In a bid to share the works and experiences of young Southeast Asian filmmakers with a wider audience, the Singapore International Film Festival is hosting open dialogue sessions that bring together Singaporean artists, writers, curators with emerging filmmakers.
The second in this series is a conversation between He Shuming and Marc Nair on the themes of femininity present in Shuming’s work. An alumnus of LASALLE and the American Film Institute Conservatory, Shuming has written and directed several short films, and is currently based in Los Angeles and Singapore. Marc Nair is a local poet and photographer, both mediums that he draws on to discuss Shuming’s work.
The event began with a brief introduction of Shuming and a screening of And The Wind Falls, a film he wrote and directed as a student at the American Film Institute Conservatory. With a morally ambiguous, relatable female lead and a conspicuous absence of male characters, the connection with that night’s theme was obvious.
Discussion ranged from gender, misogyny, and class to issues of identity, including how Shuming was able to navigate the filmmaking process – as Asian, as Chinese, as male, as non-American or non-Latinx. Marc led the conversation with incisive questions and remarks that pushed Shuming, and those of us in the audience, to rethink certain aspects of the film we were taking for granted.
I was especially curious about how Shuming thought about this work in the context of his Singaporean-ness, and was reminded of Tan Shijie’s Not Working Today, screened at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival. Both follow economically/socially marginalised individual in a day-in-the-life that goes awry. Both show the quiet resilience alongside the moral grayness that these individuals inhabit. For Shuming, a priority was making the film’s protagonist feel like “a real person”; I would say he succeeded.
Watching hoon/Ramlah after And The Wind Falls – achronologically, I might add – framed Shuming’s oeuvre in an interesting way. One couldn’t help making comparisons between the two. And The Wind Falls was, as Shuming and another audience member pointed out, overdeveloped and at points melodramatic. hoon/Ramlah was minimalistic, adhering less to the classical narrative of Individual against the World because it centered the connection between the eponymous hoon and Ramlah.
As a viewer, it was exciting to see how Shuming has evidently grown, and adapted to the situation and resources available to him. Props to the SGIFF team for that decision!
While the space was not the most conducive, the dialogue felt intimate. It helped that Shuming and Marc were forthcoming with details in their personal lives that informed their work – Shuming even talked a lot about his mother, and the inspiration she provided for many of his films. There were moments of genuine laughter, and the audience questions revealed a real interest in what Shuming and Marc were bringing to us. There was no barrier between audience and artist to make the art in question inaccessible or opaque to us.
NEW WAVES: Emerging Voices of Southeast Asian Cinema promises to continue to bring emerging filmmakers closer to an audience that is keenly inquisitive about their work, and eager to see more.
Celeste Teng is enamoured of storytelling across any and all platforms, particularly film and new media. She is inspired by community-based arts and fond of reading and making lists ..