To The Sea, The Rivers Run – Sheryl Chong

With the SeaShorts Film Festival coming up this weekend, we thought it would be good to sit down and have a chat with the Festival Manager, Sheryl Chong, to see why we should go with the flow at this festival.

Hi Sheryl! Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about SeaShorts Film Festival. You’re officially designated as the Festival Manager. In more specific details, what exactly do you do for this event?
To keep it short and sweet, I take on a simple idea by someone – for example, like “Let’s screen a bunch of films! (Festival Director)” – and make it way more complicated by asking questions.

What kind of questions?
Where are we screening? Would people come? How do we make them come? Can we pay for the venue? What levels of publicity can we arrange? Are we able to find community partners? Will the world end? Is durian acceptable on all venue premises? These sort of questions.

They’re very important questions, especially the last one.
I am not able to answer all these questions, so that is where the Festival Team comes in. A film festival is never about one person, and I couldn’t have done it without the team.

Absolutely. Certainly the scale could be intimidating; a brief overview reveals over 100 films to be screened over a period of three days. What precipitated the process for this event taking place?
It started from the S-Express movement, actually. It is a bit like a travelling troupe of a diverse bunch of Southeast Asian films, selected by Southeast Asian film programmers and curators with the intention of sharing all these films in each other’s country. Tan Chui Mui (SeaShorts Film Festival Director, pictured below) is the curator for the Malaysian programme, and SeaShorts was borne from the desire to show all S-Express films in one event and to share it with everyone.

Going beyond S-Express, I notice a number of other programmes lined up, such as the Next New Wave competition, Short Shorts Film Festival and past winners of BMW Shorties. Is there any link or connection between this and other events like Tropfest SEA?
We are of course happy to always celebrate short films with all those who love film, and are appreciative of short film competitions like Tropfest SEA that helped bring more short films to the public. SeaShorts, however, is geared differently. We would like to celebrate the films, beyond and above the competitions and awards. It’s just a place where everyone can come, see what’s cooking in the film world next to our door, meet some new friends and have new conversations.

Speaking of such conversations and connections, the regional films I’ve been exposed to have been quite delightful in their own ways. At the same time, it is also something of an acquired taste. What must Malaysian audiences bear in mind prior to attending such a screening?
I feel like the practice of watching different films is similar to exercising a muscle. In the beginning, your ‘film muscle’ may be weak, but if you keep at it, you will realise you are going further and beyond what you are used to, and because you have ‘developed’ your film muscle, you can ‘see’ more, ‘learn’ more and ‘understand’ more. Come to SeaShorts, you won’t regret it!

 Wouldn’t this be something we can already get online, though? In today’s day and age, watching short films is a very accessible activity, with entities such as Viddsee and YouTube providing a platform for people to share their work.
Viddsee and YouTube are platforms – everyone who is anyone is given a chance to show their work. As long as you have the material in the right format, you are able to show your work. Who sees your work, and how they view your work, is a different matter, but nevertheless, you have the opportunity to show your work.

In this context, what kind of role do you see SeaShorts playing here?
It’s different, because SeaShorts isn’t a platform per se. You could say we’re more like a gallery. We (the regional team of film curators and programmers) select work that is deemed culturally, aesthetically and historically important and we share it with others. Again, whether others share the same sentiment is a different matter but nevertheless, it is a body of art that is carefully curated and selected by a team who dedicate themselves to promoting and understanding Southeast Asian cinema.

What if we don’t agree with the selections?
If you do not agree, then you are more than welcome to engage with our team at the SeaShorts Panel Discussions. Like I said, we always look for new friends, and encourage new conversations!

There might be plenty of those! Just looking at the slate, it’s almost like a festival of festivals, with different programmes focusing on different types of films; I may be slightly out of date, but from my perspective I’ve not really seen this kind of programming before in Malaysia. Were there any other festivals you looked to either for inspiration or as an example of what to do (or not to do)?
We want to be a film festival that first of all, screens films. Secondly, we want to be a festival that filmmakers would like to attend, because we screen good films. Thirdly, we want to be a film festival that hopefully will help contribute to the discussion on how short films play a role in the film industry.

What role would this be?
Short films are pivotal for young filmmakers to hone their filmmaking craft, and key film industry players should be looking to short film festivals as a lookout point for potential filmmaking talents (such as producers, scriptwriters and editors) that may one day play key roles in the future of the film industry.

Agreed. At the same time, I can’t imagine something as big as this to be done without any difficulties. What was the most challenging part in putting this together?Practically, funding has been most difficult. Many other events have more tangible outcomes than a film festival (what more a short film festival), so it is always difficult to convince funders about SeaShorts’ sustainability. Operationally, managing people is always very tough and I’m talking about managing my own self as well (I can be quite the grouch)!

However, not all is gloom – the good people at Japan Foundation Asia Center believed in what we are doing and have been offered their generous support to the festival. Also, our team of volunteers and interns have been incredibly giving with their time and talent. SeaShorts is really community-driven – I feel incredibly privileged to be working beside them.

Excellent. What’s next for you and SeaShorts? Will there be a continuation of this event in the future on a yearly basis? Perhaps we will see a travelling festival of sorts as short films are exhibited up and down the country?
I sincerely do hope so. We never know what the future may bring, but the SeaShorts team is definitely looking forward to a 2nd SeaShorts!

Alright, final question: is durian acceptable on all venue premises?
No. So please don’t bring any.

The 1st SeaShorts Film Festival will be held from 11th May to 14th May 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian. It is organised by Next New Wave. Click here for more details on screening schedule, locations and how you can watch the films.

Featured image credit: Medical Media Training

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