Presenting the 2020 Film School Graduate Productions: LASALLE College of the Arts12 min readReading Time: 8 minutes
The graduating class of 2020 has had to face some unanticipated and unusual circumstances this year, what with the COVID-19 redefining what our ‘normal’ truly entails. Graduation ceremonies have either been cancelled or postponed, not to mention new policies making the already gruelling procedures that go behind filmmaking even more testing.
Nevertheless, this year’s graduating film students have stood up to these unfamiliar challenges, successfully delivering their fruits of labour. This edition focuses on the shorts produced by Lasalle’s 2020 Graduates from the Puttnam School of Film & Animation. Here’s just a brief rundown of their films, proving the current promise that the local film industry possesses.
Garden of Ether
Director: Amanda Tan
Producer: Boey Hui Ling
Scriptwriters: Amanda Tan, Deepa Ayathorai
Assistant Director: Jonathan Chow
Cast: Oon Shu An, Jesslyn Gabriele Tanoto, Keagan Kang
Garden of Ether is a thriller drama film that follows mystery novelist Sandra (Oon Shu An), as her own life is turned upside down. Sandra’s career leaves her little time to spend with her young daughter, Anna (Jesslyn Gabriele Tanoto). Sandra’s life eventually unfolds in a manner that is eerily similar to her latest novel, ‘Apparition’. A mysterious phantom lurks and haunts the family, ultimately culminating in a tragedy.
As chilling as the film is, what struck me the most is with how depression, grief and loss becomes symbolically represented. These are the horrors that fester within us silently, and even sometimes without our own awareness until we are unable to cope with them anymore. Garden of Ether is well-written and gripping, an effective contemplative piece on human weaknesses.
His Bottom Line 蒙在股里
Director: Chew Yun Yan
Assistant Director: Trudy Gold Lukamto
Producer: Adeline Tan
Out of all the films I was able to watch, His Bottom Line perhaps takes the cake in terms of the most unforgettable. It’s a short documentary on 57-year old bachelor Ah Guan, who is on the mission to finally settle down with a wife. His modus operandi? Walking through the streets with a sign that says: “From my heart, honest man need a wife, any age, look, race, ok. But back must nice. Will pamper you like baby.” Now, you may be very confused, and so was I.
His Bottom Line has a strange allure. There’s a part within us that can’t help but sympathise with Ah Guan, while also feeling disturbed by some of his perspectives on women and relationships – to put it lightly. He is willing to try every avenue to find love, but also has very specific requirements (like that unusually specific criteria of having a nice back). To be honest, I was creeped out several times. Yet Ah Guan’s perseverance and unsuspecting nature somehow still makes it difficult to dislike him
This film captured my attention completely – it opened my eyes to the extensive array of personalities that walk the streets. The coexistence of his naivete and provocative motivations just serves to highlight how complex mankind really is.
Director: GurJeevan Singh Balrose
Producer: GurJeevan Singh Balrose
Co-Producer: Spencer Lam
Vichora (meaning separated in Punjabi) is an eye-opening documentary about the India and Pakistan partition in 1947, and the poignant consequences that came about as a result. Featuring first-hand accounts, Vichora uncovers how the everyday people of India and Pakistan suffered because of religious and political corruption.
One of those that were interviewed said something incredibly piercing – “If I meet my cousins on the street, I wouldn’t even recognize them and they wouldn’t even recognise me”. As someone who only knew the bare minimum about the 1947 separation, this was particularly sobering. It really gives you a sense of just how destructive the separation was, as opposed to the political conflicts that tend to dwarf personal losses. Even more harrowing is the fact that the British just sat back and watched as political fanaticism consumed India and Pakistan from within.
The grief and betrayal that they experienced is unimaginable. Vichora is a much-needed revelation of the personal, human experiences that more people should know about.
Director: Ong Shu Yang
Assistant Director: Elton Low
Producer: Kellie Kuah
Cast: Alysia Tay, Kayden Ong, Abby Lai
It’s the 1960s. We’re in the prime of Singapore’s “Stop at Two” policy. A young girl is growing anxious as her mother awaits the birth of her sibling, which would be her second sibling. Fearing that she would have to be displaced because of the directive, she attempts to conceal all the government publicity that is sent to her home.
One of Stork’s greatest strengths is definitely in their visuals. Immersing audiences in the world of the film is particularly important for period pieces, and Stork does this well. The subdued, homely colours reflected the zeitgeist of the time, and even with the adorable innocence of a young child convinced that she is about to be removed from the picture.
Nichol Doesn’t Eat
Director: Aloysius Ong
Producer: Jonathan Chow
Nichol Doesn’t Eat is a short biopic that tackles the difficult topic of Eating Disorders (ED). We follow Nichol, a pregnant woman with an ED, navigating herself through her pregnancy, family responsibilities and her own mental health.
What I loved the most about Nichol Doesn’t Eat is the authenticity that is communicated across. It speaks openly about the realities of someone with an ED, without either romanticising or sugar-coating their experiences. Instead we have the everyday life of a caring mother, who only wants the best for her children but also has to deal with her own difficulties.
Even though I know that anyone can suffer from an ED, for some reason it never once occurred to me that mothers, and pregnant ones at that, have ED. Nichol’s circumstances were new to me, but the sobering reality is that she isn’t alone. ED is one of the most difficult psychological conditions to treat, and it can carry on even in later life. Ultimately, Nichol Doesn’t Eat brings to light the necessity of all forms of support for mental health.
