Youth filmmakers continue chasing their passion despite a pandemic

National Youth Film Awards 2020 nominees Christine Seow and Nevin Jacob Thomas share how they made the best of COVID-19 through their short films.

Winny Wint Htae

Published: 17 July 2020, 6:25 PM

Despite the pandemic, the local film industry is still thriving with passionate and enthusiastic young filmmakers who are undeterred by the pandemic.

In fact, the annual National Youth Film Awards (NYFA) 2020 announced their list of 53 nominees on Jun 25.

Amongst them are aspiring filmmakers Christine Seow and Nevin Jacob Thomas, who had directed unique films for the competition. They also shared one thing in common: Neither of them intended to have a career in the film industry.

Youth.SG spoke to Christine and Nevin to find out more about the short films they submitted to the competition.

Documenting an infant's first month at home

While everyone else was staying home during COVID-19, 26-year-old Christine Seow managed to direct a documentary called Welcome Home about her infant niece’s first month at home.

The idea to document her niece’s first month with her family stemmed from Christine being stuck in Singapore after the Chinese New Year holidays.

Welcome Home was Christine’s first time documenting a baby.

Christine, who was unable to return to her school in Beijing, recalled: “My eldest sister had just given birth and was spending her confinement month at my parents’. I was only supposed to be back for a short Chinese New Year holiday, but COVID-19 broke out and flights to China were cancelled.

“As I was stuck at home with a crying baby and my entire family living under the same roof, I told myself that I needed to document this chaos with COVID-19 in the backdrop. I would love to re-watch this with my niece and entire family a decade later, just to see their reaction!”

Welcome Home was a passion project for Christine, whose plans were changed drastically because of COVID-19.

The Beijing Film Academy student is no stranger to participating in NYFA. Her documentary Rojak Romance was also nominated last year, which encouraged her to submit another film this year.

Interestingly, Christine shared that she did not expect to enter the film industry as she was initially studying broadcast journalism in Nanyang Technological University’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information.

“To be honest, it was an accidental transition into filmmaking…but I’ve always wanted to be a storyteller. When I discovered film as a medium, I fell in love with it and started wanting to make films,” explained Christine, who started making short documentaries in 2017.

Welcome Home is nominated in the Open Youth category this year.

A lighthearted approach to the Singaporean identity

Similarly, fellow nominee Nevin Jacob Thomas did not expect to pursue a career in filmmaking.

Back in junior college, he was a science student who rarely took on arts and humanities subjects, but always had an interest in making short montages and photography.

“No one in school would talk about a career in the film and media industry, as it was considered unconventional and not a stable path. So I never aspired to make a career out of it,” admitted 26-year-old Nevin.

Everything changed after he secured an internship at media production company Big Red Button. The internship eventually broadened his horizons of the film industry.

“The founders, Wally and Ami were instrumental in giving me an opportunity to learn and grow, even though I had no experience in filmmaking. I think that is a rare opportunity that many employers don’t necessarily give in the production industry.

“It also allowed me to see how important documentaries were and how much people’s stories mattered in Singapore,” shared Nevin, who recently graduated in digital filmmaking from Nanyang Technological University’s School of Art, Design and Media.

His documentary, Unite in Laughter, explores the uncomfortable side of the Singaporean identity through the perspective of three comedians: Kumar, Sam See and Sharul Channa. He decided to use comedians as his subjects because of their ability to talk about controversial topics that others would not speak up about.

Unite in Laughter features well-known local comedians who talk about their identity.

“In my experience, audiences in Singapore would reciprocate the comedians’ emotions because they could relate to it.

“That is the power of humour on people, especially in Singapore, where media outlets are seemingly under the watchful eye of the government. Comedy is sometimes the escape that many Singaporeans desire,” he revealed, explaining why his audience would be able to connect with the film.

Despite the comedians’ busy schedules, Nevin managed to shoot them during their shows.

Nevin also hopes that the film would be a conversation starter about Singaporean identity, helping his audience to find their identity in the fast pace and rigour of our society.

Unlike Christine, this is Nevin’s first time being nominated for an award in the Media Student category at NYFA, even though he had submitted entries in previous years.

Both filmmakers also shared their hopes for more people, not just fellow filmmakers, to take an interest in documentaries and the local film industry.

“I hope to inspire other young emerging filmmakers to keep working on their personal voice they wish to share and present an untold and fresh perspective. The nomination itself for Unite In Laughter is a win for me,” said Nevin.

Christine added: “I’m always excited to watch new works and I hope to get to know more like-minded people through NYFA. I also hope that more people will take a greater interest in documentaries as well.”

Catch the online awards ceremony for NYFA 2020, organised by *SCAPE, on Jul 25, 2020 here

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