INTERVIEW: NYFA Filmmakers At Taiwan’s Golden Harvest Short Film Festival
The Golden Harvest Awards and Short Film Festival serves as an important cradle for Taiwan’s film industry because short and independent films nourish the spirit of originality. It’s not only the longest-run short film festival in Taiwan, but also a prominent platform for talented young filmmakers and their works. This year’s Golden Harvest Awards was held from 23 March – 31 March 2019 at SPOT Huashan Cinema in Taiwan.
The winners of Singapore’s National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) 2018 were invited to participate in the festival as part of a separate non-competition programme. The 5 local films — Sylvia, Pencil, CA$H, Breakdown, and 1% Chance of Sunshine — were screened in Taiwan during the Golden Harvest Awards. Like the Golden Harvest Awards, NYFA is a national award that seeks to instill a greater appreciation of film, fuel the passion for filmmaking, and generate opportunities to further develop and exhibit youth talents.
This cultural exchange between Singapore and Taiwan was powered by National Youth Council Singapore and organised by Sinema Media.
The following is a transcription of a Q&A session from the NYFA screening at the Golden Harvest Awards. Do take note that there are some spoilers for the films below!
Organisers Chng Ying Tong and Miranda Cardenas (Sinema Media)
Sylvia director Sabrina Poon with actor Phoebe Lin
Pencil director Gina Tan
CA$H director Tan Wei Ting
Breakdown director Gabriel Isaac Goh
1% Chance of Sunshine director Anthea Ng, with actors Kung Ling Yuan and Tseng Zi Yu
Host: Hu Yan Kai
Transcriber: Lin Cheng Yi
Host: Please briefly introduce yourself and what NYFA is about.
Project Manager Chng Ying Tong: Hello everyone, my name is Ying Tong. Singapore’s National Youth Film Awards is a platform to recognise emerging Singaporean films and filmmakers. There are two categories: the Open Youth category and the Media Student category. Breakdown is the only winning film from the student category that will be screened in Taiwan; the rest are from the Open Youth category. To be eligible for the awards, directors have to be between the ages of 15-35.
Host: Okay, now let’s have the five directors introduce themselves, and explain why each of you chose these themes for your films.
Director Gina Tan: I am the director of Pencil. I wanted to make this film because this is a story that I wanted to tell since primary school, and I finally had the opportunity to film it.
Director Gabriel Isaac Goh: It’s a personal experience for me; when I was studying I did similar work — although the film is not based on a true story. But it is inspired by a similar experience that I had.
Director Anthea Ng: I am the director of 1% Chance of Sunshine. I had previously spent a month in Taiwan, attending classes at the Godot Theatre. Something that I felt I was lacking was that I didn’t know how to write scripts. Since I was in Taiwan, I gained some inspiration for a story and began discussing with a friend for help. The pre-production went smoothly and I met the actors for my film. Together, we successfully shot 1% Chance of Sunshine.
Host, to Zi Yu and Ling Yuan: When Anthea approached you, were you surprised?
Actor Tseng Zi Yu: At first, I couldn’t believe that Anthea would want me to act in her film. I was afraid I would ruin it. After watching the film, I realised that she brought out another aspect of myself — and that the other side of my face looks good on camera! It’s an interesting character to play; when approaching something or someone closed off, my character accepts it — he doesn’t try to force things open. Just like how people who are destined to meet will eventually meet, and if there’s another chance they will meet again.
Actress Kung Ling Yuan: I actually saw the call for audition on Facebook. I think that Anthea’s work is really special and is rather poetic. I decided to talk to her and it was my first time having an audition through a casual chat. I got the role after that chat. I was surprised to hear when she told me the male lead would be Zi Yu. I found the shooting process fun, perhaps because I just finished filming The Delicacy, and the way Anthea went about shooting 1% Chance of Sunshine was one I’ve never seen before. I had never experienced a director handling the narrative short film in a documentary manner; it was a fresh experience. I felt like I learned a lot. A lot of things fell into place during the shoot. Anthea dreamed there would be a cat in the scene; coincidentally, there was a cat in the shot. I felt like filming was not as hard as I imagined it could be.
