Dad, the natural 'star'

My Father After Dinner stars the director’s friends and family, such as her father Ng Man Cheh (above), while Ways Of Seeing takes viewers on a visual journey through its blind characters.
My Father After Dinner stars the director’s friends and family, such as her father Ng Man Cheh (above), while Ways Of Seeing takes viewers on a visual journey through its blind characters. PHOTOS: SINGAPORE SHORT CUTS
My Father After Dinner stars the director’s friends and family, such as her father Ng Man Cheh, while Ways Of Seeing (above) takes viewers on a visual journey through its blind characters.
My Father After Dinner stars the director’s friends and family, such as her father Ng Man Cheh, while Ways Of Seeing (above) takes viewers on a visual journey through its blind characters. PHOTOS: SINGAPORE SHORT CUTS

My Father After Dinner is one of the films to be screened at the National Museum's Singapore Short Cuts, which features works by newbie film-makers

Film-maker Gladys Ng, 28, has a tip for aspiring directors: When the star of your film is a non-actor and also your father, you adapt to him, not the other way around.

Ng asked her father, a 73-year-old security guard, to "cook as he would, at home".

"I couldn't tell him to stand here or there, at some spot. I had to let him do what's natural and instinctive," says the graduate of Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Melbourne's Victorian College of the Arts. Her crew would then capture him at work.

Mr Ng Man Cheh had a few lines in the script, but he used them as a guide and came up with his own words on camera. Sometimes, it took a few takes for him to feel relaxed enough to behave as he would normally, the film-maker says.

In her 15-minute film, My Father After Dinner, Mr Ng is shown doing what he loves - making a meal for his family.

He shops at the wet market, then goes home with fish and vegetables and begins cutting and cooking. His daughters, son-in-law and grandchild drop in to have dinner in his Housing Board flat and there is a moment of closeness. Other than Mr Ng and the grandchild, who is the director's niece, the Ng clan were played by friends.

  • VIEW IT /SINGAPORE SHORTCUTS 

    WHERE: Gallery Theatre, Basement, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road 

    WHEN: Tomorrow and Sunday, 2pm; Oct 22 and 23,2pm 

    ADMISSION: Free. Tickets are available at the visitor services centre on Level 1 (on a first come, first served basis) 

    INFO: nationalmuseum.sg

Her work's graceful, unforced simplicity - stripped-down but not stark, warm but not sentimental - helped it win the Best Singaporean Short Film prize at last year's Singapore International Film Festival.

There is a paradox in film-making that states that the more natural a scene looks, the more work must have gone into it. My Father After Dinner proved that dictum true.

Shooting it took 11 days - "very long for a short film", Ng admits - and the project cost $10,000, raised on crowdfunding site Pozible.

My Father After Dinner is one of 20 works featured in the 13th edition of the National Museum of Singapore's Singapore Short Cuts showcase. Screenings begin tomorrow.

In an e-mail interview, Mr Warren Sin, manager of the National Museum of Singapore (Curatorial and Outreach), says the selection this year features the works of artists "fresh out of school but already making waves", as well as "recognisable names" such as Sanif Olek, Liao Jiekai and Kan Lume.

"The diversity in presentation, from documentaries to animation and teenage love stories, is something I am excited about and hope audiences will enjoy," says Mr Sin, 38.

One of the stylistically bolder works is Ways Of Seeing, by Jerrold Chong. The 25-year-old independent film-maker works in stop-motion animation, in which 15cm-tall puppets are moved a little and photographed, with the images joined to give the impression of movement.

There are several computer animation studios in Singapore, but as far as he knows, there are no stop-motion animation houses, so he hopes to set up one.

In his short film, made while he was a student at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts, also known as CalArts, viewers "see" the world through two blind characters. Chong's abstract depictions of the earth, sky, sea and music reflect their sensory experience.

The graduate of Hwa Chong Junior College sculpts his worlds in foam, latex and wire forms.

He enjoys the spontaneity of working with real objects, compared with computer animation.

He says: "You let the puppet decide how you want to animate it. After you've worked with it for a while, it tells you where you need to move."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline 'Dad, the natural 'star''. Print Edition | Subscribe