15 Shorts: Lesser-told stories of Singapore from Boo Junfeng, Kelvin Tong, Kirsten Tan

Still Standing tells the story behind Singapore's iconic residential project Pearl Bank and its architect Tan Cheng Siong, now in his 80s. PHOTO: NVPC
Still Standing tells the story behind Singapore's iconic residential project Pearl Bank and its architect Tan Cheng Siong, now in his 80s. PHOTO: NVPC

SINGAPORE - All 15 short films from the creative project 15 Shorts are now available on Mediacorp's streaming platform meWatch.

The short films, from 15 Singaporean film-makers, are lesser-told stories of Singaporeans from the 1970s to the 1990s, offering slices-of-life view of the nation-building era.

The project, which was announced in 2017, has staggered the release of its 15 films over three years, with the final batch of five films released earlier this year (2020) on the project's dedicated website (cityofgood.sg/15shorts).

With the addition of the final five films to meWatch on May 19, this marks the first time that all of the 15 Shorts - a collaboration between the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre and film production company Blue3Asia - are available to watch via the public broadcaster.

Among the final batch is the Kirsten Tan-produced Still Standing, which is directed by up-and-coming local film-maker Tan Wei Ting. it is about local architect Tan Cheng Siong, now in his 80s, and his seminal project - Pearl Bank Apartments, which has since been demolished.

Kirsten Tan, 38, known for her 2017 feature film Pop Aye, says her team wanted to commemorate the building with their short film. "When my team spoke with Mr Tan Cheng Siong, we found that he crafted the building with many ideals around communal living, which culminated in the way the building was shaped, with apartment units lined in a circle, facing one another.

"It's a singular Singaporean architectural work with so much thought and love put into its design."

The last batch of works also includes Majid The Legend, by YouTubers Jianhao Tan and Ridhwan Azman, about legendary local football coach Choo Seng Quee; animated feature The Brown Dog; Kelvin Tong's (The Maid, 2005) The Listener, about a hotline counsellor; and Under The Same Pink Sky by Gladys Ng, about a breast cancer patient.

Director Boo Junfeng's (Apprentice, 2016) Plague, released in 2018, is about health worker Iris Verghese. She comforted patients with HIV/Aids in the 1980s, when they were shunned by society - a story that has newfound resonance amid the current coronavirus pandemic.

Boo, 36, says: "When we were researching for Plague in 2018, the distress that healthcare workers faced in dealing with the little-known disease back in the 1980s felt rather far removed. But I think having seen how healthcare workers are working at the front lines of Covid-19, we certainly have a deeper appreciation for those who had to deal with the Aids epidemic."

He hopes that through watching the film, viewers can see the need for love and understanding towards HIV/Aids patients.

He adds: "Sadly, even though HIV patients are able to lead healthier, fuller lives today, misconceptions about the disease and the stigma in society that comes with it still exist. That, to me, is the bigger problem that plagues people living with HIV/Aids. It's got a lot to do with misinformation that feeds fear in people."

Both Boo and the New-York based Kirsten Tan have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with projects postponed or cancelled. Tan is currently in Singapore after she returned to work on a since-postponed short film on Raffles Hotel, and has been unable to get a return flight back to the United States.

She says: "The best way to support film-makers in this time is to watch our films. Even as cinemas are closed, many of our works remain accessible online. My feature Pop Aye, along with other local features, can be found on the iTunes movie store.

"The Projector is also hosting some recent local releases like I Dream of Singapore. Objectifs, a non-profit arts organisation, has just recently launched an online short film library focusing on South-east Asian shorts.

"By watching those films, we're not just supporting local artists, we're also helping to keep the entire local film ecosystem afloat during this time of crisis."

15 Shorts is available on cityofgood.sg/15shorts and meWatch.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.