Welcome aboard SGIFF’s New Waves! For this third annual edition of the screening and dialogue series, we invited bright young minds from the festival’s Youth Jury and Critics’ programme to offer an introductory analysis on the four featured filmmakers, report on each session, and generally guide you on this voyage of artistic discovery.
SGIFF’s third New Waves session of 2018 kicked off with… a pre-session dance battle. SGIFF is a colourful crowd! More seriously, though, last Wednesday’s session began with two of Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu’s short films: Spit (2010), made while she was completing her master’s degree at the London Film School, and It’s Easier to Raise Cattle (2017), which is making the rounds on the international film festival circuit.
The films explored many themes, from ‘deviant’ (and monstrous) femininity to the complex relationships between young women, whilst showcasing Eu’s growth as a filmmaker over the interceding seven years.
In dialogue with Eu was multidisciplinary Singaporean artist Tania De Rozario (author of poetry/prose collection Tender Delirium, 2013) whose corpus of work shares Eu’s love for female ghosts in Southeast Asian mythology. Over the course of the session, the pair returned again and again to the question of genre, specifically the horror genre and what it can offer us.
1. What’s in a genre?
‘I’m going to ask you a very annoying question—you’ve already said it annoys you, therefore I shall ask it—what genre would you house this film under?’
– Tania De Rozario, on It’s Easier to Raise Cattle
‘Coming of age… with horror twist?’
– Amanda Nell Eu
‘Coming of rage!’
- – De Rozario
Labeling your own work is tricky. As De Rozario explained, artists in both film and literature are often pressured by their respective industries to force their work into particular categories for commercial reasons. Whilst it proved hard for both Eu and De Rozario to fit their work into existing taxonomies, we should actually be asking, why should they need to? This New Waves session made it clear that existing genres must expand to make space for work that asks its audiences to critically question the very canons from which they stem.
2. The appeal of horror
‘I think real life is the real horror.’
– De Rozario
Working in the new (albeit growing) intersections of femininity and Asian horror in their respective mediums, Eu and De Rozario are greatly inspired by the horror genre’s ability to simultaneously terrify and captivate, acting as a distorting mirror looking back on society’s ills, worries and fears. In reclaiming scary female ghosts as feminist icons, these artists tell us important stories about ourselves, and about the well-loved genre of horror itself.
When Eu turned the opening question, of genre, back on De Rozario, De Rozario answered, ‘I think a lot of the genres, like horror and sci-fi, have the potential to speak about things you can’t speak about in literal or everyday narrative terms. I think real life is the real horror—and horror allows you that space to emote in the amount that you should, or that is appropriate.’
3. All hail Sadako
‘It turned me around… I was like, “Sadako’s my girl!”’
- – De Rozario on Ringu
Both artists shared the terror they felt when watching 1998 Japanese horror classic Ringu as students, with its indiscriminate video-tape murderess, Sadako. (Check out De Rozario’s poem on Sadako.) But upon re-watching Ringu and other Asian horror films, De Rozario said, she came to see the patterns of violence inflicted on each of their now-infamous female characters, and the way they were turned into ‘monsters’ because they sought justice from their attackers and from the rest of society.
The impetus to empathize with these female figures resonated with Eu: ‘When you realize why they are so angry, why they are so frightening, it clicks—it’s because they have been hurt so much. And then that rage, that violence really comes fighting back. With our stories, like the Pontianak, you question why she only attacks dudes, why she has to be so freaking hot and beautiful. It ticks all the boxes of what society’s viewpoints are on her and how they have behaved towards her.’
4. Our monsters, ourselves
‘I love the Pontianak. She is so beautiful, so strong and so raw… for a woman to go through a lot and come out so strong, you can’t beat that.’
- – Eu
‘It features a Pontianak, which is a very fearsome creature. But the feeling I walk away with is, it’s actually very much a tender film.’
– De Rozario, on It’s Easier to Raise Cattle
Eu and De Rozario populate their works with scary female characters whom they treat with respect and affection, making their work antidotes to everyday misogyny. For It’s Easier to Raise Cattle, Eu imagined what it would be like if your best friend was a Pontianak. In the film, her Pontianak is a teenager, someone still young and fragile. And yet the Pontianak and her friend carry care, life and resilience in their relationship, forming the main focus of Eu’s film.
Eu recalled that her two brilliant actors, Sharifah Aryana (Rahmah) and Sofia Sabri (Pontianak), felt similarly about the figure, expressing their love of and admiration for the Pontianak during their first conversation with Eu during casting. The result of this shared endearment is evident in the nuances of both the actors’ performances and in Eu’s direction. It can’t have been easy to portray a Pontianak as a unique and complex individual, and I think the success of the film is a testament to a safe (and brave) space of collaboration on set.
What to expect next from Amanda Nell Eu and Tania De Rozario? Eu is currently working on both another short and a feature film (the latter of which has, like both her New Waves shorts, a young girl protagonist). De Rozario will be embarking on a new book of poetry, dedicated to female monsters in Asia (read more about it here). I for one, will definitely stay tuned.
The fourth, and last, New Waves session of the year invites actress Sharifah Amani to share her experiences of working with director Isao Yukisada on Pigeon, a segment of the omnibus feature film Asian Three-Fold Mirror 2016: Reflections. Amani will chat with actress and former Singapore Member of Parliament Janice Koh. What lessons are learnt on a cross-cultural film set? Come join us on 25 July, 2018 at *SCAPE.
For full information on New Waves events, click here.
Annette learned to bring her studies in anthropology into her exposure to film at Singapore International Film Festival’s Youth Jury and Critics’ Programme in 2017. She has always been a fan of the Pontianak.