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ArtsCinema & TV

NYFA 2019 participants tackle controversial issues in Singapore

Back for its fifth edition, the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) 2019 sees an increase in nominees tackling difficult subjects in their films. These aspiring filmmakers deep-dived into controversial topics such as public nudity, sugar dating, and the pitfalls of being a social media celebrity. Others took to exploring the intricate complexities of familial versus personal identity, as well as Singaporean experiences such as National Service.

NYFA - screening of trailers
Trailers of some of the shortlisted films were screened at the NYFA 2019 luncheon

Since its inception in 2015, the NYFA has been cultivating a community of likeminded media enthusiasts and is the connecting point for youths to network and collaborate, with some alumni being commissioned for various video campaigns by corporate and industry partners such as Adobe, PAVE, and Sony.

Art has always been and always will be a place for discourse on societal issues, and youths are finding their place in the arts scene, using film as one of the mediums to tell their stories. 

We spoke with three shortlisted nominees, whose documentaries covered topics that are close to home, and even ventured into uncharted territory.

Bare” (by Martin Loh and Lee Yi Jia)

NYFA - Bare

Directed by Martin Loh and Produced by Lee Yi Jia, Bare questions our treatment of naked bodies. The documentary follows Richard, who chances upon a YouTube video discussing public nudity in Singapore. With his interest piqued, Richard manages to contact two Singaporean naturists, Lim and B, and they decide to meet up in real life. As they begin sharing their reasons for being naturists, Richard’s imagination comes alive. Eventually, he grew to understand what it means to bare it all.

NYFA - Bare (Lee Yi Jia and Martin Loh)
Left to right: Lee Yi Jia and Martin Loh

The inspiration for Bare originally stemmed from a desire to seek out the “unconventional”. “When we first started to brainstorm on an idea or things we wanted to do, something that came to mind was the alternative lifestyle in Singapore. All over the world, we always see videos of people pretending to be animals, running around in parks, and things like that, but we never really heard of such things in Singapore. It came to mind that there are definitely people doing these things in Singapore – people who are living in the fringes,” said Martin. “I wanted to find out if such people really do exist in Singapore; if there was a space for people like that and – especially for naturism – what would make someone want to adopt that lifestyle.”

Yi Jia also confessed that they were also initially guilty of harbouring misconceptions towards naturism. It helped them develop how they viewed naturism as well. “Starting out, we had a bit of a sensationalist view of naturism – we thought it was super provocative, which was why we wanted to do a documentary on it. However, the more we spoke with (the naturists) and built a relationship with them, we realised that it was more than just an excitement factor. There came a point where all of us really supported what they stood for, and properly understood why they were doing those things.”

Sweet Like Sugar” (by Chin Yun Ru)

Chin Yun Ru unabashedly takes on Singapore’s sugar dating scene in Sweet Like Sugar. Sugar dating platforms are growing and gaining more traction with Singaporeans. However, society views it as glorified prostitution, where girls provide sexual favours in exchange for a glamorous life. The reality is not always as it seems and these sugar babies have to hide their identities in fear of the shame. Sweet Like Sugar delves deeper into the psyche and circumstances of those in this lifestyle to understand why they took part in it and to challenge society’s perception of sex.

“There are websites for sugar babies (that work like dating sites) online. One example is Sugarbook, that recently open and is based in Malaysia. but when we contacted them, they told us that the majority of their base is Singaporean women. We felt that this was definitely a viable profile to work with, so we decided to go with sugar babies,” said Janice Lim, producer of Sweet Like Sugar.

NYFA - Sweet Like Sugar (Yun Ru)
Janice Lim, producer of Sweet Like Sugar

On a larger scale, however, Janice says it is about letting these minority groups know that they are not alone. “What we actually want to do is to show these younger people who are developing sexual interests or interest in (less spoken-about) topics that – no matter where you are or who you are, regardless of your age and gender – there is going to be a community out there for you where you can seek proper help from. There is a safety net for you and there is someone you can reach out to – you are not alone in this.”

Trespass: Stories from Singapore’s Thieves Market” (by Ong Kah Jing)

NYFA - trespass

Ong Kah Jing documents the final days of one of Singapore’s hidden jewels in Trespass. In 2017, the infamous Sungei Road Thieves Market, which predates the founding of Singapore by over 30 years, was forced to close and make way for the future. Its impending closure ignited dialogues about the value of heritage, heart for the disenfranchised, and sentimentality for history. In documenting its final days, this documentary also serves as a one-of-a-kind time capsule for future generations to experience the sun-baked streets of the Thieves Market, its characters and items galore.

NYFA - Trespass (Ong Kah Jing)

Amidst the many videos on Singapore’s Thieves Market that came to light, Kah Jing noticed that there was a need for a documentary with a neutral perspective. “I felt that there was an opportunity to do a story down there, and there was a gap whereby there were many stories about the market being told, but there was a hidden agenda – the stories were always either for or against the closure of (Thieves Market). A lot of people were forgetting about just telling the story of the market as it is, and I felt that I had to do this before it is all over – which it is now – and I am glad to have done that.”

Moving forward, Kah Jing hopes to document the road to commercial space travel. “Right now I’m making my very first space-related documentary – it is a short documentary on a 25-year-old who shoots deep space objects like galaxies and nebulas from his level 5 balcony at Toa Payoh. That’s really exciting because one of my first interests in documentaries had been on space exploration, and we could be that very generation that sees space travel become mainstream.” 

The winners for NYFA 2019 will be decided by two jury panels who will be assessed either in the media student or the open youth film categories – and will be announced at the awards ceremony on 31 August 2019.

For more information, visit https://www.scape.sg/scapemedia/nyfa/.

Photos by Soloman Soh of the DANAMIC team. Additional visuals courtesy of Martin Loh, Chin Yun Ru and OKJ Works.

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Deepa D/O Sundararaju

Animal and music lover, bookworm and movie enthusiast. #blackismyhappycolour

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