A Priceless win

Winning entries: Priceless (left) by Kenny Tan is the story of a boy called to the principal’s office for getting into a fight over an eraser. Going Away (above) by Tariq Mansor is about a teenager who decides to leave home only to enlist for military service.

SINGAPORE - The image of an eraser stamped with the Singapore flag spoke volumes about national identity to visual director Kenny Tan, 30. So much so that he made a film about it.

His submission to the biennial short film festival ciNE65, Priceless, emerged as the Overall Best Film at the awards ceremony held at Golden Village Grand at Great World City on Tuesday night.

Launched in July 2011 by Nexus, a national education resource hub and unit of the Ministry of Defence, ciNE65 is a platform for budding filmmakers to interpret Singapore through their lenses.

In its second year, the competition was based on the theme, "I'll be there for you, Singapore".

Set in the days of Tan's own childhood in the 1980s, Priceless, which took just half a day to shoot, is the story of a boy called to the principal's office for getting into a fight over an unnamed possession.

He finally reveals the object he had been so jealously guarding: an eraser emblazoned with the flag of Singapore - the only one in an entire box he owns.

Tan was inspired by how Singaporeans may all be different but share common memories.

"When we used to play these eraser games, the one with the Singapore flag was the most rare and expensive and it was something that we would fight over," he said, referring to the classroom game of flipping erasers in which the player whose eraser lands on top of his opponent's pockets both.

He hopes that his film can address cynicism about national identity which might appear as something manufactured in official discourse.

The eraser conveys the message that "you would want to defend what is yours", even in the early days of childhood innocence when one is hardly aware of such constructed identities.

A total of 166 films were submitted this year in the Open and Student categories, more than twice the number of films submitted in the inaugural competition.

Each film has to be three minutes or shorter.

Singaporeans, as well as foreigners residing in Singapore, can take part in the competition.

Tan, who also garnered accolades for Best Screenplay, won $3,000 in cash, a learning trip to a regional film festival which will be confirmed at a later date and a Panasonic video camera for his Best Film award.

Going Away by final-year Temasek Polytechnic Moving Images student Tariq Mansor, 21, was awarded Overall Best Film in the Student category. He won the same prizes as Tan in the Open category.

In Going Away, a teenage girl listens patiently as her loved ones question her about her decision to leave home, ostensibly for greener pastures abroad.

In a twist, however, she is shown wearing a military uniform instead, presumably to enlist in the army.

Tariq said he is "very honoured" to receive the award and hopes that audiences would appreciate the film's main message that "protecting what you love starts from the people close to you".

Nineteen other awards were given out on Tuesday night, including Best Editing, Best Sound Design and Favourite Film.

The submissions can be viewed online at cine65.sg and winning entries will be screened on public platforms such as shopping malls, outdoor screens and in Golden Village theatres.

The judges, who included film-makers Jasmine Ng and K. Rajagopal, said the two winning films displayed subtle interpretations of this year's theme.

Ng commented that the good films "were the ones that questioned the theme a little more - if the place that you are attached to is constantly shifting, can you still remain grounded to your roots?"

To hone his screenplay, Tariq looked at films by past winners for pointers, as well as Anthony Chen's film Homesick, which was commissioned by the organisers of ciNE65.

For Chen, who won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May and is now mostly based in London, Homesick - depicting a phone call between a family and their son overseas - is an attempt to reflect his sense of displacement and double consciousness.

"Some form of emotion seems to be stirred up whenever you encounter something familiar; almost like a cord that you attach to a place that you have grown up in," said the 29-year-old film-maker.