Youth Meets Film: Issue 1, 2016

23 November 2016

On the Uncertainty of Youth: SEA Short Film Programme 3

By Timothy Ong

The short films of programme 3 play like an orchestra. Comparable to an ensemble of instruments playing melodious sounds, each of the films possess variations of complexity and emotions that are blended seamlessly through the common chords of an adolescent uncertainty.

Films in the Programme
Lost Wonders (Loeloe Hendra, Indonesia)
Freeze (Nelicia Low, Singapore/Taiwan)
Grandma Loleng (Che Tagyamon, The Philippines)
Demos (Danaya Chulphuthiphong, Thailand)
Still (PR Patindol, The Philippines)
Sugar and Spice (Mi Mi Lwin, Myanmar)

Still from Lost Wonders, Dir. Loeloe Hendra

Still from Lost Wonders, Dir. Loeloe Hendra

In the darkness, a dim lantern lights the way as a little boy wanders across the tall grass, calling out for his father. Loeloe Hendra’s ‘Lost Wonders’ tells the story of a little boy who leaves his home every night to search for his father. As I continued to watch the boy’s relentless search, I soon discover that perhaps just as the unseen parental figure is lost and unseen, the child left behind is just as lost. He roams, searching in the night’s darkness, and in the day, he appears just as aimless and confused.


Still from Still (Hilom), Dir. PR Patindol

In PR Patindol’s ‘Still’, amidst the seemingly isolated earthy landscapes, and the absence of the familiarity of civilisation, a feeling of being lost and gone astray encapsulates the film. Children wander within the remote, searching for themselves, discovering their sexuality and seeking connections. And as they do so, their identities and relationships will come into question.

Still from Grandma Loleng, Dir. Che Tagyamon

Still from Grandma Loleng, Dir. Che Tagyamon

‘Grandma Loleng’ is another, albeit slightly different from the first two. Che Tagyamon’s film depicts a captivating story about a granddaughter attempting to understand and connect with her grandmother, who suffers from dementia and cannot remember her. Rather than a narrative about a youth lost within the world, the story is akin to one attempting to piece and understand a lost and fragmented identity.

An atmosphere of uncertainty and the obscured pervades the film as the grains of mild scratches and impurities flickers over the beautifully animated images, reminiscent of damaged celluloid and thus as films are often associated with the idea of memory, lost memories. The grandmother’s dementia parallels that of the country itself, which has in the face of time forgotten its historical conflicts.

Still from Freeze, Dir. Nelicia Low

Still from Freeze, Dir. Nelicia Low

Whereas ‘Grandma Loleng’ dealt with themes of a lost and fragmented identity through the eyes of a younger and more wholesome character, Nelica Low’s ‘Freeze’ on the other hand puts us in the position of a character insecure and unsure of herself within the world. Conflicted by the lack of love she feels from her distant husband, she seeks love from her autistic twin brother.

The world within the film is thus as such, cold and distant, with the images tinted in a bluish hue, lacking any non-diegetic sound to evoke a sense of closure and sentimentality but instead, a range of diegetic sound to place us grounded, facing the uncertain reality just like what the woman would have to face eventually.


Still from Demos, Dir. Danaya Chulphutiphong

While all the films mentioned before have elements of ambiguity, perhaps the most puzzling of all would be ‘Demos’. Without any sense of characters nor a core narrative, ‘Demos’ functions mostly as an emotional experience driven by carefully constructed montage sequences and surreal images.

A revving soundscape roars as images of reptiles in captivity, remnant pieces of a bygone history and the destruction and construction of new architecture are intercut together. It builds a sense of uncertainty, within its recurring imagery of a suppressed reptilian death and destruction, which is further enhanced by the lack of closure in the film’s relatively inconsequent end and within the viewers as they watch. ‘Demos’ is ambiguous by nature, never explicitly delivering any information to the viewer, it is by itself a puzzle that requires the patience of the viewer before being captivated by it.

Still from Sugar and Spice, Dir. Mi Mi Lwin

Still from Sugar and Spice, Dir. Mi Mi Lwin

To end this enigmatic sequence of short films, is ‘Sugar and Spice’ which is arguably the most grounded film of the programme. The sole documentary of the whole of the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition programmes, it follows the daily lives of a couple making a living by selling sugar balls.

A sincere and humble film that introduces two endearing and yet opposing personalities co-existing within the same home. As they converse, they reveal two opposing ideals that are never depicted as correct, sparking a feeling of uncertainty within the film. Of what will become of the country if the acceptance of ignorance is allowed to continue on within the people.

The short films of Programme 3 all in some sense depict the feeling of being lost and uncertain. The films come from an array of countries and culture within Southeast Asia, from Singapore to the Philippines to Myanmar. It is astonishing that films from such a vast collection of cultures can result in something that is so humanly universal in its themes.