You've probably heard about them somewhere but didn't stop to take a second glance. Well, it's time for you to realise you're looking at quality work.
To keep the reel for women in film rolling, we've decided to highlight four Southeast Asian women who have made a name for themselves with their films - their unique styles have garnered international recognition and some have gone on to bag awards in film festivals around the world.
Who: Chew Chia Shao Min, Singaporean filmmaker
Mainly a freelance writer, Chew Chia Shao Min is currently completing her Master of Fine Arts in writing and directing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her previous works include assistant directing for Eric Khoo’s In The Room (2015). Other than that, she has produced and written a number of short films during her studies at Tisch. This year, she will be premiering a short on an underrated sport - fencing - at SGIFF’s Singapore Panorama.
What film: May and June (2018)
The film charts the narrative of two talented female fencers who are 16 and just finding themselves. Wonderfully shot, the film features Singapore's urban landscape as we follow May's journey into fencing. Starring Pierre Png as Coach Michael, this film does not disappoint. The film premiered on Nov 29 and will be screened in certain cinemas in the future. Stay tuned to find out.
Who: Shireen Seno, filmmaker from the Phillipines
After graduating from the University of Toronto with a BA in Architecture and Film Studies, Seno worked with independent Filipino filmmakers like John Torres and Lav Diaz. Her own work is no less remarkable; her debut feature film Big Boy (2012) was screened at International Film Festival Rotterdam and won the prize for Best First Film at the Festival de Cine Lima Independiente in 2013. This year, she has brought her second feature film to Singapore’s big screen.
What film: Nervous Translation (2017)
An expert at juxtaposing surreal scenes with realistic storylines, Seno’s latest film brings a child’s imagination to life - all with real-life props and no CGI. The film’s main character is 8-year-old Yael who is often left at home by her parents.Having to constantly rely on her imagination to fill the void left by her parents’ busy work hours, Yael spends her time in an imaginary world filled with everyday items (especially tape recordings made by her father for her mother).
Faced with an incoming typhoon, Yael sets out to get a “magic pen” that she believes will save her family. A film described as a charming story on life in post-Marcos Philippines, Nervous Translation celebrates a child’s imagination in a time of social chaos.
Who: Danech San, filmmaker from Cambodia
Other than celebrating experienced filmmakers for their work, Singapore International Film Festival also features young and budding filmmakers with commendable work. Danech San stands out in terms of not just her work but her background as well. She is a rarity - there aren’t many Cambodian women filmmakers and San’s work has competed in the Busan International Film Festival, under the Wide Angle Asian Shorts section.
San majored in interior design before getting into cinema and has previously worked on various television and film productions (including Davy Chou’s Diamond Island). This year, her debut short film has been selected for the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition at Singapore International Film Festival.
What film: A Million Years (2018)
The film tells the story of a young woman in 20min. Opening with a young woman relaxing at a riverfront restaurant, the film transcends into a fearful recount of past memories by two strangers who have just met. San’s work features many dreamlike sequences that tell an intriguing tale.
“The film is not really like a story. My intention is to really talk about inner feelings,” says San in an interview with Variety.
Head down to the National Gallery Singapore on Dec 8 to catch San’s debut film. It screens at 2pm, along with four other Southeast Asian shorts. Click here to purchase tickets.
Who: Ash Mayfair, filmmaker from Vietnam.
Educated in the U.S and the U.K, Mayfair made her first official foray into filmmaking with several short films: The Silver Man, Sam and Heart of a Doll in 2011. In 2012, her pre-thesis short (Grasshopper) was screened at the Cannes Short Film Corner and it also bagged the Audience Award at the Un Pays Un Film Festival in Apchat, France. This year, Mayfair is makes her directorial debut with a feature film that not only pays homage to her birthplace, but honours women by challenging gender stereotypes.
What film: The Third Wife (2018)
Period dramas focusing on multiple wives and wealthy men typically scream “catfights’ and lots of scheming, but this isn’t where Mayfair’s debut feature is headed. Set in 19th-century Vietnam, the film toys with tradition and probes at sensitive issues like child-marriages and women’s rights in a patriarchal society.
The film focuses on May, a 14-year old girl who is about to become the wife of a wealthy landlord - who is significantly older. Starting off eerily calm, May’s utter compliance to her supposed fate tingles the anxiety receptors of the contemporary audience.
The unassuming nature of a 14-year-old girl is quickly corrupted by the secrets she finds as she struggles to survive in a place where women are treated as commodity. She also befriends the two mistresses (Ha and Xun) and finds her place in the family. Veering vastly away from the typical mistress-catfights and struggle-for-affection, the women characters are far more focused on female camaraderie under a patriarchal rule.