It didn’t take long for the shorts programme that is part of the Singapore International Film Festival’s Singapore Panorama strand at the National Museum of Singapore on Nov. 27 to sell out. That is because the Singaporean audience is well aware that the best and brightest of filmmaking talent from the country cut their teeth in the format.
The programming, as always, is diverse. AFI Directing Workshop for Women graduate Tan Siyou’s “Hello Ahma” follows an eight-year-old who must adjust to a new life in America. The death of her beloved grandmother in Singapore throws into sharp relief truths about life, death and cultural dislocation. The film premiered at Toronto, where it was in the running for the Short Cuts award. Tan’s previous short “2200 Volts” played at SGIFF in 2017.
Liao Jiekai is a relative veteran in the Panorama programme. After directing several shorts, he made his feature debut in 2010 “Red Dragonflies” that won a special jury prize at Jeonju, and saw festival play at Buenos Aires, Cinemanila, Jogja and Shanghai. After directing a few more shorts, he directed another feature, 2014’s “As You Were,” that received festival exposure at Nantes, Tokyo and Turin. And he went on to direct a segment of 2017 anthology film “667.”
Liao, currently reading for a Masters in Film Directing at the Tokyo University of the Arts, mentored by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Suwa Nobuhiro, returns to Singapore with the world premiere of his latest short “Watermelon Baby.” In the film, a woman grows a watermelon in her body and makes a promise to eat it together with her partner.
Columbia University B.A. in Film and Media Studies graduate Darren Teo’s “Lian” is another world premiere that is part of the Panorama. Set in 1998 on the Andaman Sea, the film follows the titular character and her family who are stowaways on a ship. When she discovers that the ship has docked ahead of schedule, she must use her wits to help her family.
Another world premiere, Tan Wei Ting’s “Still Standing”, details the efforts of a local architect to bring the spirit of village style architecture into the high rise construction boom of the mid 1970s, resulting in the now-iconic Pearl Bank Apartments. Tan’s debut short, 2018’s “Ca$h”, played at Clermont-Ferrand.
London-born multidisciplinary artist Zai Tang has a fascinating body of work. He is currently exploring what it means to listen to and connect with voices of nature at a time of ecological crisis. His experiments with abstraction and visualisation of Singapore wildlife, combined with mixed media, has resulted in the “Escape Velocity” series, the second of which features at the Panorama. Two subsequent parts unspool at the upcoming Singapore Biennale.