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Fooism: How it all comes together in the craft

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Firstly I have to apologize to my readers whom I have left dry for several months. There have been many film-related issues that have excited me to share, but sadly priorities have distracted me from my monthly rant writing.

Ever experience something – some event that by some instinctive energy you felt excited about that you have to share it? I just did last weekend, and I would like to talk about it. I had a great opportunity to catch the graduating short film works from the first batch of LaSalle’s Puttnam School of Film. It was the graduating show for LaSalle’s media arts faculty and the sprawling campus was dotted with screenings, fashion shows, and showcases of the graduating batch. The four short films were screened to a small audience in their theatrette. The shorts are ‘Missing’ by Toh Chee Hong, ‘Toilet’ by Joshua Tan, ‘The Miracle’ by Dinuska Wattegama, and ‘Tanjong Rhu’ by Boo Junfeng.

I have to say that I am impressed and inspired by what I saw. The films stood out in terms of storytelling, craft and scale. And it brings to mind again, the fundamentals of filmmaking. Each short film tells a story of its own. They were shot on the Varicam and were helmed by film students who are thoughtful of how their stories impacted the viewing experience.

‘Missing’ tells of a whodunit drama straddling the woes and wonderment of motherhood between two women. I liked how the setting to me was convincing enough to have me engrossed in the story. There were several over-exposed scenes but to me they were dealt with a fair bit of aesthetic acceptance, providing somewhat a dreamy environ to the uncertainties of the crime.

‘Toilet’ is a bizarre and twisted visual piece that teems with potential but wallows in being disturbingly sensational rather than persuasively swaying, especially in letting the audience understand its theme. Yet, its art direction and production values hit a credible benchmark.

‘The Miracle’ takes us into the world of a hospital ward set in a war zone, and is a moving and engaging piece that convinces you of its reality. Art direction, acting performance and setting all fall into place in this short.

Culminating in the best of the lot – the final short film ‘Tanjong Rhu’ brings all the filmmaking fundamentals to where they’re meant to be – at the front of cinema storytelling. A poignant story of an unlikely re-encounter, the filmmaker’s craft is seen through careful mise-en-scene, delicate performance direction and non-distracting editing and cinematography.

Too many times, too too many times the basic crafts of cinema are devalued through gimmicky cuts, extreme colour corrections (for the sake of colour correcting), over-the-top acting and just plain inability of the filmmaker to handle the dynamics of their own story venture. These short films stand out because they have tried and mostly succeeded in preventing all these clash clichés from happening. These filmmakers know their boundaries and are aware of the unspoken balance in a work of film.

One can’t simply forgo acting for superior cinematography, or the use of fancy editing to cover continuity problems; or worse, cry for an excuse that talents were incorrectly cast that led to bad performances. They were convincing vignettes made with measured taste. Each short film bore its own burden, some more, some to a much lesser extent, of being a ‘student’ film, but yet could still emote their themes simply and in a non-convoluted way.

The films are also not overly ambitious in their scales. They make do with what they have, and then some, but never veering from the focus, which is to convince and include the audience into their world. Something which, I observe, many film schools fall prey to. Kudos must really go to the crafting and the supervision of the stories. I applaud the team of instructors and trainers at the new film school in really actuating the filmmaking craft to the students. A mentor’s touch is to shepherd the filmmakers into keeping the vision alive and attainable. While I am not privy to the inner workings of each film project, I do believe they were led through by skill and experience passed down from mentors.

It was a rewarding film appreciation experience.

I believe the screenings are still available. If not, do lobby for them to be brought back. Taken that this is the pioneer batch, I feel this generation of filmmaking has melded into an overall cinematic work beyond natural competence of the status quo. No one who is truly enthusiastic about the next generation of Singapore filmmakers, should be left cold from these films. We are observing the birth of a new generation. And I want to see more.

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