What do we search for in the cinema? No, I’m not referring to the iPhones left behind in our seats; I’m referring to the films shown on our screens. How do audiences decide what they want to watch? What experiences do audiences walk away with when the credits roll? Do they choose to remember what they’ve seen? Or do they choose to forget? Have they – through this film – been changed? It’s not easy to answer these questions, but I’m going to try.
I know I sound cheesy, but going to the cinema is really like looking for love, with each ticket being comparable to a blind date. At the end of a film, we could find ourselves completely cringing at what we just went through or stalking for details to set a second date. So going by this super strange logic – if a film is a blind date, would a series of short films be a speed-dating session?
With this question in mind, I set out to the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition programmes and tried looking for answers among the audience. Open to anyone who watched the programmes and were willing to let me hear their thoughts, I interviewed 6 wonderful people at the National Gallery: Erica (18), Melissa (19), Zi Qi (22), Si En (23), Kristen (23) and Wan Fong (25), and walked away with very valuable statements and thoughts.
Why did you choose to watch the SEA short films?
“Recently I’ve been more aware that as Singapore, we always show and boast off our country, but we never learn of the other countries, and I guess film is one way in which we very rarely do it.” – Wan Fong.
“It’s a matter of exposure, I feel. To just see what’s out there – what’s in the region and what kind of films filmmakers are making, and see what trends emerge culturally as well as cinematically.” – Kristen
To you, what is the value of the SEA short film programme?
“As a shorts programme, it’s really a platform for filmmakers to tell shorter stories. I’ve seen films that weren’t demo films but personal stories that filmmakers wanted to make, and I think it’s another kind of storytelling that serves different functions.” – Kristen.
Have you experienced a different Southeast Asia through these short films? Has it changed your idea of SEA and its cinema in any way?
“I think that – for Singaporeans especially – we have this idea that Singapore is the leader in ASEAN. But I think that cinema is a universal language for us now and it really creates an equal platform. Maybe we might not all speak English, but through this universal language, we find that there are themes that connect us within Southeast Asia” – Zi Qi.
The above quotes are only fragments of the amazing answers from the audiences. Piecing all their answers together, thinking of the short film programme as a speed dating session was extremely fitting. Whether we choose our programmes based on recommendation or because it is a new way to watch new films – whatever our reasons, as we step into the cinema, we have initiated relationships with different films and different stories created by different filmmakers of different cultures within Southeast Asia.
Among the films we encounter, there are the visually-interesting films like The Mist and Taste that keep us watching, the sensitive stories told in Lola Loleng and Freeze that keep us listening, the mystical moments shown in 500, 000 Years and Lost Wonders that make us think, and the emotionally-rich films like On the Origin of Fear and Arnie that makes us feel (or make us not know what to feel).
Through these brief encounters with the beautiful, the sensitive, and the mysterious, we are allowed a brief encounter with another culture and another time in history – another chance to meet with and learn about others that will not happen anywhere else. As I’ve learnt from the audiences’ answers, the short films do not only allow us to learn about other nations cinematically and culturally, but also learn about our cinema and ourselves. As a region, we see how much we’ve changed and how different we are, but also how there’s a common thread in the stories we tell. These films are not only brought together by the way they cathartically address cultural and societal amnesia, personal and social trauma, desperation and separation in difficult times but also highlight the moving moments that show us the strength of the ties that bind.
As any speed-dating session would probably go, only a few of us would find a film we love at first sight. But it doesn’t mean that this session is completely over for many of us. As we step out of the cinema and find ourselves thinking about these films and their filmmakers, even if it’s not love at first sight, we may have found something that we might learn to love.
Thinking about this process of watching and feeling, I ask my question again: what do we search for in the cinema? Through my speed-dating session with the Southeast Asian short films, I would cheesily but also confidently and say we’re looking for a chance to find something we love.
I’d like to thank Erica, Melissa, Zi Qi, Si En, Kristen and Wan Fong for allowing me to hear their thoughts to create this article. (: