Staff Picks From the National Youth Film Awards 2020 Nominations10 min readReading Time: 7 minutes
It wasn’t easy to narrow down our picks amongst the nominees of this year’s National Youth Film Awards. From the raw, gripping drama of Ashwind Menon’s What We May Be, to the quiet grace of Gladys Ng’s Under The Same Pink Sky, all 53 short films dared to tackle deep-seated issues with the brimming vigour and sharp insights that only youths can provide.
These films all scored high points amongst the Sinema team for their mature handling of themes and technical virtuosity. No matter the theme or subject, these films are often soaked in style (not just for style’s sake!) while boasting excellent art direction.
Split between the Media Student and Open Youth categories, the films are further grouped into live-action, documentary, and animation. Some of the nominated films are available to watch online however there are no plans as of yet by NYFA to screen all of the films to the public. Do keep a lookout for these films as part of other programmes or festivals!
While the competition’s winners will be announced later in this month, we couldn’t contain our excitement in sharing our picks out of a very competitive year.
Media Student Category:
Kebelakang Pusing (Live Action)
Director, Writer: Gerard Dominic Nagulendran
Sound Designer, Editor: Tan Jia Chuan
Art Director: Nicia Lam
Cinematographer: Shawn Yeo
Composer: Tan E-Reng
Cast: Max Lee, Jayden Lim Jun De, Cheung Kashing
Each nominee seemingly stretched their budgets to the limits to create gorgeous and atmospheric visualscapes. Gerard Nagulendran’s Kebelakang Pusing shows that focus and a relatively modest budget are more than enough to weave a compelling story.
An all-boys secondary school looks to commemorate Total Defence Day with classes simulating what life was like under Japanese Occupation. Three National Cadet Corps (NCC) members are tasked to take on the roles of Japanese Occupation soldiers presiding over a class. When the class fails to take things seriously, the soldiers’ leader slowly slips deeper and deeper into their roles.
The short film harkens to Lord of the Flies, with a narrative that almost feels unimaginable in Singapore, and even less so in a school setting. There are definitely moments that do feel unrealistic, particularly with how there wasn’t any collective retaliation by the class full of boys against three NCC members armed with toy batons.
This is pushed to the background with an excellent leading performance by Max Lee, seamlessly transforming from a meek student pushed too far to a tyrant. While the technical work readily supplies an ever-tense atmosphere, perhaps what is most potent about the short is how this is paired with a lead that consistently reacted and behaved like any schoolboy would.
Kebelakang Pusing is an expertly crafted short that seemingly criticises Singaporean’s complacency in taking the nation’s security for granted, while drawing attention to the thin line that separates us from anarchy.
His Bottom Line (Documentary)
Director: Chew Yun Yan
Sound designer: Chan Soo Chee
Editor: Vernetta Lim
Cinematographer: Tang Wenchao
Composer: Ahmadul Amin
Yes, we have already highlighted His Bottom Line in our piece spotlighting LASALLE College of The Arts’s 2020 film school graduates – we couldn’t help but give the spotlight again to the documentary.
His Bottom Line gives a glimpse into the life of a middle-aged bachelor with a very specific requirement for his better half. Inherent in Ah Guan’s actions and dispositions is a general sense of uncomfortableness for the observer, such as with his social awkwardness and with how his quest for a wife mostly starts and ends with him walking around with a sign advertising himself.
Yet the documentary tirelessly looks to rebel against our predisposed assumptions of such a peculiar character. Never shirking away from the difficult and pressing questions, the documentary unravels pieces of ourselves within Ah Guan. He is, like so many of us, a helpless romantic, unwilling to believe that prospects on the internet would have their photos altered. He is, like all of us, just an animal looking for a home.
Without the deftness and dedication to balance demonstrated by the team, the documentary would have easily collapsed into one that only mocks and shocks. His Bottom Line definitely has the advantage of a sensational and memorable subject compared with the rest of the field. However, that in no way should take away from how it nails its intricate balancing act to create an exceptionally engaging documentary.
Director, Art Director, Cinematographer: Mark Chee
Sound designer, Editor, Writer: Johan Rashid Jesmee
The visual overload and fatigue that could only come after a long day packed with short films was the perfect mood to experience GUNKWORLD. The closer for the private preview screening of the Media Student category felt like a fever dream in all the best ways.
GUNKWORLD is a twisted love letter to retro Japanese television – not just of its programmes but also of its notorious reputation for absolutely bonkers commercials. The animated short follows a cartoon series that rapidly gains popularity before eventually infiltrating every facade of life.
