Monday, September 16, 2013

Social engagement..?

On short film 'competitions'. I was just having a conversation with a friend from the industry last weekend and the topic of short film competitions came up. I have been noticing how, in the last 2-3 years, short film competitions have mushroomed in Singapore. Many of these have been organized by local corporations/organisations and interestingly, many of these organisations are statutory boards.

In the last 6 years I have been invited to judge (which I hugely appreciate and deeply humbled) diverse film competitions organized by various bodies and for two consecutive years, this include one organized by a very large organisation. We live in very interesting times and it is interesting to watch how these events that effect us as Singaporeans are being translated into the visual medium. The intention of accepting these gigs has been purely to look out for new voices in the medium and identify diverse perspectives.

However I have noticed a few points…

It seems suspect that statutory boards are organizing these competitions. I’m not denying that these competitions are good at filtering the good storytellers who tell their respective stories best via the visual medium. However perhaps in the long run, it would be detrimental to the art of storytelling itself. It might remove the joy of telling stories and making films about them.

I wonder when The Ugly Duckling, The Emperor’s New Clothes or The Princess And The Pea were conceptualized, would Hans Christian Andersen be good enough for competitions. I would have imagined if Snow White & Seven Dwarves failed a storytelling competition, would The Brothers Grimm have lived to tell Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood or even Sleeping Beauty?

Consider this, in the last couple of years I have been invited by several organisations to conceptualise short films based on their corporate brief. These films basically need to fulfill certain checkpoints of these respective briefs. These short fims are not the hardsell type of messages but essentially corporate messages supposed to be hidden wrapped in subtle emotive, human stories. In due course, these processes have spun into drawn-out processes where the journeys of characters are amended at the whim and fancy of those folks in suits and ties. The process would have been much enriching if the folks assigning these projects themselves have knowledge about the filmmaking language.

Organising short film competitions by engaging the public to fulfill corporate KPIs is not healthy in the long run. There are legit advertising and PR agencies to voice the KPIs of these respective bodies. “Social Engagement” has been overly used these days and it’s not healthy to get the public to participate in their corporate messages on the disguise of public “engagement”. If you want a succinct corporate voice, you will have to spend that six-to-seven dollar figure budget - not some glass/easily-corrosive metal trophies.

Films essentially come with that emotive punchlines. Each filmmaker has different life journeys which shaped his world view.