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Videos take flight

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Imagine all the work that goes into making a film: conceptualisation, writing, planning, shooting, and editing. (That’s a very concise version of the list.)

And then compress everything into roughly 36 hours at one go.

That’s the Fly By Night experience for you.

Organised by local filmmaker Tan Pin Pin and film curator Yuni Hadi, the competition tries to infuse filmmaking with frenzied fun and the kind of manic energy that keeps you running like an Energizer bunny despite not sleeping for the past 24 hours, i.e. the kind that any Singaporean will surely be familiar with.

This year, 50 teams of filmmakers, comprising students and young families, produced 47 videos using the competition’s theme of “apples” as their starting point. The short films produced ran the gamut from simple slice-of-life stories to abstract ruminations on the insidiousness of the media. They also made liberal use of the theme, with some teams even opting to interpret it in favour of, well, Steve Jobs and the Macintosh.

And just as the teams faced the challenge of a gruelling 36-hour production period, I was faced with an equally worthy opponent: to review the 47 films in a marathon sitting that lasted five hours.

To be honest, it was a mixed bag of goodies. While the production quality was generally above average (and remarkable considering the time constraints), the quality of the creativity ranged from the mundane to the mind-blowing. In other words, the bad were really quite bad, while the good were really very good. So, how to pick from all the apples in the basket?

Well, I had to thank the judges for that. Ten of the short films each walked away with a cash prize of $300 and the proud title of “Judges’ Choice”, and one deserving team was awarded the inaugural “Fly By Night Choice” award.

Some of the winning highlights of the screening included Adam Up There, a comical skit by Ezzam Rahman and Ghazi Alqudcy about two Malay men gossiping about their handsome new neighbour, and 2 or 1, a heartwarming stop-motion animation about red apples welcoming their green cousins into the fold and spreading the “apple-y” love.

My personal favourite was a deceptively funny video titled The Fruits Massacre by Alvin Lim. Playing on how Singaporeans eat and use various fruits in daily life, such as using oranges as joss-stick holders and plucking grapes one at a time from a bunch, the film draws its dark humour from the macabre parallel to torture and execution methods like beheading and dismemberment. This goes right down to the exaggerated amateurish voiceovers of the fruits “in peril”.

Then in a strong twist, the filmmakers deftly turn the tables on the laughing audience by revealing the final, horrifying parallel: a poem attributed to Martin Niemöller, “First they came … “, condemning Germans’ passivity as the Nazis systematically purged their targets in the 1930s. As the credits rolled, I was literally stunned into silence by the dramatic turnabout the film made.

But I guess the most amazing thing about Fly By Night is how it makes filmmaking an entertaining challenge for everyone. The competition is now in its 4th year, but teams come back time and again to enjoy a weekend of hard work and fruitful efforts with friends. I certainly look forward to what next year’s competition will bring to the local filmmaking scene.

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