Director: Anja Dimova
Producer: Spencer Lam Wei Rong
Scriptwriter: Jorna Lee Jun Hao
Assistant Director: Hariz Zulkifli
Cast: Samuel Josiah Howie, Iva Haney Insyirah
Cornflakes Pyramid, on the surface, centres around the jolly and light-hearted shenanigans of two very different young children. But beyond the quirky and off-beat style of the film, Cornflakes Pyramid speaks of an important topic – racial sensitivities.
David (Samuel Josia Howie), a mischievous Caucasian boy, encounters Afiqah (Iva Haney Insyirah), a young Muslim girl, in the supermarket. David constantly teases Afiqah, which eventually leads to him making a huge mess in the store, and pulling off her hijab. I was shocked by the child’s sheer ignorance of his behaviour, to say the least.
Such conduct, backgrounded by the comedic tone of the film, is precisely what makes Cornflakes Pyramid significant. Privileged people are often unaware of the consequences of their thoughtless actions, aptly represented by David’s juvenile teasing. Fortunately, Afiqah gets through to David. Poking fun of each other is normal for kids, but this encounter speaks of how even innocent intentions can be harmful. Perhaps Cornflakes Pyramid can teach us a thing or two.
Late Bloomer 老花眼 老花眼
Director: Lim Jing
Producer: Farah Diyanah Razid
Scriptwriter: Jonathan Chow
Assistant Director: Aloysius Ong
Cast: Choo Ai Keow, Cana Yu
Though she may be advanced in her years, Ee King’s (Choo Ai Keow) lust for life and spirit remains steadfast. Late Bloomer follows her life and her keen interest in photography. She has a heartening perspective on the world and her place in it, something that’s not easy to sustain after all those years caring for her entire family.
Late Bloomer gives us pause for thought as to what life really is. Is it about our family? Our career? What if we’ve obtained all these things? The melancholic, yet affirmative visuals in Late Bloomer perfectly encapsulates the bittersweet nature of old age.
We will come to a point in our lives where we think we’ve done everything that’s expected of us, which may leave us feeling aimless. But Ee King withstands what so many old folks tend to face. She doesn’t let herself get bogged down, even when old age inevitably catches up. This childlike wonder about the world around despite the passage of time is something that I hope to preserve.
Sangkar Burung (Birdcage)
Director: Nasrullah Zaren
Producer: Farah Diyanah Razid
Scriptwriter: Nasrullah Zaren
Sangkar Burung is a humble portrayal of a seemingly ordinary life of Senin and his wife, who spend their days mostly at home due to their old age. Senin has to take care of his less mobile life, yet at the ripe old age of 83, Senin boasts an extraordinary craft.
Senin is a woodworker, making intricate wood crafts that seem too laborious for his age. His meticulousness is remarkable, something that I’ll admit I could never even dream to come close to. His latest client requested for a wooden birdcage, equipped with traps and all. Sangkar Burung showcases that we can find genuine pleasures in life even in seemingly unremarkable circumstances.
Elephant in the Room
Director: Hariz Zukifli
Producer: Chia Choong Kai
Scriptwriter: Hariz Zulkifil
As an animal lover myself, Elephant in the Room was a particularly gripping watch. Elephant caretaker Somsak Reingngen died in Nomber 2017 after being attacked by his elephant Ekasit. Today, his son Ake has to take care of not only his own elephant, but also his father’s killer.
What’s amazing to me is Ake’s composure and poise even after such a tragedy. Of course, a traumatic event brought about unimaginable pain to the family, but his relationship with the elephants remains humane and compassionate.
Elephant in the Room is illuminating on several levels. First, the film discusses the natural phenomenon known as musth, a period of aggression during an elephant’s lifetime. But the film also touches on the inexplicable connection between man and animal, the mutual dependence that one has for the other.
What We May Be
Director: Ashwind Menon
Producer: Khid Abdul Jalil
Scriptwriter: Khid Abdul Jalil
Assistant Director: Gurjeevaan Singh Balrose
Cast: Aric Hidir Amin, Hermie Latiff
What We May Be is a short drama that follows an ex-convict and the difficulties thrown his way as he attempts to reintegrate himself into society. Facing discrimination due to his background and struggling to make ends meet for his son, he is forced to reckon with his values and priorities.
The film touches on pertinent social issues that are still rife today. Most people are aware of the harmful nature of racial intolerance, but less are sensitive to the plight of ex-convicts who have been rehabilitated. The actors’ performances are also impressive, further highlighting the profound difficulties they go through.
There’s still a stigma attached to ex-convicts, and understandably so, but we’re reminded that they too, are striving to live a better life and provide for their families. From criminal justice to racial affairs, What We May Be provides an illuminating perspective that we all can benefit from.
Mera Bhai (My Brother)
Director: Shreela Agarwal
Producer: Wong Jade Xin
Writer: Daniel Yang & Shreela Agarwal
Assistant Director: Dione Goh
Cast: Aditya Srivastava, Syah Riszuan Bin Huslan, Sandeep Yadav
Mera Bhai is about the immigrant community in Singapore and their struggles to get by. I was unable to watch the entire film, but just based on the trailer alone, Mera Bhai is another one that seems incredibly pertinent of late.
Ram, an illegal Indian-Muslim immigrant who survives by working odd jobs in Singapore is forced to face the dilemma of risking to care for Thanh, a helpless young Indonesian illegal immigrant, or continue to live his life with the burden of this child’s future.