Presenting the 2021 Film School Graduate Productions: Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media11 min readReading Time: 8 minutes
Almost two years on, a thick fog of uncertainty continues to hang above us all. It’s an anxiety that is, perhaps, even more achingly raw for all graduating students of these two years, having to dive headfirst into uncharted unknowns.
Titled “What Comes After”, this year’s showcase of films from the graduating cohort of Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media (NTU ADM) presents a collection of works that — above all else — is a testament to the resilience and creative ambitions of the school’s young filmmakers.
While none of the 10 films directly address the pandemic, the resulting malaise has no doubt seeped into their narratives — especially given the daunting challenges these filmmakers certainly confronted behind the scenes. Urgent themes are brought up but the focus remains on being humanistic and emotionally driven; to look at them at a micro rather than a macro level. It’s a perspective that is, perhaps unintentionally, a comforting response and escape from the seemingly top-down nature of our current lives.
This year’s graduating showcase is also tied together by similar stylistic influences. The recent popularity of ‘bisexual lighting’ as a visual aesthetic and the use of silence to punctuate emotional turning points is quite apparent amongst the films. The sea change of filmic influences between this new batch of filmmakers and previous generations is deftly felt.
Truly, “What Comes After” is a perfect encapsulation of these 10 graduating films. Resolutions are scarce amongst them; conclusions feel like the end of a chapter rather than a whole story. The films brim with the energy of having so much more to give and so much more to tell. And, certainly, for everyone in attendance at the industry screening, this has translated into an infectious excitement for everything that will come from these storytellers of our future.
A restaurant soon turns into The Auction where Gloria reveals her deeply buried desires and confronts her hunger for the ‘perfect’ life.
Director, Co-writer: Lim Zhong Wei
Producer, Co-writer: Chanel Chan
Director of Photography: Wong Jin Cheng
Editor: Alvin Ling
Sound Designer: Soong Check Eng
Production Designer: Low Zi Qi Cassandra
Starring: Yap Hui Xin, Julian Victor Tan
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/551506210
The film’s dedication to flair is matched only by its cynicism towards marriage and love. To tremendous effect, The Auction presents a barbed portrayal of material superficiality, imagining a marriage proposal as a business proposal with the playful back-and-forths between the couple taking centre stage. Excellent set design and wardrobe, and a tasteful dose of smugness from the supporting cast complete the film’s intoxicating bitterness.
While waiting for a passport photo to be printed, two friends from diverse backgrounds examine the state of their friendship and explore what having a Singaporean identity means to them.
Director-Writer: Christianne Chua
Producer: Chloe Nicole Leong
Director of Photography: Ryan Sng
Editor: Teo Jun Ming
Sound Designer: Jacob Chio
Production Designer: Joy Sim
Starring: Lim Shi-An, Sim Kee Joo
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/549590882
Go Home resonates like a deeply personal coming-of-age story, with two leads that do well at channelling the deep history their characters share. The camera work and use of music are great but there are a few stumbles along the way, particularly with how dialogues can feel clumsily written to force tension. And a Subsonic Eye superfan not knowing about the nice view behind The Projector is quite suspect.
Still, while these nitpicks did sap away some of the film’s latent emotions, Go Home succeeds as a bittersweet slice of teenage angst that is certainly comfortingly relatable for many, especially those soaked in the film’s world of dream pop.
A repressed single mother struggles with her sense of self and sexuality after finding out that her son’s female piano teacher has a romantic interest in her.
Director-Writer: Hannah Miles Wong
Producer: Sherry Yap
Director of Photography: Fendi Yasuda
Sound Designer: Alena Kristine Yeo
Production Designer: Celine Chee
Starring: Kimberly Kiew, Cassandra Spykerman
Film trailer: https://www.instagram.com/p/CVxicSAhGcO/
The short film is a celebration of the freedom that music can unlock for all of us, especially for those unjustly discriminated against because of who they love. How the film’s team is determined to tackle topics of sexuality is appreciated, especially when — as they have shared — this angle has made In Tune ineligible for any short film grants here. A few audio mixing issues aside, In Tune is a solid tale of unrequited romance brought forward by lovely performances.
The Pieces We Keep
During an En Bloc, an estranged mother and son decide which of their deceased father’s belongings to bring to their new house.
Director-Writer: Jacob Chio
Producer: Joy Sim
Director of Photography: Fendi Yasuda
Editor: Chloe Nicole Leong
Sound Designer: Christianne Chua
Production Designer: Cheng Si Min
Starring: Karen Lim, Jayden Lim
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/549213681
Featuring fantastic usage of lighting and nuanced actors in the lead, The Pieces We Keep is a heart-tugging look at the silent earthquakes a death in the family brings. What is particularly appreciated is how the short is not boxed into any particular mood. There is certainly tension between the film’s estranged mother and son but it makes a point to highlight their uneasy peace as well.
There is little to no handholding with the film’s writing either. Never pausing for details such as explaining why the duo is fighting over the family table definitely adds to the ease of being absorbed into the film’s emotional conclusion. This is without even touching on the marvellous performances from the two leads, each laying bare their character’s own perspectives and pain.
