Rounding Up – BMW Shorties 2017 (part 2)

Continuing on from his efforts last time out, Fikri Jermadi rounds up his thoughts on the remaining BMW Shorties 2017 finalists.

In contrast to ‘Never Was The Shade’, I would get as far away as possible from the antagonist of ‘Sekunder’. Hasnul Rahmat makes another appearance here, featuring as a cannibal. I had actually heard of this film, as some friends had mentioned of a BMW Shorties film which was scary precisely because of that very reason. I didn’t know which one, though, as I had not researched it in greater detail at that point. Thus, in screening it in class for my students, there were more than just a few gaps and minor screams. Wan Mohd Shafiq is a very clever filmmaker, because much of that fear is enacted ‘silently’. For one thing, we do not actually see much in terms of outright gore or violence. So much of this is hinted at, allowing for the audience (in this case, my students) to fill in the blanks with a lot more of their own imagination.

Secondly, there is also a very slow buildup, featuring our protagonist (Livonia Ricky), who played Hasnul’s daughter in ‘Livornia’; you can make your own intertextual readings into that. It appears that the main character is actually slowly but surely walking right into the belly of the beast. In the bus ride to the antagonist’s house, situated in a low-cost flat, we see her holding her belly; is she pregnant? What is the set of circumstances driving her to that decision? Is she looking for a way out? All this and so much more bounced around in my head, as the film provides very little by way of answers. It’s also a lot more silent that I would have thought, with minimal dialogue (I think there are only two or three lines) peppering the film. The shortest of the finalists is also the one that provided a lot of the bigger questions. This is yet another pleasant surprise, so Cech Adrea and his team deserves a round of applause for that.

If ‘Sekunder’ tackles the macro through the micro, ‘Selam 2.0’ does the opposite. Set in the future, it presents a time that is dystopian, a time when rampant urbanisation leaves little behind for its people. “Climbing high, shooting for the skies, with no remorse for the ruins below,” it says here in the introduction. It is these very ruins that is presented aesthetically on screen; though there is a bleak feel to the proceedings, I remain attracted to the work of Khairil M. Bahar as the film’s cinematographer. Drained of the traditional colours you’d expect (beyond shades of black and white), we’re presented with a world is very much in the present; similar to ‘Blade Runner’, we should not let the future setting blind us to the issues of now.

Such nomenclature is a red herring (in black and white), partly because the film’s also directed by Lor Yew Mien. Mien has a tendency of challenging perceptions in her films, focusing more on the stories of the underprivileged. We see that in efforts such as ‘Berlari’ and ‘Happy Massage’. There’s also a focus on the issue of gender, an idea never too far out of mind when this director is in the chair. Just a simple difference in haircut suggests just how fluid the idea of gender really is. At times (and aided by the colour choices of the director), I couldn’t tell the difference between the characters involved. That may well be a deliberate decision, invoking a sense of togetherness between all the different people here, of how, even though there is a tense competitiveness between all of them, they remain stuck firmly in the same, unstable and rocky boat. That may have been an accident, but it’s a happy one all the same.

A film that is much happier in its outlook (even if it is not necessarily a happy outlook) is ‘The Last 7’ by Jared Lee. The minute I saw his name, I knew we’d be in for a film that looks good. One of the creative forces behind Grim Film, this film also officially carries that production banner on its flag pole. The opening scene itself feels like the introduction to a much longer, more feature-like film. We follow Michael (Nick Davis), a man who wakes up and gets to work, dealing with much of the same challenges the English-speaking, middle-class milieu of Malaysia face. However, in contrast to the rest of us, his job is slightly different: he works as the grim reaper. Running further against the grain, the film also takes a more light-hearted look (as alluded to at the start of this paragraph), at the idea of death itself; if ‘Selam 2.0’ trains a futuristic lens on the present, ‘The Last 7’ takes the so-called afterlife into our consideration.

