Indie Doc Fest: Intimate look at life

The line-up for the Indie Doc Fest includes The Great North Korean Picture Show (above), Ruslan and The Kings.

When Victoria Tay, 23, was done shooting footage of Elvis fans rocking the dance floor at the Thomson Community Club, she would dash to another location to help a crew member make her own film journal about an embalmer and his craft.

While the topics could not have been more different, both films - The Kings, about fans keeping the spirit of Elvis Presley alive, and Bodies, about the embalmer - are among the varied mix of local documentary shorts featured in the 6th Singapore Indie Doc Fest at The Substation.

"I was filming two documentaries at the same time, mine and my cinematographer's. We would film half a day of Elvis, then go to the embalmer's place at night," she says.

Her 11-minute work and the six- minute Bodies, directed by Nurkhuzaimah Abdul Wahab, 22, took a total of two months to shoot last year.

Tay, a recent film graduate of the Lasalle College of the Arts who now works as an assistant producer at a production house, discovered the flamboyant Elvis fans at an online meet-up site last year.

"Then I stalked them for two months at the Thomson Club," she says with a laugh. She wanted to see if they might be a worthy topic and to find candidates for the leads.

In the end, she zeroed in on three core members - ordinary Singapore men who, when they don white sequinned jumpsuits and jump on stage, become extraordinary.

The Substation's film programme manager Aishah Abu Bakar picked the works based on the strength of the story and creative storytelling, says marketing manager Chelsea Chua.

The slate this year skews towards the experimental, says Ms Chua, as well as issues related to the arts and more personal stories such as Mudita.

The impetus for the nine-minute Mudita came as a class instruction earlier this year.

Then a Chapman University Singapore student, Nafisah Alias, 22, and her team of classmates in the creative producing programme were asked to make a non-fiction piece "portraying a sin in a positive way", says Nafisah.

Teammate Melvin Chan suggested a film examining his mixed emotions about his mother, dealing mainly with the sin of envy. Since his mother divorced his father eight years before and became a Buddhist nun with a devoted following, Chan had felt envy weigh on his heart.

He felt left out of her life now that she spends a large part of it with her followers. The film follows him struggling to articulate his hurt about the divorce, and about her spending time with followers rather than with her family.

Now a creative content manager at a media company, Nafisah says Chan would be "terrified" during the times he opened old emotional wounds with his mother. "Eight years after the divorce, he never found a way to talk about it," she says.

Another documentary short, the 12-minute Ruslan, is a portrait of a former convict and drug addict who appears to be homeless, yet is happier, fitter and more health-conscious than most Singaporeans.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Sabrina Poon, 18, followed the man of the film's title, who had turned his life around and, at the time of filming, worked on odd jobs on boats and fished in the Jurong area.

The most remarkable thing about Ruslan, a man in his 40s, was his makeshift home under a bridge. It consisted of donated furniture, and was kept spick and span by the house- proud owner. It had a weights set which the body-conscious Ruslan used to build up his physique.

He had been living in that nook, away from prying eyes, for over a decade when Poon and her crew visited him last year. Yet he invited them to film him, which they did on and off for five months.

He talks on camera about his troubled youth, and his convictions for housebreaking and drug-taking. Poon says: "He was so open. He had created his own second chance. He wanted us to let people know that there are people who need second chances. He wanted the nation to know that."

johnlui@sph.com.sg

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