Anthology Series REGARDLESS OF Paints a Youth-Centric Vision of Singapore
Regardless Of is an anthology film series starring the works of six polytechnic and university students and graduates. Launched by the Ministry of Communications and Information, the series gave these youths the opportunity to work with industry partners, Tribal Worldwide Singapore and MLC TV, which provided them mentorship and production support.
With each clocking in at under five minutes, these five films – divided into different times of the day – offer a youth-centric perspective of local issues and how government initiatives could improve the quality of life of them and their family. These issues range from social mobility to transportation.
Taken together, I felt that Regardless Of is an excellent sampling of what these fresh crop of filmmakers would bring to the future. There is heart in their works with clear visions of what stories they want to craft and what emotions they want to bring out with the meagre runtime handed to them. Yet, I also couldn’t help but feel that they were unfortunately held back by forces beyond their control.
While having to integrate government programs into their narratives would probably lead to some eye-rolls by ever-so-pessimistic Singaporeans, I felt that the bigger culprit was – ironically – with the professional production support for the films. While it did expose them to the industry standard, I think it also led to an uniform sheen throughout the five films. Singapore looks far too clean, far too bright, and far too sanitised to ground the narratives.
Nevertheless, Regardless Of is a welcome initiative by being excellent opportunities for these young filmmakers. Most face the task of promoting government programmes by wrapping them around believable, relatable and natural stories. These all-around well-made short films can now be viewed online on Gov.sg’s official Youtube page, all compiled into a convenient playlist.
Below are my brief takeaways from each of the five shorts:
Chapter 1: 9am – 11am
By Iqbal Saifuddin Ahmad, 27, National University of Singapore (Business and Communications & New Media)
The short centres around a brief conversation between father and son over a cup of morning coffee. The son is in a rush back to work but his father chides him for not spending enough time with his old man.
With banter that never turns tense, both actors do a great job in relaying the father and son chemistry, nailing the rather casual feel of the conversation while alluding to a deeper history between the two.
This, however, is sabotaged by the short’s rampant use of shallow focus. While the food shop they are in definitely sounds like one, it hardly looks like one with the camera mostly only centreing at the immediate subject, leading to a scene that barely looks Singaporean.
Regardless, the engaging dialogue and loving chemistry between the two leads both allude to a strong directing hand.
Chapter 2: 12pm – 2pm
By Lionel Sea, Ngee Ann Polytechnic (Film, Sound & Video)
The afternoon sees primary school student Cheryl excitedly returning home to top up her piggy bank. After realising that her grandmother still hasn’t recovered from her cough she is faced with a dilemma – should she use the money to buy a pencil box that she has been eyeing, or use it to bring her grandmother to the doctor?
This is the short that I enjoyed the most out of the bunch. The short charms with its borderline whimsical set design and an adorable pair of grandmother and granddaughter, all drenched in an innocent pink hue.
While all these shorts are plugging something, it is here where the appearance of government programmes feels the most earned, creating a scenario that is both believable yet endearing.
Chapter 3: 4pm – 6pm
By Lan Yu, National University of Singapore (Global Studies) and Ong Ren Wei, Temasek Polytechnic (Digital Film & Television)
Chapter 3 stands out with its handling of two concurrent narratives, following two families moving into their new flats. The Chua family has just upgraded from a rental flat while Madam Aminah next door has right-sized her house after the passing of her husband.
While both segments employ equally effective shots to frame the anticipation of these families, the performances in both households did not pull equal weights. In the Chua household, the overacted laughs and smiles diminished the simple, unromanticised joy of moving into their future home.
On the other hand, the soft tension next door with Madam Aminah and her son is welcome in presenting a light dose of bittersweet happiness. Even with the short clocking in at well under five minutes, it still exudes a sense of home giving a glimpse of the exciting start of these two families’ journey.
Chapter 4: 7pm – 9pm
By Sunder Nagayah, Nanyang Technological University (Digital Filmmaking)
With the day coming to a close, a young woman walks up to his father’s study room to talk to him about her university scholarship. While she received an acceptance letter, she is unable to share the joy with her father as she has to make a difficult decision for the sake of the family.
While the short is dominated by the conversation between the two, a story rings out in the technical aspects as well. The wistful soundtrack and a warm old-timely ambience makes a concerted effort in locking down the seniority of the father. This space is carefully intruded by his young daughter, confronting her father’s reluctance to upgrade himself through government programmes because of his fears that he is too old.
The drama between the two leads is palpable with their detailed performances, leading to an engaging short that succinctly captures how the government’s efforts in education affects Singaporeans of all ages.
Chapter 5: 11pm – 1am
By Sherry Yap, Nanyang Technical University (Digital Filmmaking)
The afterhours of the day presents a rather implausible scenario: after her colleague is made fun of for taking public transport in formal wear, Jane, a young executive, is on her way home after a night out with colleagues but she is marooned at the taxi stand with her supervisor. Awkwardness ensues as she pretends to wait for a cab that never comes.
While the short does look like it’s set in Singapore, it doesn’t necessarily feel like it’s set in the local context. There are a few question marks hovering around its narrative. Characters follow road crossing rules when there are no cars around. These elements saps the short of its relatability. However, I still enjoyed the playful dynamic between the two characters. Here, the series’ determination to use shallow focus pays off with how the camera chases every animated expression on its leads, creating a performance-driven piece that is worthwhile fun.