrams' Lost, where you see a host of characters, from a schoolboy to a security guard, looking perplexed, and testing the area they're stuck in for a communications signal. Slowly they realize they only have one another to count on, to survive in that strange environment, coupled with that parting end shot.

Tracks - Gavin Lim
This short had recognizable actors in Yeo Yann Yann and Timothy Nga, who also paired up as a couple for a local movie last year in The High Cost of Living. It's a challenge to film inside an MRT carriage, because you know that sound will definitely be an issue, especially when the film is dialogue-laden. Some clues that the story's something surreal, include that perpetually long MRT ride - arrivals at stations happen every few minutes, but this one made it look like it's a train ride from Singapore to KL. Continuity issues aside, the plot twist was charging at you at high speed, and was something waiting to happen.

superDONG - Pok Yue Weng
Part of the official selection in Director's Fortnight of the 60e Cannes Film Festival this year, superDONG was one of the shorts shown during the media preview. Animation and humour usually go down well with audiences, and it is no doubt that despite its short duration, this was one that could be easily enjoyed.

Fonzi - Kirsten Tan
Shot in black and white, Fonzi is the modern day Pinnochio, believing that she has a real family in the real world, before being challenged on those beliefs. It's a film on existentialism, but one which I thought could have been shortened a fair bit given that some scenes were repetitive. Had a bit of a creepy feel to it, especially when some probing questions were asked.

Take Me Home aka I Saw Jesus - Gozde and Russel Zehnder
The first thing that strikes is that it's on 8mm, and the soft focus made it difficult to folllow. Telling the story of select individuals, I found it difficult to connect with the characters, and didn't really enjoy the story. Technically the filmmakers have set out to achieve what they wanted, but I think using yesterday's technology for an audience today could be somewhat trying if the story didn't engage.

LtoR: Charles Lim, Zhang Wenjie, Kirsten Tan, Gavin Lim, Gozde Zehnder, Russel Zehnder, Pok Yue Wen, Kristin Saw

All the directors for this week's edition were on hand today for a Q&A session after the screening - Wrong Turn's Charles Lim, Tracks' Gavin Lim, superDONG's Pok Yue Weng, Kirsten Tan for Fonzi, and Gozde and Russel Zehnder for Take me Home aka I Saw Jesus. Both Zhang Wenjie from the National Museum and Kristin Saw from Substation were on hand to moderate the panel. As always, given the content of discussion, this session recap below contains spoilers for those who have yet to watch them.

Kristin: Perhaps we can begin with the filmmakers introducing themselves and sharing the background behind their films?
Yue Weng: I had this idea for a very long time, and finally put together a script which was submitted to the Digital Film Fiesta.
Russel: It was a combination of a few things. Mainly I wanted to go back to the house I grew up in, and see how different it is now.
Gozde: We wanted to explore the connection to music and long scenes, and make a whole short film using 8mm, so thats why we used the medium.
Gavin: Tracks was part of a project to put together some short films from around the region about different subway systems, and I was the one who did the piece for Singapore.
Kirsten: Fonzi was my graduation project in my polytechnic days. I was reading up a lot of books on existence and consciousness, and had watched a lot of films which had influenced Fonzi.
Charles: I am from a visual arts background, and Wrong Turn was my cathartic reaction. I'm interested in using visuals but the film is quite brainless actually *chuckle* My wife came out with the story, and I thought it was a chance to collaborate with my wife. It was shot with a still camera, and I tortured the actors into moving very slowly.

Q (for Gozde and Russel): Was it a deliberate decision to film in 8mm?
Russel: We wanted to try filming with 8mm, and if shot on DV, it would be emotionally different.
Gozde: Yes, 8mm gives a feeling of timelessness and a melancholic texture.
Russel: The feel of 8mm film is different. We deliberately made it soft focus, grainy, and the colours were saturated. We were working on the story for a while, approximately a year, before shooting it on film.

Q (from Wenjie to Kirsten): You mentioned that you read a lot of books, and watched films which had inspired you. Could you share what they were?
Kirsten: The script was developed first, then came the black and white film concept, with visual references from movies by Fellini. I like and am very fond of his 8 1/2. When watching his films, I would pause for lighting references. The original shooting format had been film, before the lack of budget meant finishing it on DV.

Q: What was the inspiration for superDONG?
Yue Weng: For those who know me, I spend a lot of time in the toilet! I had actually recced a lot of places for some of those graphics.
Wenjie: Did you actually draw some of those graffiti yourself?
*Laughter all round*

Q: Are there any specific message in your film? And Gavin, how did you manage to have an entire MRT carriage to shoot in?
Gavin: Shooting in the MRT means you have to pay. Thankfully we got a grant from SFC, and everything went into the rental. The script was changed a lot, and we had only 4 hours to shoot. Most of the shots that you see, were not inside those 4 hours. So we did have to film on the run, and were actually caught on the last take. My crew were obviously younger than me, so my reasoning "I'm a film student" obviously did not fly. I've done commercials and short films, but this was the most difficult of them all. For my third short Tracks, I wanted to go back to just having dialogue and good actors. And zero dialogue recorded on the train could be used. I also wanted to do something serious, about haunting. You know, when you lose a dear one and how after three days they will come and visit you, and haunt when you can't let go. It was shot with ambiguity, and the real message is about letting go.
Russel: Sorry, unfortunately there's no message for mine. We wanted to get feeling and emotion across, and the story wasn't the main attraction and focus.
Yue Weng: No message in mine too, just wanted to tell a story.
Kirsten: These kind of questions are quite scary. Any discussion into Fonzi will be very long, especially for the last shot of the film, which to some means running to freedom, and to others, never escaping.
Charles: I wanted to create a situation where I could play. I was watching a number of silent films on YouTube, and wanted to make something for an audience to feedback and enjoy.

