Bark and Bite – The Short Films of KKIFF 2017 (part 3)

Fikri Jermadi puts all of us out of our misery by concluding his considerations of selected short films from the 2017 Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival.

‘A Moment of Regret’, by Michelle Xin, tells the story of a mother (Rosmawati) whose child (Nickyta) went missing. This is right after she had picked her up after school, and they went to a park, where the child plays as the mother meets a client. Yet it is the efforts that follow in trying to recover her that prove to be most frustrating, as the police (led by the lead detective [Calvin]) turns out to be a lot less helpful than they really should be.

While I can appreciate the film’s objectives, I find the scripturalist approach to be too much. By scripturalist, I mean that the film has a strong proselytising function, meaning that it really wants to teach us something. This is usually the state of affairs I went through some time ago, when my students, in believing that films can be a good way of educating people, focused more on the lesson rather than the story. The end result is something that feels a little more forced than most, as the moral imperative supersedes the telling of a story in the most effective ways possible.

I must admit that the film also suffers from a lack of technical knowhow; perhaps driven more by enthusiasm rather than experience, it seems that much of the location and set (for instance) is done ala kadar. I can’t fault their effort, though, and watching this film as a parent, it does make me think about a few things here and there. However, I don’t like other people forcing their morals on me, and I don’t like watching films that do the same. Then again, it won the online voting award at the 2017 KKIFF for the People’s Award gong, so what do I know?

I know that I would not be able to go through much of what Mzung did for the making of ‘When Our Gardens Grow Silent’. This film plays out much like a video essay, documenting the protagonist’s thoughts as she considers the idea of home. In that sense, it is not that dissimilar in theme if we are to connect it to ‘Living Alone on Bung Jagoi’. However, what Mzung has done here is to reorient our focus on what is our right.

That sentence above plays on two levels. The first is the term ‘our’. In evoking it, I am highlighting an imaginary which includes primarily human beings. In particular, there is an especially-defined community, based largely on familial relations (which may expand beyond the literal blood connections). However, Mzung is discussing a bigger definition, in which she considers other creatures and animals native to the area of our home as its residents as well. This is shown through a number of shots of her simply allowing certain animals like snakes and frogs to creep around parts of the house.

Much of that has to do with a certain kind of activism, and that is the second level of consideration: what right do we have to call our home our home? The grounds on which our houses are built are often determined by us and for us. Yet this also removes the rights of those who are and, unfortunately in some cases, were native to the area longer than we have been. Of course, there is a certain demarcation that is inescapable, and Mzung does not necessarily mean we should leave our houses immediately, just that what we are doing is not without its cost, particularly for other species and creatures being displaced and dislocated from what they may call home. At the end of the day, human beings are animals too, and Mzung’s solution (that we live together side by side and in greater harmony with other animals) is one that should fly with a lot more people, even if it may not necessarily do so.

Speaking of harmony, there is certainly a noticeable lack of it in ‘Diari Pembunuh’. Directed by Muhammad Nazri bin Walkie, the film is a blood-splattered, possibly ‘KL Gangster’-inspired effort. On one level, it means that the story itself is one that is predicated largely on a sort of conflict in which the term ‘harmony’ is not in the lexicon of our primary players here. Here, the language of fists-on-face lands speaks louder than words, and in that sense, the story is little more than an excuse for the actors to beat each other up for a bit.

I must admit that on that front, the action choreography in the film is actually quite impressive. It seems like this is the kind of film that had been thought up through late-night mamak sessions, in which every other sentence in that impromptu production meeting would have started with “Wouldn’t it be cool if I kick you in the face, and then you go flying through the air?” or something of that ilk.

Unfortunately, as good as the action on screen may be, it means nothing if I can’t make head or tail of the story. Simply put, I don’t really know what the story is about, dear reader. There is a revenge element, of sorts. There is a love portion to be chucked into this equation somewhere. However, for the most part, Nazri and gang simply jumped straight to the action without much thought about anything else. Like I said, the action is impressive, but unfortunately, there is very little in the meat of this sandwich that’s worth writing home about.

I am a lot happier, however, to tell my mother about ‘Bus Stop’ by Tusilya Muthukumar. Similar to Charles Hazo’s ‘Shelter’, this one caused more than a round of suspicion, primarily because the whole film ran for a touch over 90 seconds; I think I have spent more time than that not watching a film in film screenings (i.e. the amount of time I covered my eyes watching ‘IT Chapter 2’). Yet this is one film that proves size doesn’t matter, with the story featuring a man (Adam Amiruddin) making his way home late at night. As he waits for the bus, things happen.

If ‘Diari Pembunuh’ felt like it was hashed out at three o’clock in the morning, this one feels as if it originated from a workshop scenario, in which participants were encouraged to create a story within a limited context. If that sounds like I’m demeaning the efforts of Tusilya and friends, I am not, for this film has worked out effectively. There is a beginning, middle and end all compressed into this very short timeframe. The setting provided is also one that is directly relatable; who amongst us have not been in that context of waiting in a mood of high tension? Everything was done logically, meaning that the end was incredibly effective at engendering a certain emotion out of me. It is a small circle, but what a well-drawn circle it is!

On that note, we reach the end of our look at the short films of the 2017 Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival. As ever, there’s always a mixed bag when it comes to these write-ups, but all the same I remain grateful for having watched the films being showcased here. They always force me to step outside of my comfort zone, and that’s something I am happy to do.

Silver Kinabalu Award
Heaven of Children (Masoud Soheili)

Golden Kinabalu Award
Si Tommy (Kubendera M.S. Mahadevan)

Jury Award
Bus Stop (Tusilya Muthukumar)

Special Mention Award
Tubod (Geraldyn Acibron)

Silver Kinabalu Award
Zero Level (Ko Oo)

Golden Kinabalu Award
When Our Gardens Grow Silent (Mzung)

Jury Award
Living Alone on Bung Jagoi (Yow Chong Lee)

Special Mention Award (1)
Unsung (Sanjaythiyan Santhian)

Special Mention Award (2)
The Light of Hope – (M Iskandar Tri Gunawan)

Special Mention
Tontolu (Ester Saminding)

Golden Kinabalu Award
Hello Pirit (Kwan Thung Seng)

Best Sabahan Entry

Hello Pirit (Kwan Thung Seng) 

Special Mention
Shelter (Charles Hazo)

Special Mention – for Best Fight Choreography
Diari Pembunuh’ by Muhd Nazri Bin Walkie

Special Mention – for Cinematography
When Our Gardens Grow Silent (Mzung)

Special Mention – for Editing
Tubod (Geraldyn Acibron)

People’s Award (online voting)
A Moment of Regret (Michelle Xin)

Read parts one and two. The 10th Kota Kinabalu International Film Festival will run from Saturday 7th September 2019 to Saturday 14th September 2019. Click on them for more details.

Featured image credit: ‘Bus Stop’ by Tusilya Muthukumar

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