Student film-maker Shane Lim's short November won awards earlier this month for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Direction at the inaugural National Youth Film Awards.
His coursemate at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film & Media Studies, Han Fengyu, has also earned acclaim with his short. Last Trip Home won Best Fiction at the 6th Singapore Short Film Awards in March. It is the first Singaporean student film to show at Cannes' 2014 Cinefondation Selections, an international student short-film category.
Both of them made the short films for their Final-Year Project in 2014 and both works, ironically, were heavily criticised by their teachers in school.
November received a B while Last Trip Home received a C.
Lim's November will be screened next month as part of a National Youth Film Awards event. It was initially dismissed by the school for lacking comedic elements and for not touching on teenage slice-of- life themes. The film is about the fallout after a teenage girl finds out her boyfriend cheats on her and contracts herpes.
Han's Last Trip Home, which follows the story of a boy and his father who attempt to drive a car from Singapore back to China where they come from, was criticised for lacking in dialogue and original content. Both Lim and Han have since graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic and are now doing national service.
Lim, 22, who made November with four other coursemates, says: "The school had a lot of issues with my pitch and thought I was being irresponsible by continuing to push for it. But as project leader, it's my responsibility to make sure that we made a film that we believed in.
"After three years, you make a film not just for the grade, but also for the passion."
His project supervisor, Mr Michael Kam, 46, says: "Students are encouraged to qualify their decisions and substantiate their results throughout the process, as this is the rigour that would be expected of them when they transition into the industry.
"Grades are reflective of their academic performance, but not reflective of how they will do in life."
Says Angelica Ho, 21, who produced November: "I can't remember my final grade. In this industry, what you can do matters more than numbers on a piece of paper. I don't understand how the marking system works.You cannot grade a film like a science project. It's subjective."
Mr Nicholas Chee, 36, director of the National Youth Film Awards, says: "November is an extremely atmospheric film and gave even grown men in the audience shivers about the parallels with their youth."
The awards were judged by a panel from the local film industry, including director Royston Tan and Singapore Film Commission director Joachim Ng.
Han, 24, recalls being called in for a disciplinary hearing a month before the final project was due.
He says: "During the disciplinary hearing, I recall Anita (Kuan, director of School of Film & Media Studies) saying that 'Ngee Ann is a polytechnic, not a film school'. When I heard that, I got very upset and wondered why Ngee Ann was using established directors like Boo Junfeng as the poster boys for the film school then, if it does not intend to produce directors."
However, he says he bears no ill will towards the school. "I will always be thankful to Ngee Ann for teaching us the skills necessary to make films. I want to leave all the unpleasantness behind and move on to my next project, a feature film which I hope to release in 2017."
He made Last Trip Home with a crew of four coursemates.
Explaining the school's stance, Ms Kuan says: "We want to provide a holistic education, so the final grade reflects both process and the quality of the final product. Festivals look only at the final film and don't know what a student has been through."
She adds that the polytechnic often invites industry members to find discrepancies with the institution's marking standards: "There is no one formula for doing well. We encourage students to be different. If you are willing to be creative, we will reward you for it.
"People should stop fixating so much on the grades and focus on the learning process instead. We want to prepare students for the working world." firstname.lastname@example.org
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This article was first published on Aug 26, 2015.
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