Q: The shorts today explored visuals and effects. Were they films whose focus is on form rather than on content?
Charles: I guess some audiences don't know how to react to video art. The film was screened in some festivals overseas, and some had actually stood up and danced, leaving the organizers quite perplexed and didn't know how to react.
Kirsten: For myself, I focused too much on form, and felt that I lost track of the basics of film and was in a black hole for a while. I'm still experimenting, but I think they can be complimentary and can go together.
Gavin: Tracks was minimal on form. I have to apologize that the transfer was done quite badly as you can see, and I actually tried not to do anything fanciful visually, except for that tangerine-green colour that my DP hated.
Gozde: We tried to tell the story visually, but this is our take, and the sharing of our story in this way.
Russel: Filming using Super8 is going back to basics, and save for 2 shots on a tripod, everything was handheld. We had 2 cameras, one for indoors and one for outdoor shots, and had a soundman always around to record sounds on a separate DV cam.
Yue Weng: The form is the content, and without visual effects, it wouldn't work.
Charles: Coming from a visual arts background, and with the advent of reality in reality TV, it does make some wonder if something being done too beautifully, is deemed as dishonest?

Q: How big is your production crew, and how large was your budget?
Charles: We had 3 guys each time on the set, and 2 using the reflectors. The budget was S$3K.
Kirsten: I had 11 to 12 people on set, and the equipment is sponsored by the school. We had a S$10K budget from SFC.
Gavin: The crew was about 4 to 5 persons, and we got a grant from the SFC.
Gozde: The budget was S$2.5K and all went into the Super8 film, processing and payment to the 5 to 6 crew.
Yue Weng: I had a 4 to 5 man crew and it was shot in one night.

Q (for Take me Home): I notice that in your credits you had a Festival Coordinator?
Gozde: Yes, the specific role is to fill up forms, finalizing copies, things that you need to prepare for the festivals. It's really hard work.

Q (for Gavin): Does your film contain plenty of improvisation, or does it follow closely to the script? It reminded me of Wong Kar-wai films.
Gavin: This was one of my hardest productions. It's scripted entirely, but might have changed a little during the delivery of lines. What was in the final cut had about 40% edited out, and we had little time, so we didn't manage to rehearse as much as I would have liked to. During the shoot we had peope gawking at the actors, so it's not an ideal situation. And actually I tried hard not to be very "Wong Kar-wai".

Q (for Yue Weng): The film had travelled to Cannes, and what was the interaction and reaction like from the French audience?
Yue Weng: The French definitely saw superDONG differently, and are more interested in the actors than the animation. They said the characters were interesting, quirky, weird and resonated with them.

Q: If something is scripted, will it come across as too formal, and sometimes improvisation may be a tool to bring across realism?
Gavin: I'm a big fan of improvisation.
Kirsten: Personally, improvisation is very, very useful. If over-rehearsed, a line in itself is never a line, and improvisation helps to get behind those scripted lines.
Charles: The music you heard for my short film, it's improvisation all the way, each time it's different.
Gozde: There's not much talking in my film, and we didn't use actors but casted those whom we think look interesting. It depends on how you want to do it.
Russel: We actually improvised a lot on the set. The script was for grant purposes! *chuckles* However it's important though, as the script is there to serve as a guide. But once you see how the actors move in the space, ideas will start to flow.
Yue Weng: superDONG was storyboarded, which is quite standard for animation, and it's rather action-specific.

Q: Describe your film in one word.
Charles: Play.
Gavin: Ah?!
Gozde: Melancholy.
Russel: Home.
Yue Weng: Sex?!
Kirsten: In festivals, the more common words used to describe Fonzi include Alienation, Isolation, and Trapped. It's too difficult, but I would use the word Chessboard.

Q (for Charles): Do you think your short is cinema?
Charles: I'm questioning cinema, how we can look, and relook it.

Q (by Wenjie): As always, to wrap up, we usually ask what's your next project?
Charles: I'm working on sea stories.
Kirsten: I'm doing a short film in Thailand, where I am based now.
Gavin: I just finished shooting "Bastard-Born Under a Bad Star", and it should be completed in the next few weeks.
Gozde: A black and white short film.
Russel: Holiday! *chuckles*
Yue Weng: I'm working on an animated series, not on superDONG, but on another subject.

Photo Credits: Richard Lim


The 4th Singapore Short Cuts continues next Saturday, with a retrospective session featuring the shorts of Rajendra Gour. Do come and check out what is possibly the first Singapore anti-war film, and if you're curious how Singapore circa 60s and 70s looked and sounded like, then you definitely won't want to miss the next session! See you there!

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