I was fortunate enough to get tickets for the second run of Utter 2014 yesterday, having missed their first run at GV cinemas. This time around they screened at The Arts House on Old Parliament Lane along the Singapore River, a pocket of quiet in the middle of glass office buildings and the busy-ness of Boat Quay.
The Arts House, to friends who’ve lived in the UK, looks vaguely familiar. That could be because it was built back in 1826 in a British colonial architectural style. It used to house Singapore’s parliament and is the country’s oldest government building. Now there are various rooms and galleries inside, as well as a few shops and restaurants (Bookmarked Earshot Cafe for a future visit!).
Utter 2014 is one of the prelude events to the Singapore Writers Festival happening 31st October to 9th November 2014. It presents four written works from Singaporean writers in a different medium: film. Each film is short, about 10-14 minutes long. The ticket comes with a nicely bound Utter 2014 book. Inside you can find the original texts, a short paragraph on each film’s treatment of its story, screenplays, and film storyboards.
The Screening Room, which has the size and feel of a private theater, was empty when we arrived. I started to read the stories while waiting for the film to start.
After a while Utter 2014 producer Nicholas Chee welcomed us and joked that since we read the book already we could give a thoughtful critique of the films. (Looked around and realized I wasn’t the only one busy reading!) It was a challenge to produce all four films in the short span of four months, he said, but ultimately rewarding as the audiences’ (and the writers’) response was very positive. All the film directors were given creative freedom in interpreting the stories, so the films weren’t exact replicas of the stories they were based on.
The hour kicked off with ‘That Loving Feeling’ (screenplay written by Teh Su Ching/directed by Wee Li Lin/original story Homecoming by Gopal Baratham), a coming-of-age story set at a church social, New Year’s Eve 1964. Ena is incessantly hounded by her critical mother in curlers (likely a figment of Ena’s imagination, but the film doesn’t clearly show this) while she nervously waits for a dance. She finally dances with, and instantly falls for, a bearded guy in a cowboy hat. She sweats buckets, confronts and gets her mom to shut up, and is eventually given talcum powder by said guy as the clock strikes twelve.
Getting their groove on. (Source: Straits Times)
Next was my personal favorite, ‘回家 (Going Home)’ (screenplay written by Asa Lee & Kenny Tan/directed by Kenny Tan/original story by Lin Jin). The lines are spoken mostly in Hokkien, with English subtitles. It’s a touching film about elderly Mr Tan, who returns to his old HDB block to visit an old friend and neighbor who’s unwell. Mr Tan thinks his friend’s son has locked him out of their apartment because of a prior argument. The twist in the ending is both funny and sad, a reminder of the “harsh realities of aging.”
Then we watched ‘Tin Kosong (Empty Cans)’ (screenplay by Sulfadli Rashid/directed by Sanif Olek/original story in Malay by Muhammad Salihin Mulaiman), about Somad, an old man who washed cars and collected cans. He clearly loves his wife very much; in the course of the day he calls home (on his old Nokia 3310) and leaves a long message for her, she features in his daydreams. Somad is trusting and innocent (he speaks of his sons with tin hearts, but does so matter-of-factly and without anger) and seems to lives in a bubble of the past. The film ends sadly, and I heard the person seated next to me sniffling.
Finally ‘உன் வாசலில் (At Your Doorstep)’ (screenplay by Wesley Leon Aroozoo/directed by Don Aravind/original story in Tamil Peaks by Kamaladevi Aravindhan), which is once again about the helplessness the elderly feel. Slowly, quietly, we are shown Grandma Kamatchi’s struggle. She misses her dead husband, her grandson rudely berates her because she forgot to bathe, she forgets to lock the door on leaving the apartment and is again berated, this time by her daughter-in-law. She glimpses a future time when her family are all in mourning at her death; in stark contrast to the way they were treating her now.
It is striking that three of the four Utter 2014 films dealt with the struggles of the elderly, a growing demographic. I think it’s a timely topic, especially these days as Singapore balances a shrinking local population base with the thorny issue of immigration.
There was a short Q&A after the screening with one of the directors, which we decided to miss. It was a nice afternoon for a walk. It was the launch of Bulan Bahasa (Language Month in Malay) and there was dancing and music on the lawn of the Asian Civilizations Museum, which was on our way. We stopped to watch the show.