The Youth Jury is trusted to award the title of the “Best Southeast Asian Short Film” to the most deserving film that fulfils the stipulated criteria. However, with the jury being comprised of thirteen 17-24 year olds with diverse backgrounds, the standards and interpretations of the criteria varied immensely. Ultimately, after three hours of deliberation, we settled on Sorayos Prapapan’s Death of the Sound Man, for agreeing that it embodied the essence of what we thought a Southeast Asian Film should be.
There is something mundane about thirteen young adults scribbling their vote on a scrap piece of paper and placing it in a paper Starbucks cup while perched on foldable chairs in the loft of Objectifs. Being warned by Chrys, our facilitator, that the expectation for choosing a winner was a “Hunger Games” style decision process, it ultimately resulted in an anti-climactic ruling. As millennials, the expectation of raising voices in disagreement was greatly disproved where the result resembled more of a Socratic seminar in conveying one’s own ideas while respecting and responding to another’s in a gracious and integrative manner.
Being part of the title, clarifying what “Southeast Asian” means was the first topic debated, as we felt obligated to standardize everyone’s interpretations and create a common benchmark for assessment. A conclusion was never reached since we all come from different Southeast Asias and have various experiences that shape our perceptions. Whether it be traditional preconceived notions or western influences lingering from a colonial legacy, we came to the conclusion that there is no such thing as SEA identity. Chrys reminded us that we have to decide “The best example of this title lah, Southeast Asia Shorts Competition, up to you guys to decide what that prize means to you”, continuing to ask us, “Why does it deserve it? Why doesn’t it deserve it? What do you feel? What is your emotional reaction?” Thus, reminding us to stop scrutinizing minute aspects but integrate our visceral feelings and observations instead, because that is what film is intended to do – make the audience exude feeling.
Having narrowed fifteen films down to five, our mentor, Kevin B. Lee, pointed out that three of the films we selected shared a self-reflexive quality, creating a multidimensional setting. Many involved making film, within a film – which may have appealed to us as budding and passionate film enthusiasts. Some of the main disagreements were as to not the merit of the films themselves, but what aspects should be emphasized with the title of best Southeast Asian Short Film. Some were technically well done, and some were raw, real, and made us question the reality of it. Disputes over whether we should give it to an up and coming director or a more established one to emphasize his merit also broke out. The inclusion of blatant themes and messages were important as well as the manner in which they were traced throughout the film.
Deciding on Death of the Sound Man was an arduous process, but we agreed that it was a charming combination of all the elements that we were considering. Although it incorporated obvious messages and themes, it was supported by mild comedy as well as dialogue that had made dry commentary on the government controversy while also discussing film as a medium. The self-reflexivity, I believe, appealed to us as film lovers for it highlighted the lost elements that are sometimes less noticed, such as sound as well as the demise of film making in general. Being texture, layered, and acting as commentary on the film industry, combined with stunning visuals and a thread of comedy, this film challenged the viewer to unravel the multiple nuances that it housed. It kept the viewer in mind and left space for reflection and questioning, something that made us vie for more and ultimately, the reason we chose this film.