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SFS Showcase #1: Children In Society

Programmer’s Note
by Morris Yang

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It is a pleasure to welcome you back to the cinema.

A whole year has passed without the possibility of bumping shoulders and basking in the romance of the silver screen together; and while our frequent Netflix Parties and Kopi & Movi sessions do offer a much-needed respite from the new reality of masks and mandated distancing brought about by the pandemic, nothing can truly replicate the shared experience of connecting in a darkened room, revelling in a space both personal and communal.

In spite of the wearying journey of the past year, cinema and cinephilia have persevered and thrived. One of their greatest benchmarks—the Cannes Film Festival—was cancelled, but most of its selection, sans the much-anticipated latest from Wes Anderson, went on to bow at Toronto, New York, Sundance, and more.

Many local festivals adopted a hybrid format of in-person screenings and online premieres, including our own Singapore Chinese Film Festival and Japanese Film Festival; some went virtual completely like the Middle East Film Festival which we co-organised last month.

Filmmakers adapted to the changes around them, examining life under lockdown directly, as Abel Ferrara’s quarantine diary Sportin’ Life did, or situating their narratives amid this backdrop, as was the case with Radu Jude’s idiosyncratic and incisive Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, declared winner of the Berlinale’s Golden Bear less than a month ago.

CHILDREN IN SOCIETY
Our first SFS Showcase since the reopening of cinemas, and the first to be programmed thematically, aims to reconnect audiences with reality: not only in immediate terms, with the roll-out of vaccines and steady reinstating of personal freedoms, but also in those of the generation growing up in an irreversibly altered, post-pandemic world.

‘Children in Society’ explores the myriad concerns facing the heirs of our civilisation, as they have faced us, our parents, and so on since time immemorial. With each generation comes new sets of contexts and challenges, however; and the twenty-first century, for all its technological and social advancements, remains a tricky terrain to navigate for many.

One such challenge most pressing and relatable to us lies in the explosive properties of social media, both in terms of their virality and ubiquity. To most millennials, the rise of these platforms serves as a welcome addition to their working and personal lives in adulthood, but for a majority of Gen Zs, it has shaped their entire conception of society and social interaction since childhood.

THE DIGITAL DANGERS IN JOHN DENVER TRENDING
Our centrepiece film, John Denver Trending, presents a solemn look at the dangers an unmediated and unprincipled network poses to its users, with the youngest of them bearing the greatest brunt of all.

Arden Rod Condez’s opportune debut feature, which premiered internationally at Busan in 2019, centres around the titular John Denver, an introverted student at a rural Filipino school who becomes the subject of notoriety after footage of him assaulting another student goes viral.

Character assassination has had a long-standing presence in humanity’s history, but more often than not remains the exclusive purview of politics. In John Denver Trending, this unpleasant practice is heartbreakingly exerted upon an ordinary teenager by a mob thirsty for justice and blood.

Doctored videos, echo chambers, and a willingness to accept emotional fabrications over logical facts have sadly become everyday occurrences, especially in light of recent political developments around the world.

That Condez’s lean and trenchant screenplay trains the spotlight onto even the closest-knit of communities (as opposed to a more urban setting) serves as a cautionary tale of our digitally-reliant age, whose preference for trending news over objective information remains an issue to be mitigated, if not overcome.

THE RURAL RETURNS IN LUNANA: A YAK IN THE CLASSROOM
With this rather pessimistic observation comes a more optimistic ethos in Pawo Choyning Dorji’s Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, another promising debut. Set on the rustic highlands of Bhutan, this quaint and heartwarming film follows an unmotivated teacher as he journeys, on official assignment, to one of the most remote village schools on the planet.

Initially skeptical of his ability to impart knowledge to his students, he finds himself quickly infected by their unassailable enthusiasm for learning, an enthusiasm cultivated despite and due to their material poverty.

Primarily a community of yak herders and cordyceps-pickers, the village lacks a robust educational foundation, but the fortitude of its newest inhabitant will perhaps change this. Contending with gruelling hardship away from the bustling individualism of city life, Lunana resonates with our enduring desire to positively influence the lives of others, and tells a story of uplifting simplicity.

THE UNCUT GEMS IN SUN CHILDREN

Likewise, the latest from Iranian director Majid Majidi speaks to the resilience of youth in fighting for their future. Premiering internationally at Venice last year, Sun Children integrates in just under 100 minutes the elements of heist thriller, social realism, and stirring drama.

Dedicating his film to the “152 million children forced into child labour and all those who fight for their rights”, Majidi outlines a tremulous existence for his four boyish protagonists, street urchins who get by through odd jobs and petty crime, and who enroll in a school with the intention of locating an underground treasure nearby.

Interweaving the main narrative—frequently unpredictable and claustrophobic—with many colourful subplots, Sun Children appeals to our popular and political sensibilities equally, its shortlisting as part of the final fifteen nominees at the Academy Awards for Best International Feature a well-deserved recognition of Majidi’s vibrant humanism.

Among the many titles our team (consisting of programming director Eternality Tan, Charles Kurniawan, and myself) sampled, we were especially moved and impressed by these three. We hope that they will enrapture and entertain you likewise with their timely commentaries and timeless confidence. The world is recovering, slowly but steadily. We look forward to presenting to you SFS Showcase #1: Children in Society, and rekindling the joy of cinema in time to come.

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