Kindred Spirits: The Youth Jury & Critics Programme

By Ethan Kan

One side of the room is expounding on how motifs in films enhance the narrative. The other is gushing about Timothée Chalamet.  
It’s lunch break for us on the third day of the Youth Jury & Critics Programme and we’re all sitting in the lobby of the *SCAPE ESC Studio. An illuminating session with Kelly Leow, Communications Manager at AWARE and former Deputy Editor at MovieMaker Magazine, on writing about film for publications has just finished, and we’re waiting for John Lui, a Senior Correspondent with the Straits Times, to enlighten us on film criticism. For now, we’re just eating Guzman y Gomez.  

“Why don’t you join in?” Erwin, sitting beside me, asks. I smile. I say I’d jump in, but it’s far more interesting to hear about how someone else thinks ‘the motif of running worked in this film but not that one’. I love it. I think Chalamet-talk perfectly encapsulates the spirit of fifteen film-buffs cooped up in a tiny room; serious, intellectual discussion punctuated by life and spirit.   
Such is the vibrancy of the Youth Jury & Critics Programme. Since 1987, the Singapore International Film Festival has grown in magnitude. It was only natural that the Festival began looking to nurture the youth to be more involved in the film community – hence, in 2014, the Programme was born. Over the course of three weekends in November, we’ll be discussing the short films in the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition and decide which will win the Youth Jury Prize at the Silver Screen Awards. 

We’ll also get the opportunity to display our own perspectives on cinema by contributing essays and podcasts to the Festival online journal, Stories. In terms of diverse voices there is no shortage; the range of ages is wide (sixteen to twenty-six) and we come from diverse backgrounds and different histories, so there are myriad opportunities to view film criticism through a distinctive, personal lens to film criticism. Of course, originality and depth is key, so the one who best exemplifies this will win the Youth Critic Award. 

If that still doesn’t stir your loins, sessions with industry heavyweights will surely turn heads. Venerated film critic Kong Rithdee serves as our mentor; Lim Teck, Managing Director of Clover Films, and Chai Yee Wei, founder of Mocha Chai Laboratories, are giving talks. These sessions have a lot to do with understanding the film industry and the importance of film criticism in its ecosystem.
“I loved our session with [film writer] Natalie Ng,” Emma Ting, 19, tells me. “Her point was that each of us have a perspective towards cinema, something unique to contribute to film writing. I liked that a lot.” 

As for the fifteen of us, any fears I might have had about not bonding together with the rest have been assuaged. With barely two months of formal film education, my film teacher encouraged me to take a chance on this programme. Getting in was a genuine surprise, and there was always the concern that I wouldn’t fit in. But there’s nothing like being cooped up in a small theatre with kindred spirits watching short films for hours, making our appreciation (as well as some distaste) clear.  

“It’s a really good opportunity to talk about film with like-minded people in a comfortable setting,” Erwin, a 22-year-old student at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communications, says. “Especially when debating about films, you can talk freely without being judged.”  

There are a few more sessions to go, and I’m already dreading its end. It’s a pleasure to attend these insightful industry sessions with people who are passionate about what they do. It’s eye-opening to see other perspectives and how that influences my approach on film writing or filmmaking.   
So whether it’s serious discussion on film or Timothée Chalamet, I’m grateful that I get to spend my November having such a meaningful learning experience. I’m glad that we get to contribute in some small way to the film culture we have here. It’s exciting. It’s fun. And that’s because there’s a place for everyone here. 

– Ethan Kan
– Photographs by Tan Si En