We are also presented with a parallel story of Jack (Ben Chan), a working class man who runs a food stall. All the while, he and his wife, are also struggling to pay for the treatment of Sara (Marianne Tan). I feel that, beyond an obvious analysis of race, the film also deals with issues related to class. Such inflections tend to be more silent in Grim Film films, though, as they are often produced in that context itself, but it remains an interesting look at this all the same. Once again, I was not let down by the team, as they have produced a very beautiful film you’re tempted to watch all the way to the end of the credits. At the same time, I am also reminded of ‘The Long Distance Relationship’, a previous entrant in the BMW Shorties (and music video masquerading as a short film) by the same team. That film also dealt with a similar issue (death) in a similar way (intermingling the past, present and future). I wonder this is a deliberate strategy of the people at Grim Film.

‘The Last 7’ is actually the penultimate film in this list, as the last but not least selection is ‘Touch’ by Wilson Tai Siew Yoong. Unlike a number of films here, his name doesn’t quite ring a bell off the top of my head right now, but it may well do for the future. In an interesting turn of events, I ended up relating to this film a lot more than I do with the others. The story begins with a young man being abandoned in a forest. His abandoner, seemingly fraught with guilt, looks at the abandoned, before eventually leaving. While there is intrigue in that, it is only in the next segment that things are made clear, as our protagonist has a younger brother who appears to be… mentally handicapped? Socially awkward? Both? I’m not quite sure of what the condition appears to be here, but such scenes in many films always reminds me of my own autistic brother.

While the process of dealing with that fell and continues to fall largely on other members of my immediate family at different stages of our lives, such an experience does not leave me within the twinkling of an eye. Rather, it lingers, much like the film’s beginning and end did. The rest of the film unfolded without any further surprises, but all the same, it was a more challenging experience than I had thought. Once again, I had jumped in with both feet, blind, as I screened the film in class without knowing what it’s all about. I was not close to tears, but it was the closest I had come to doing that in front of my own students. In that regard, while others like ‘The Last 7’, ‘Selam 2.0’ and ‘Gold! There’s gold in the river!’ may appear to be more crowd-pleasing than most, I was most touched by Wilson Tai’s work.

The following is a full list of the nominees at the 2017 BMW Shorties, with the winner highlighted in italics:

Grand Prize Winner
‘Never Was The Shade’ by Lim Kean Hian

People’s Choice Award
‘Gold! There’s gold in the river’ by Mallory Lee

Best Director
New Chun Hui (After Tango)
Lor Yew Mien (Selam 2.0)
Lim Kean Hian (Never Was The Shade)

Best Cinematography
Khairil M Bahar (Selam 2.0)
Thng Wai Fong (Gold! There is gold in the river!)
Jason Wong (Never Was the Shade)

Best Screenplay
Lim Kean Hian & Rozie Rashid (Never Was The Shade)
New Chun Hui (After Tango)
Johanna Johan Ariffin (Desakan Dewasa)

Best Production Design
Mohamad Rabani Abdul Hamid (Selam 2.0)
Kirin Muhamad (Sekunder)
Michael Lourdes (The Last 7)

Best Sound Design
Ashwin Gobinath (Selam 2.0)
Syazana Nadira (Sekunder)
Warren Santiago (The Last 7)

Best Editing
Wong Kai Yun (Never Was The Shade)
Dixon Yoong (After Tango)
Ammar Aizad (Sekunder)

Best Actor
Steve Yap (Never Was The Shade)
Bront Palarae (Desakan Dewasa)
Hasnul Rahmat (Sekunder)

Best Actress
Ameera Ramlee (Selam 2.0) 
Livonia Ricky (Sekunder)
Yuna Rahim (Selam 2.0)

You read the first part of our feature here, and check out all the finalists and winners from the 2017 BMW Shorties here. We took a closer look at the 2015 edition here and here, and interviewed previous BMW Shorties filmmakers Aw See Wee, Edmund Yeo, Karthik Shamalan and Mugunthan Loganathan

Featured image credit: Arlie Whitlow

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