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Check Out Local Short Films @ Utter 2017: SingLit Unearthed!

By Say Peng  /  27 Sep 2017 (Wednesday)

Utter is an annual Singapore Writers Festival initiative which showcases the best of Singapore writing and celebrates its potential to be adapted into different media and languages, giving audiences fresh perspectives and a deeper understanding of our home-grown authors. In this year's edition entitled SingLit Unearthed, Utter chose to highlight the poetry and stories of four local writers, some well known, some waiting to be discovered, through the medium of film and animation. The writers are the little known Gregory Nalpon, Cultural Medallion winners J M Sali and Tan Swie Hian, and former Minister of Culture and Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam.
The first short of the anthology, Timepieces, is local TV director Lee Thean-jean's adaptation of Gregory Nalpon's short story from his book The Wayang at Eight Milestones, a collection of Nalpon's short stories, essays, and sketches. Lee was attracted to the story because of the way it "juxtaposed the ordinariness of Margaret’s life with the unsettling randomness of the events that befell her." In the short film, local TV actress Jae Liew sensitively portrays Margaret, a kindergarten teacher who struggles with taking care of her mother at home and with her young student. The film is Lee's meditation on the pressure of living in contemporary urban Singapore on both the old and young. Veteran actresses Karen Tan and Catherine Sng also star in the film.  

Film still from Lee Thean-jeen's Timepieces 
The second short film is an animation piece directed by Jerrold Chong, entitled What Has To Be. It's an adaption of S. Rajaratnam's short story of the same title. Employing graphic penciling aesthetic and a rich descriptive sound design, the darkly surrealist animation explores the dysfunctional relationship between two grieving parents as they confront the inevitable truth of their unborn child. The film is Chong's layered and stylised attempt at depicting the troubled birth of Singapore. The two characters in the film are voiced by Sivakumar Palakrishnan, the lead actor in Rajagopal's A Yellow Bird, and by Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai, a LASALLE Acting graduate who had a leading role in Wild! Rice's Boeing Boeing.

Film still from Jerrold Chong's What Has To Be
The third short film of the anthology, entitled Song of the Waves, is A Yellow Bird director K Rajagopal's adaptation of Tamil writer J M Sali's novel of the same name. Rajagopal's film tells an elliptical non-linear story about an Indian man who falls in love with a Chinese woman in Singapore, who later discovers that he is actually married back home in India. Experimental and inter-textual, Song of the Waves is not a straightforward work of adaption but is Rajagopal's personal response to the Sali's text, incorporating a "dialectic link between author, translation, adaptation and reader." The short film de- and re-constructs Rajagopal's creative process, referencing scenes and characters from his previous short films such as the Little India short films trilogy The Day I Lost My Shadow and his feature film A Yellow Bird. Viknesh Jaivant N stars as the lead character; he also played the lead in Rajagopal's 7 Letters short film The Flame and in The Day I Lost My Shadow.    

Film Still from K Rajagopal's Song of the Waves
The anthology concludes with The Giant, an animation adaption of multi-disciplinary artist Tan Swie Hian's poem of the same name by brothers Henry and Harry Zhuang. The Zhuang brothers interpreted the giant in Tan's eponymous modernist poem as a symbolic representation of our country's pioneer generation who made great sacrifices to build our nation. The brothers used newspapers to fashion the fish characters and the underwater world in their stop-motion animation. They believe that, just like the pioneer generation whose efforts have shaped the nation and her citizens, the news is a medium that also shape people's perceptions and lives. There is a nation-building role that newspapers have played in the formative years of Singapore, and even in our contemporary times, that makes it befitting to be used as material of the animation.   

Film still from Harry and Henry Zhuang's The Giant
This is the fifth year that Utter has commissioned local literary stories to be adapted into short live action and animation films. The initiative started in 2013 with local filmmakers Kat Goh, Royston Tan, Lillian Wang, Ric Aw and Pok Yue Weng's adaptions of the poems and short stories of Liang Wern Fook, Suratman Markasan, Arthur Yap, Foo Chen Loong and David Leo. Utter 2014 saw filmmakers Wee Li Lin, Sanif Olek, Don Aravind and Kenny Tan offer their own interpretations of local works. Under David Lee and Eternality Tan of The Filmic Eye, Utter 2015 headed in a new direction with the commissioning of five animation short films. Producer Nicholas Chee of Flying Kick Asia took Utter up one notch in 2016 by departing from the usual anthology format of short films and, instead, interweaved four short film adaptations into a coherently edited contemporary social drama feature film entitled One Hour to Daylight. Helming Utter again this year, David Lee and Eternality Tan returns to the conventional and time-tested short films anthology format. But instead of focusing exclusively on either animation or live action films, they have decided to have the best of both worlds. The diversity of genres has added to a more engaging and interesting viewing experience. 

As always, we look forward to next year's Utter, which, hopefully, will feature more daring and adventurous productions.

Screening Dates:

Friday 29 September, 7.30pm @ Golden Village, Suntec City
*Post-screening dialogue with K Rajagopal, Lee Thean-jeen, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

Saturday 30 September, 7.30pm @ Golden Village, Suntec City
*Post-screening dialogue with K Rajagopal, Henry & Harry Zhuang and Jerrold Chong

Saturday 4 November, 730pm @ National Gallery Singapore (Auditorium)
*Post-screening dialogue with JM Sali, Lee Thean-jeen, K Rajagopal, Richard Angus Whitehead, David Lee                 
Moderator: Li Lin Wee
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