It may be easy to dismiss the outlandish animation style and tone to be off-the-wall just for the sake of it but there is a clear, terrifying method to its madness. There are no jump scares to be had in GUNKWORLD yet it still manages to be hair-raising with how well it subverts the comforting nature of television.
The short emulates the average television viewing experience through its frequent channel switches. This rapid pace not only keeps the film engaging with something mind-bending around each corner, but also serves as a creative narrative device.
In the age of science and technology, traditional forms of horror such as monsters and demons have undeniably lost some of its grip. GUNKWORLD perhaps offers a glimpse of the future of horror by tapping on unsettling modern truths with a premise that could only work as a short. It’s a short that surely has to be experienced.
Open Youth Category:
Hello Ahma (Live Action)
Director: Tan Siyou
Cast: Sofie Yu Xuan Yang, Dawn Ying Yuen, Wu Mama, Peter Boon Koh
The main reason why Hello Ahma stands out as a special film to us is with how it manages to continuously tug at our heartstrings. Following a little girl who recently lost her grandmother, the short film explores how a young child, without an understanding of the concept of death and loss, deals with the subject. She projects her love for her grandmother onto her new pet turtle and gets up to mischief with it. That’s a premise enough to melt any heart!
Dabbling in such a heavy subject matter through a short film is no mean feat as it is exceedingly difficult to encapsulate the complexities of death in that time. Interestingly, there isn’t much dialogue in Hello Ahma with several silent moments, all working out in setting the film’s tone – sobriety.
The lowly-lit scenes also complement its quietness, presenting a sort of stillness to the viewers, encouraging them to create an emotional attachment with the innocence of the child and embark on a journey of healing with her.
The artistic choices, such as with the screenplay and visuals, helps the viewer quickly invest and immerse themselves in the world of the young child. The factor that moves the needle for this film is how heartwarming it is, all while being a moving visual treat.
The Wheelsmith (Documentary)
Director: Saravanan Sam
Editor: Ko Shui Min
Composer: Danial Bawthan
The Wheelsmith is a well put together and much-needed package of inspiration, gratitude and resilience. The five-and-a-half minute documentary spotlights Danial Bawthan, a self-taught rapper and sound designer who also suffers from muscular dystrophy. Did I mention that he is also an avid wheelchair rugby player?
Bawthan’s spirited personality is at the centre of the film, with his infectious will and tenacity leaving viewers engrossed. Sam makes a risky but bold decision to keep his filmmaking as simple as possible, leaving the limelight solely on Bawthan. With a documentary, the challenge is not being able to curate dialogues, as creators. In The Wheelsmith, Sam struck gold with Bawthan’s quick wit and ease in engaging the audience. His is extremely likeable and viewers will find themselves rooting for his journey.
In a memorable moment, Bawthan compares himself to a dying plant because of his condition but says that he is adamant to make his time count by insisting on dropping a seed. The documentary consistently has moments like these to keep viewers riveted, while pointing to the team’s maturity in restraint.
The Brown Dog (Animation)
Directors: Andre Quek & Jerrold Chong
Sound designer: Chong Xin Ying
Art Director: Andre Quek
Editor: Jia Lee
Cinematographer: Victor Gan
Composer: Sng Ye Min
Dedicated to the Animal Lovers League, The Brown Dog is based on a true story modelled after the organisation’s founder, Cathy. The organisation is also one of the longest-serving animal shelters in Singapore. The film follows an abandoned little puppy with a severed foreleg and his struggles for survival in the cruel world of humans.
What is most striking about the film is its artstyle. The puppy springs to life through vivid animation, yet he is juxtaposed with live backgrounds of everyday Singapore. This creative and unique direction invokes great sympathy for the dog whenever it scavenges for food while hiding from the abuse of humans. Although it is animated, the live backgrounds keep the dog close enough to reality to allow viewers to feel for it.
The film sends an important message of kindness to all living things and encourages people not to abandon their pets in a world that is not safe for them. The juxtaposition of reality and animation shows the jarring contrast of how different the world is for humans and animals – something that is often overlooked in everyday life.
– Staff Picks: Films We Are Still Looking Forward to In 2020
– Presenting the 2020 Film School Graduate Productions: LASALLE College of the Arts
– INTERVIEW: NYFA Filmmakers At Taiwan’s Golden Harvest Short Film Festival