Pillars of Salt
On the shores of solipsism, Luis interrogates the impulses that led him into an affair with his married supervisor at work, to face the emotional absences driving his actions and the uncertainties of moving on.
Director: Hilman Haris Hor
Producer: Low Zi Qi Cassandra
Director of Photography: Alvin Ling
Editor: Soong Check Eng
Sound Designer: Lung Nok Wan
Production Designer: Whitney Tan
Starring: Benjamin Josiah Tan, Fauzah Mohd Noor, Gurdev Kaur Sharma, Yak Aik Wee
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/551396409
Pillars of Salt is superb. The film dives into the psyche of a man torn apart by his guilt of being in an adulterous affair and repeating the mistakes of his father.
Anchored by a nod to fellow alumnus Shafna’s graduating work A House Is Not A Home, the film moves in a circular motion, creating a fittingly disorientating atmosphere occasionally punctuated by dreamlike sequences and effective usage of mirrors as a visual motif. Pillars of Salt is, perhaps, the showcase’s most creatively ambitious work while being the most in line between vision and execution.
Reflections of a Housewife
An exploration of the life of a housewife.
Director: Alena Kristine Yeo
Producer: Celine Chee
Director of Cinematography: Sherry Yap
Editor: Hannah Miles Wong
Sound Designer: Ryan
Film Trailer: https://www.instagram.com/p/CWA3FVpB6Pa/
The documentary, which competed at this year’s National Youth Film Awards, provides an intimate snapshot of a housewife’s life. Several underappreciated and overlooked issues are brought to the forefront, including how housework hasn’t been seen as equal to any other office-bound job or career and how this affects how housewives have seen their own value.
Reflections of a Housewife directly challenges the notion that work should be measured against any monetary value, responding with cherished childhood home videos to showcase the pricelessness of a mother’s love.
Return The Night
Events over the course of the night unfold with only faint pieces of memory lingering, Xu Xin journeys, trying to make sense of what happened.
Director: Whitney Tan
Producer: Toh Wei Liang
Director of Photography: Shawn Ong
Editor: Lung Nok Wan
Sound Designer: Ryan Sng
Production Designer: Chanel Chan
Starring: Agnes Goh
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/551795676
Return The Night is an arresting look at the immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, It’s a subject matter that demands a certain level of bravery, and the film is unafraid to sit its audience down to face the uncomfortable and terrifying realities that might sickeningly hit close to home for far too many. Horror and trauma are omnipresent throughout, conjured through excellent shot compositions, lighting and sound design.
State of the Garden City
In the heart of the Singapore city, the close-knit community of an urban rejuvenation farm takes on the challenge of restoring the public’s connection with food & nature.
Director: Jethro Fernandez
Producer: Shawn Ong
Editor: Hilman Haris Hor
Director of Photography: Teo Jun Ming
Sound Designer: Toh Wei Liang
Film Trailer: https://youtu.be/_tPHI6Lii5A
The cosy documentary looks at sustainability in Singapore through the eyes of youths hopeful of lasting change. State of the Garden City moves at a candid and relaxing cadence, especially helped by the sun-soaked backdrops and the interviewees’ personable warmth. A keen eye to capture tiny moments of camaraderie and passion has to be noted as well, completing a well-deserved escape to a slower pace of life.
Take Me Home
A family on the verge of falling apart attempts to smuggle their dead grandmother across borders after she dies on their holiday in Malaysia.
Director: Kylen Ho
Producer: Deryck Tan
Cinematographer: Wind Loke
Editor: Wong Jin Cheng
Sound Designer: Ravindran Kobu
Production Designer: Lim Zhong Wei
Starring: Iris Li, Slyvester Tan, Darrell Chan, Fish Chaar
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/551397174
Standout road film Take Me Home embraces the absurd situation its characters face, expertly incorporating elements of grief and loss with well-positioned humour. The grounded chemistry shared amongst the leads hammer home relatable scenes of family tensions as easily as their strengths as a family unit. For its characters, cinematography and even-handed approaches towards its story, Take Me Home begs for a continuation.
Writings on the Wall
While digesting the abrupt death of his son, an old man seizes a 15-year-old vandal at his doorstep, and drags the boy along on a journey to unravel the cause of his harassment.
Director: Ravindran Kobu
Producer: Cheng Si Min
Director of Photography: Deryck Tan
Editor: Wind Loke
Sound Designer: Jethro Fernandez
Production Designer: Kylen Ho
Starring: Peter Yu, Pragadesh Prakash
Film Trailer: https://vimeo.com/551389342
Set in the underbelly of our garden city, Writings on the Wall details the blooming of an unlikely paternal bond between a loanshark runner and a distraught father. The short keenly showcases locales that are almost of a different country compared to the polished and sanitised streets most are more familiar with. However, it also feels like the film overemphasises its depiction of griminess, such as with the overdose of neon hues to colour ostentatious displays of vice.
Both leads are spectacular in their roles. Peter Yu’s performance is vividly detailed, moving from intimidation to aching vulnerability with finesse. Pragadesh Prakash similarly excels in charting his character’s delicate growth. Writings on the Wall is an impressive short that perhaps would have been elevated with a more stripped-down approach.
Banner image credit: Film still of ‘Writings on the Wall’