An Utter coincidence

If you happen to spot a theme in this year's slate of short films supporting the Singapore Writers Festival, note that it happened by chance.

Of the four works, three deal with the elderly and how they were either misunderstood or mistreated by the people around them. The fourth is a romance set in 1964.

That three directors picked short stories with a similar theme is a coincidence, says Mr Nicholas Chee, the project's producer.

The films are produced for Utter, the pre-festival programme that celebrates Singaporean literature adapted into other art forms. In previous years, stories have been used in stage productions. But from last year, film became Utter's platform.

The four directors this year - Wee Li Lin, Sanif Olek, Don Aravind and Kenny Tan - were given a shortlist of stories from local authors. All but Wee chose the topic of ageing and its consequences.

The four films are That Loving Feeling (directed by Wee, based on Homecoming by Gopal Baratham), Tin Kosong (directed by Sanif, based on Tin Kosong by Muhammad Salihin Sulaiman), At Your Doorstep (directed by Aravind, based on Peaks by Kamaladevi Aravindhan) and Going Home (directed by Tan, based on Going Home by Lin Jin).

Mr Chee is not surprised by the choices, nor did he as a producer try to dissuade them. He understands that older people make fascinating subjects for film-makers, especially in short films, where there is no time for much backstory or context.

"Older characters have accumulated experience. It's easier to pull out subplots that are believable because they have gone through so much in their lives," he says.

Also, the issue of Singapore's greying society is in the news and it is natural for film-makers to want to be topical, he adds. Mr Chee, 35, is managing director of Sinema Media, the producer of the four films. The Singapore Writers Festival is organised by the National Arts Council.

The directors were selected for their mix of experience - Tan and Aravind are relative newcomers while Sanif and Wee are veterans - and ethnicity, so the films could be helmed by a director fluent in the language spoken by the characters.

The directors were also left free to interpret and adapt the texts, to excerpt only the parts they needed and to leave the conclusions open-ended if they wanted.

And in another coincidence, none of the directors felt the use of voiceover narration was needed. Voiceover is a device found in many literary adaptations to make explicit the lead character's thoughts.

Sanif says in adapting Tin Kosong into the short film of the same name, he left out 30 per cent of the five-page short story that he felt could not be translated visually.

He discussed his adaptation with the author and was pleased when the writer gave the thumbs-up to the filmed interpretation, especially as the writer was familiar with Sanif's work on television, mostly for the Malay-language channel Suria.

Sanif picked Tin Kosong because the images in the story are scenes he sees every day. "I live in Jurong, around Boon Lay. I come across a lot of elderly folks. It's an area with a lot of working-class people and a lot of them live alone. I know a lot of them personally. This story is my homage to them," says Sanif, 44, a pioneer- batch graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic's Film, Sound and Video course.

In the film, an elderly rag-and-bone man works hard to make ends meet. In what Sanif calls a "hyper-real", dream-like sequence, the man is seen in a song-and-dance number, set in iconic locations around the island. This moment of uplift is one of the liberties he took with the text as a film-maker.

"The story is a dark piece about how some people progress and some people are left on the periphery. I thought it needed a contrast to make that idea more obvious," he says.

Book it

UTTER 2014

Where: Golden Village VivoCity

When: July 30, 7 to 9pm; Aug 3, 4 to 6pm

Admission: $10 at

Info: Go to SinemaOldSchool for details.

This article was first published on July 23, 2014.
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