Director Tan Wei Ting: Hello everyone, I am the director of CA$H. This film, like Sylvia, is also funded from the same film grant by Temasek 2020. The theme was to explore what the future of Singapore might be. At the same time, the programme sets out to encourage youths to make such films. While researching for the film, I read a report that was more than 100 pages long regarding unemployment rates. In an age where technology is rapidly advancing, we are bound to witness many new changes. Just like how it was during the fourth industrial revolution, the report estimated that the change will occur sooner than expected. This short film was done a year ago. My mother was a supermarket cashier then, though at that point of time, her supermarket had not yet installed any cashier machines.
Director Sabrina Poon: Both our films discuss the future of Singapore. Actually, I had been writing the script for three years but never decided when to actually shoot it. We decided to focus on mental health because future technology often focuses on the state of mind. In my short film, we explore Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m also glad to work with Phoebe, who was introduced to me via my Director of Photography.
Actor Phoebe Lin: Sabrina was very strict; before I met her, I only talked to her on the phone. She asked for a video audition tape and asked me to shoot in four different segments. I only realised she was very young and laughed a lot when she came to pick me up from the airport. At work, you could tell she was a very serious director. She even involved her own mother in the film, who had to film a scene where she was drowning in the pool.
Director Sabrina Poon: It was also my first time directing my mother. The most unforgettable memory for me was when Phoebe arrived in Singapore. She was rehearsing scenes with my mother since it was my mother’s first acting experience. Seeing my own mother become someone else’s mother felt very strange indeed.
Actor Phoebe Lin: During the scene where the mother was drowning, I left the set because I couldn’t bear to watch someone else’s mother being dragged down in the water. It doesn’t matter whose mother it was. Fortunately that scene was shot quickly and I could breathe a sigh of relief once it was over.
Audience Member A: I’d like to ask, is the director of 1% Chance of Sunshine Singaporean? Does the red umbrella in the film carry any significance? Why did you decide to cast a Taiwanese actor?
Director Anthea Ng: I stayed in Taipei for a month which also happened to be during the rainy season and I carried around an umbrella with me everyday. Because I’m petite, I get claustrophobic in crowds and having an umbrella gives me a sense of security — at least the people bumping into me will not be able to enter my space. Therefore the red umbrella in the film helps to visually create a sense of personal space for the protagonist. She’s only able to let her guard down when she reads and enter her reading space. I didn’t have much requirement for the dialogue because it felt unnecessary. She was often in her own world, so there was rarely any conversation. It was only when she saw a strange object enter her world that she could slowly experience the emotion. She did not see the need to interact with other people, until that moment — the first time someone entered her space. As for the actor, I wanted to cast Zi Yu because he tends to be pegged as a comedian. During a chat with him, we did not discuss about acting; rather, we had a deep conversation about the story.
Audience Member B: Why did the director of Sylvia want to explore this topic in the film?
Director Sabrina Poon: I feel that many Singaporeans face a lot of stress in society, just like some of my friends who have depression. They actually have been repressing their emotions for a while, and I only found out about it after more than a year. I felt ashamed because we’re such good friends, yet I never realised what they’re going through. Therefore in the film, everything appears very normal, but the moment she’s alone, she could hear herself clearer. My sister studies psychology, so I read a lot of her research. When people knew that I wanted to make this film, they thought I wanted to make a film on suicide or depression and they disapproved of it. I hope that with Sylvia, people are able to understand that PTSD patients may appear very normal, but they are also facing an immense amount of stress.
Audience Member C: The doctor in Sylvia eventually wiped away her memories. What does the director think about wiping memories in general? Do you have plans to make Sylvia into a feature length film?
Director Sabrina Poon: The ending of Sylvia is open-ended so that it can start a discussion. Actually, it could be good to use technology to remove your memories and speed up the healing process. But in taking away our memories, we are losing a part of ourselves. Someone once told me: if one day the government legalises this method, I believe PTSD patients would take it. Of course, there are going to be ethical issues. Therefore if we do face such a possibility one day, we must approach it reasonably.
Actor Phoebe Lin: Actually this topic is very sensitive to them, because suicide in Singapore is illegal.
Director Tan Wei Ting: My father’s friend recently attempted suicide. When my father rushed to the scene, he was escorted away in handcuffs. If the suicide isn’t successful, you will be punished by cane.
Aside from the screenings at Golden Harvest Awards 2019, the NYFA films went on to be screened for the Singapore Trade Office in Taipei, Taipei National University of the Arts, and the Kaohsiung Film Archive. It was part of a programme to bring Singaporean films and directors across Taiwan. Currently, both Sylvia and CA$H are available for viewing online. Be sure to catch these films by our talented young filmmakers.