Singapore Short Film Awards Winners

Best Director
Winner: Sun Koh (Dirty Bitch)
Nominees: Basil Mironer (Rare Fish), Jmin (The Girl with the Red Balloons), Kirsten Tan (Cold Noodles), Wu Ruojing (Home?)
Comments: Can't argue with the win for Sun Koh, whose visual sense truly enervates her pastiche of sex fantasies, torture porn, French rap and social satire. Atop that, Kat Goh surely deserved a nomination for orchestrating those well-blocked, single-take scenes in Swimming Lesson.

Best Fiction
Winner: Dirty Bitch (Sun Koh)
Nominees: Fighting Fit (Sulaiman Salamon), Master of His Domain (Eric Elofson), Rare Fish (Basil Mironer), Swimming Lesson (Kat Goh)
Comments: Dirty Bitch was the only double award-winner of the night, but that's inevitable if you have both a Best Director and Best Film category. I can't fathom a great film without a sure directorial hand, and it makes even less sense for the film with the best direction not to snag its own trophy.

Best Animation
Winner: Hush Baby (Tan Wei Keong)
Nominees: Come Out and Play! 2 (Joo Choon Lin), The Mothcatcher (Iyvone Khoo & Miguel Guzman)
Comments: Hush Baby likely won because it was the best narrative among the three, involving a drawing of a baby being kept from climbing to the edges of the paper on which it's drawn, but even the losing nominees boasted exceptionally high-calibre stop-motion animation! I was especially impressed by the technical difficulty of Come Out and Play! 2, which features a potent animated mixture of wall-length graffiti and floating oil-on-water art.

Best Documentary
Winner: Special Pass (Vicknesh Varan)
Nominees: Black Friday (Wan), Forgotten Merlion (Ghazi Alqudcy & Ezzam Rahman), Home? (Wu Ruojing), She Shapes A Nation (Dana Lam)
Comments: I wasn't a fan of She Shapes A Nation, which flits from one subject to another without letting us ride on any strong narrative arc through the film; this marginalises the women it features more than it promotes them. All the other nominees, though, cover a wide but precise range of tones and minority subjects, and I would have been happy with any of them as the winner. I'm especially glad for Special Pass' win, though. The non-Singaporean soldiers of World War 2, our neglected anthem, and victims of the Chinese earthquake surely deserve their turn in the sun, but Special Pass tackles a greater blind spot in our society: the messy bureaucratic plight of our foreign workers.

Best Cinematography
Winner: Sink (Chananun Chotrungroj)
Nominees: A Hole in the Bed (Tay Yuxian), Blue Date (Eugene Koh), Home? (Isabel Wong Liliing, Lydia), Threshold (Lim Teck Siang)
Comments: Can't argue with the austere black-&-white photography of Sink, but check out the similar but even more jaw-dropping B&W photography of Cold Noodles (also by the same director, Kirsten Tan), which I think was exempt because its cinematographer Jose Avila Del Pino isn't Singaporean.

Best Editing
Winner: 5 Films in an Anthology of a Film a Month (Jack Haycox)
Nominees: Cold Noodles (Kirsten Tan), My Underwear My World (Alicia Yang & Danny Lim), Outing (Daniel Hidajat), The Girl with the Red Balloons (Chen Junbin)
Comments: 5 Films is another film that deserved a wider spread of nominations than its lone, deserved one here, although not if its director David Shiyang Liu makes good on his "promise" to leave it at this accomplished film. (No pressure, David!) Its five different chapters about desire in the modern city are at turns funny and touching.

Best Soundtrack
Winner: Newton (Matthew Koh, Lim Tingli, Ho Tzu Nyen)
Nominees: Dirty Bitch (Felix Huang, Anne-Laure Sibon), The Karma of the Tree Sentinel who Awakes (The Observatory), Threshold (Benjamin Lim Yi, Oxley String Quartet)
Comments: By far the oddest category in this year's awards. First, the category combined its nods to both sound design and musical score composition, even though most of the nominees are more obviously accomplished in one or the other. Second, The Karma of the Tree Sentinel who Awakes is pretty much a music video for The Observatory's song "Mind Roots", so nominating the band for writing the film's score is a little backwards. (Surely the director's visual conception is a more relevant contribution to local film?) Third, awarding a self-conscious piece like Newton, with its slightly unsync-ed sound effects resembling some of the earliest foley work, muddles an important message about the seamless, almost unnoticeable work to which most sound designers have to commit. Despite the understandable impulse to spread the wealth, I think both Dirty Bitch's score and sound design are far more accomplished. Who can forget the film's enigmatic musical theme and central French rap sequence, or its overlaid narration, gasps, whip-cracks, screams and spluttering blood?

Best Script
Winner: Threshold (Loo Zihan)
Nominees: A Perfect Harmony (Christopher Broe), Dreaming Kester (Martin Hong), Master of His Domain (Eric Elofson)
Comments: Whatever the strengths of A Perfect Harmony and Dreaming Kester are, they do not lie in those two film's scripts. (A Perfect Harmony harnesses bizarre, unconvincing meet-cutes between a boy and a girl; Dreaming Kester is too blunt in its message of "adultism" and lost childhood innocence). I'd have to stump for the more polished, adventurous scripts of 5 Films in an Anthology in a Month, Dirty Bitch and Swimming Lesson.

Best Performance
Winner: The judges chose to abstain.
Nominees: Damus Lim (Brazil), Oliver Mangham (Master of His Domain), Ong Xiu Ping (Madam Chan), Rebecca Dass (Bright)
Comment: While I understand the motivations behind the judges not giving an award, their abstention exposed a loophole in the execution of these awards: who's coming up with the nominations? Clearly not the judges, if they found none of the nominated perfs impressive enough to award. The awards ceremony host, actor Yeo Yann Yann, half-jokingly commented: "Don't worry, we will work harder," but I think it was less that the best performances were unworthy than that the best performances weren't nominated. (Although out of the nominees, I was quite impressed by Ong Xiu Ping, who plays a patient caretaker in Madam Chan. Ong manages to trick us into seeing her character as a typical soft-hearted old woman while staying true to the real depth of the character's awareness, as a twist in the film finally reveals.) If the nominated child actors (Lim and Dass) didn't have many demands from their films to fulfil, why not pick the young Jerryl Tan in My Underwear My World instead, who had to parse sadness, anger, desperation and comic reluctance with impressive naturalism? And let's not forget the different forms of near-unreasonable manias that Kee Chiew Hiang and Serene Chen respectively inhabit in Swimming Lesson and Dirty Bitch.

Best Art Direction
Winner: Rare Fish (Rene Pannevis)
Nominees: H the Happy Robot (James Page), Rudra - Hymns from the Blazing Chariot (Jacen Tan), Public Phone (Eric Lim), The Robber (Eric Lin & Wong Munlai)
Comments: Congrats to the stilt village and beached flotsam of Rare Fish. For me, the odd nomination here is for H the Happy Robot, whose art direction comprises a wall of stacked cardboard boxes, painted to look like a blackboard. Perhaps it might have been better placed in the Best Animation category, for its stop-motion depiction of the title robot's eventual decomposition. Conversely, I thought that the meticulously crafted The Mothcatcher deserved a nomination here.

Honorary Award
For outstanding contribution to the film community through short films
Recipient: Royston Tan
Comments: What more can there be to say about our most well-known, prolific short filmmaker? Royston mentioned in his acceptance speech that short films aren't a stepping stone to features or "something greater", but an ends in itself, and especially after these screenings, I can't help but agree.

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