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Youth Meets Film: The Next Generation of Writers on Regional Cinema

Journeys From Pain: SEA Short Film Programme 1

Films in this Programme
For We Are Strangers (Nicole Midori Woodford, Singapore)
Ferris Wheel (Phuttiphong Aroonpheng, Thailand)
The Scavenger (Sothea Chhin, Cambodia)
Memorial of An Inquiry (Jan Pineda, The Philippines)
Wawa (Anj Macalanda, The Philippines)

Finding closure, making peace and moving on from what has hurt us. The first programme of the SEA short film competition is an interesting array of films which in juxtaposition with one other seem to surround a motivation: How do we move on from pain?

It’s a pretty interesting question, and one I think most people would not mind hearing several answers to. My response to being hurt is usually just lying in bed all day and cursing the world for its apathy, which is not very cinematic or psychologically healthy. Oh that and ice cream… I am such a cliché. However, this programme thankfully avoids that sort of drivel that plagues me.

Pain is humanizing and universal, so aptly we witness its handling ranges from intimate suffering to widespread injustices of races and regions. What this does remarkably is allow the films to be narratively tightly strung and its protagonists well driven.

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A prime example is in our first film For We Are Strangers. It is a brave and sensitive portrayal of a prison counselor Xuan, a victim of a sexual assault and her meeting with Adrien, a prison inmate. This encounter triggers a beguiling journey of dissonance and dramatic irony. The film capitalizes on this and during its’ runtime is able to captivate us with its depiction of inner turmoil.

Ferris Wheel does not deal so much with past trauma as intimately, rather it exists on a macro level. In the opening we are immediately confronted with the context of our past trauma – Myanmar and Thailand’s long-standing conflict. We see a mother and child suffer the consequential discrimination bred by this conflict as they endeavor to journey into Thailand.

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Whilst their undertaking is not grandiose or epic, the entire conceit of the film makes it so. Hammered home in the finale, we are reminded of the scale of discrimination and the fall out of conflict. It is not small. It is not intimate. It is a shared story that does not just exist in the present but which has occurred far too many times.

Though rightfully, this is all very serious and somber, my personal reason urging anyone to watch the film is due to a scene that is both surreal and hilarious involving a monkey mascot. Friendly advice: there are not a lot of intentional laughs and jokes in this programme, so just trust me on this. Laugh when you can here.

The Scavenger also deals with a mother, who dreams a better future for her child, though their suffering is less political. Here, our coping mechanism from an unresolved hurt is through lies and deceit.

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The film is probably the only in the collection that makes an earnest attempt at a distinct resolution and indicates plainly the best way to confront longstanding wounds is through rectitude and honest conversation. The only problem is The Scavenger packs too much narrative in too little time, making its resolution feel unearned or simplistic. As we know, closure is rarely quick or easy.

Memorial of an Inquiry is the most experimental of the films, directed by Jan Pineda. It cleverly mixes truth and fiction, revolving around the still debated, Tasaday tribe. It was a tribe reportedly discovered as living in complete isolation in the Philippines in the 1970s before later being uncovered as a hoax.

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The film evokes a pronounced notion of colonialism as regional trauma, with a haunting narration by a member of the tribe. The speaker is so effective that you feel them speaking for themselves as well as us. It’s a collective “we.” Meditating on how our lives were so critically disturbed, even poisoned by the arrival of oppressive outsiders. It is an inexplicable presentation of memory as a mutable entity even if the fabricated elements are apparent and you see the seams between fact and fiction. Yet somehow the emotions evoked resonated with me.

The final film of the programme is another entry by the Philippines. Wawa deals with the anguish of a young boy who loses his father to the inevitability of death and his journey towards acceptance. Here we see how ritual and tradition brings comfort to those in pain. We know that religion can bring peace and succor to many. But it goes beyond just faith and Wawa shows how personal journeys and private rituals are just as important and legitimate.

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However the film failed to carry me along on its journey and I felt dragged rather than invited; much like the character I felt I was meekly following along another person’s obscure ritual and the longer it went on, the more I wanted to leave. Fortuitously the film seems cognizant of this and wraps things up before it became unintentionally unbearable.

Even though the films in this collection are relatively dramatic and trauma permeates almost every film, I left it not feeling inflicted with the added weight of another person’s trauma or injustices. Nor did I feel hopeless. Instead, what I was left with was an inexplicable sense of empowerment and a sort of enlightenment on how I may move on from pain.

And with all that’s going on in the world, it’s a worthy lesson to figure out.

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