Staff Picks: SeaShorts Competition 20219 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
SeaShorts Film Festival 2021 opens its virtual doors today! Taking place entirely online, 15 USD will entitle festival-goers to over 60 short films from Southeast Asia and beyond, as well as exclusive access to masterclasses and workshops. Check out the festival’s full lineup of films and grab your tickets now at seashorts.org.
Now on its fifth edition, the SeaShorts Film Festival invites Southeast Asian filmmakers to share their visions and stories unique to the region, and to challenge the boundaries of the short film format. Perhaps most emblematic of its goal is the festival’s opening program: a collection of Pantun films created under the guidance of multi-hyphenate Filipino director Khavn de la Cruz.
SeaShorts Film Festival 2021 will also be shining a spotlight on the very best filmmakers from the Mekong region with its Dispatches series, as well as curated selections from the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, the Image Forum Festival and the Golden Harvest Film Festival.
Apart from the film programmes, 20 shortlisted films from eight Southeast Asian countries will be competing for the coveted SeaShorts Award. This year’s jury consists of producer and film festival programmer Raymond Phathanavirangoon (Thailand), producer Meiske Taurisia (Indonesia), director Phan Dang Di (Vietnam), playwright and poet Alfian Sa’at (Singapore), and artist and illustrator Sonny Liew (Malaysia/Singapore). Winners of the award will be taking home prizes sponsored by Aputure, Zoom, and Deity, as well as a cash prize from Da Huang Pictures.
Sinema.SG had the opportunity to catch all of the spectacular films in competition this year — here are our must-sees from each of the five programmes.
Competition Programme 1
Dir. Yam Kin Wai
An official selection of the 2020 Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, Malaysian drama Pulang retells a common nightmare amongst hopeful sons and daughters-in-law. A son returns home to Malaysia, bringing along his Taiwanese fiancee to meet his folks and to tell them about their engagement.
It’s a short film that thrives in the mundane, while all-too-effectively presenting the passive-aggressiveness and awkwardness that is so often present in meeting the future in-laws for the first time — especially when the son sprang the news of their engagement without the parents’ approval. Cultural differences are another central theme, mainly expressed through the mix of Chinese dialects the parents converse in that are foreign to the Taiwanese.
Yet, there is a lingering sense that the divides are minimal at best, occasionally bubbling into frustration but always within arms reach of an understanding. So much unsaid is expressed through its deceivingly straightforward script, presenting a slice-of-life that ultimately prevails as gentle and warm.
Competition Programme 2
Dir. Ostin Fam
BINH meditates on the spiritual desolation found amidst the construction of towering mega-temples in Vietnam. The Vietnamese arthouse short follows an alien, in the guise of a human, making a pitstop on our planet while observing strangers equally alienated from their own lands.
Featuring gorgeous shots of the countryside, perhaps most notable about BINH is its blend of monotones and otherworldly pink tints, painting a familiar, almost timeless home invaded by forces beyond any of the characters’ recognition. The approach is experimental but the short’s message remains piercing: a widow escapes from his loneliness through tobacco and religion, while a medium with a connection to the otherworld only concerns herself with material needs.
BINH reflects director Ostin Fam’s own estrangement returning home to find the commodification of religion and religious institutions, delivering his frustration through striking compositions and notable performances from the cast.
Competition Programme 3
Sunrise in My Mind
Dir. Danech San
Featuring absolutely exquisite cinematography coloured by a stunning palette, Sunrise in My Mind elevates the meandering daydreams of two love birds into peak romanticism. A hairdresser carries on her day at work while being teased by her co-workers about her crush, a delivery man who stops by at the end of her shifts.
Both characters carry an air of sweet innocence about the courtship that, while prevalent in classic love stories and fairy tales, feels near-magical in today’s world and through director Danech San’s lens. Neon blues transport viewers to a bygone time, washing away any and all cynicism to hone in on the simple exhilaration that comes with a lover’s touch.
Sunrise in My Mind is achingly beautiful in how it is able to so profoundly capture the tiny, personal space shared by lovers under the blanketing hustle and bustle of modern life.
Competition Programme 4
Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing on the Still Trembling Berlin Wall
Dir. Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke
Through clever homages to Thai-dubbed films from the Cold War era, Red Aninsri… examines the power of personal voices through its charming yet dour premise. The short film follows a ladyboy prostitute tasked by the government to spy on and rat out a student activist. Plans take a left turn when emotions get in the way between them.
Red Aninsri… depicts a world in a perpetual identity crisis. Genders, appearances, roles, and even voices are constantly in flux. Notions of rebellions against the authorities twist to become part of their plans. It seems the only escape from the absurdity, the only nugget of truth in its world is in a lover’s embrace — yet even that is questionable beyond what could be physically felt.
The short presents an alternative answer, where characters only experience rapturous warmth and freedom from the modern Cold War once they find their own voices.
Competition Programme 5
I Took A Nap And I Miss You
Dir. Shelby Kho
The marvellously quick-witted mockumentary examines the nature of intimacy through the perspectives of three generations of women. A death in the family has reverberated silent earthquakes. Teenager Gigi finds herself in self-doubt while at the cusp of a young relationship. Her dilemma is worsened by her kid sister Stacy’s talks with her imaginary boyfriend. Looking to keep the sisters together is mother Liz, who quietly struggles with parenthood and with the loss of her life partner.
It’s startling the depth of emotions and thought-provoking questions unearthed through the short’s relatively brief runtime. I Took A Nap…embraces a tongue-in-cheek approach with its mockumentary format. Gigi taking stabs at her younger sister, Liz admitting her fears that she might be raising her kids wrongly, Stacy blissfully nonchalant about the ongoing tension — they all bring a refreshing sincerity that coalesces into a heartbreaking examination of what love can give and rip away at a moment’s notice.
For all the latest updates on all things SeaShorts, follow the festival over on Facebook and Instagram. The festival will also be hosting Q&A sessions with all the participating filmmakers on their Facebook page throughout the run.
Sinema.SG is currently on the lookout for regional correspondents to share their perspectives on Southeast Asian cinema and to report on-the-ground film news! Reach out to us at email@example.com for more details.