Final-year project about doing laundry is biggest winner at the National Youth Film Awards

Kyaw Shoon Le Yee (middle) received the Best Director Award from *Scape chairman David Chua. With them is *Scape executive director Ivy Lim. PHOTO: *SCAPE

Growing up in Singapore as a person from Myanmar, there were some cultural practices from Ms Kyaw Shoon Le Yee's native country that never sat well with her.

It bothered the freelance writer so much that she made an 18-minute-long short film about it.

Titled Dirty Laundry, which she wrote and directed, it tackles the societal expectations of women, centring on the Myanmar notion that women's clothes are considered unclean. Shot in the Myanmar language, the film revolves around a teenager who disagrees with her parents on how freshly washed women's clothes should not be hung above men's clothes while drying out in the open.

And it ended up being the big winner at this year's National Youth Film Awards (NYFA). It bagged three prizes - Best Live Action, Best Director and Best Screenplay in the Student category - at the awards ceremony held at *Scape Ground Theatre last Friday.

It was Ms Kyaw's first film competition and first time winning a film award.

She graduated in May with a degree in film-making from Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design and Media, and Dirty Laundry was her final-year project that was nominated for the NYFA.

Organised by youth development organisation *Scape and in its eighth year, the NYFA celebrates young people who have excelled across various aspects of film-making.

Ms Kyaw, 23, says: "The moment men are under women's clothes, their spiritual powers just plummet. To me, it is misogynistic.

"Also, men's and women's clothes should be washed in separate pails. I can't fight this - no other girl from Myanmar can - because it is part of our culture and tradition.

"But what I can do is negotiate my way around it and voice (my opinion) on it."

On her NYFA triumph, she adds: "It's insane. I'm very privileged to be able to amplify this message."

As a Singapore permanent resident, Ms Kyaw spent her formative years in Singapore after moving here at the age of three with her parents and older sister.

Her passion for film was sparked at age 10, when her family watched movies together at least once a week.

"We were exposed to different types of English, Chinese and Myanmar films," she recalls, adding she is heavily inspired by American director, screenwriter and actress Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird, 2017; Little Women, 2019).

Dirty Laundry tackles the societal expectations of women, centring on the Myanmarese notion that women's clothes are considered unclean. PHOTO: COURTESY OF: KYAW SHOON LE YEE

Ms Kyaw was always fascinated by what went on behind the scenes.

"Even when I was in a restaurant, I was more interested in what was happening in the kitchen, the team dynamics, who made the dishes."

Mr Jacen Tan, one of NYFA's judges and director of local horror-comedy film Zombiepura (2018), feels Dirty Laundry stood out among this year's more than 300 submissions because of its "unique voice".

He says: "Who knew a film about doing laundry could be so compelling? To turn something seemingly mundane and personal into a universally understood story is the mark of a great up-and-coming director."

At this year's NYFA, 25 awards were given out under the Student and Open Youth categories, and their recipients went home with cash and prizes worth up to a total of $70,000, including $1,000 cash each.

Other notable winners include family drama Ant Nest (Best Performance, Best Original Music - Student), sci-fi horror A Man Trembles (Best Live Action, Best Sound Design - Open Youth), Sweat (Best Animation, Best Art Direction - Open Youth) and SMRT Piece (Best Documentary, Best Editing - Open Youth).

Adding another Best Director (Open Youth) to his cap with poignant drama Altar is Mr Vikneshwaran Silva, a returning film-maker who won Best Director and Best Cinematography for his film Dark Light last year.

NYFA also presented its fourth Youth Inspiration Award to Mr Jerrold Chong, director, animator and co-founder of home-grown animation studio Finding Pictures.

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