The 2022 SeaShorts Film Festival seeks to reinvent the way stories are told

Welcome to a world beyond what you can touch and feel.

The annual SeaShorts film festival, which celebrates short films from Southeast Asia, returns this year as an on-site event after two years of virtual programming due to the pandemic.

The next festival will be held at Cyberjaya Multimedia University (MMU) from September 21-25.

Its theme, Coming, captures the spirit of exploration and forward thinking, inspiring viewers to boldly go where no one has gone before.

There will be over 70 films to see at SeaShorts 2022 across multiple sections of the festival, including the sixth annual Seashorts competition where the winner will be announced at the closing of the festival.

Along with screenings, workshops and forums, this year’s festival sees a series of updated features, including a particular focus that explores potential new cinematic technologies, such as the use of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) in film content development. .

A scene from Mahen Bala and Zarif Ismail’s “To Enter The Forest” VR project, which takes viewers deep into the Malaysian jungle to learn more about the Batek tribe. Picture: handout

Filmmakers, industry professionals, artists and fans of film and cinema from Southeast Asia are perhaps the usual demographic for SeaShorts, but this year the organizing committee aims to attract a mainstream audience, especially the TikTok generation and people eager to learn how the lines between storytelling and technology are now blurred.

The “screen time” phenomenon during the pandemic has changed the number of people watching movies.

“In these times when a one-minute video is too long, let’s ask ourselves, what is a movie? Why should a movie be 100 minutes long? I think cinema is alive and well, but it needs to be rediscovered. Come see films in SeaShorts – in the cinema, or in Virtual Reality, or watch a 10-hour silent film accompanied by musicians and sound artists”, explains Tan Chui Mui, artistic director of Seashorts 2022, who is also the founder of the festival.

Gan Siong King’s “My Video Making Practice” is a community engagement project that blends an artist talk, screening and dialogue where he reflects on his works from the past decade. Photo: SeaShorts Film Festival

“If you want to challenge yourself more, check out what’s happening at Open Screen, where there are performances and screenings beyond what we expect from ‘cinema’ or join an AI Generative Art workshop (by Eddie Wong) where you will learn how to create speculative fiction with the art of AI,” she adds.

Narration: the next frontier

SeaShorts’ first-ever VR exhibit is also expected to draw a crowd. Title Beyond Mirage, this program is hosted by Dr Lim Kok Yoong and co-hosted by Dr Roopesh Sitharan and Dendi Permadi. It presents 12 works from Southeast Asia, South Korea and Taiwan.

“This exhibition tests and measures the boundaries of our reality. It is made up of facilities that provide participants with a headset that transmits 360° stereoscopic images. The device reads our head movement to synchronize the stereoscopic visual, giving us the impression that we are physically present in a scene,” says Lim.

“However, the feeling of our feet still touching the ground reminds us that we are still in the real world. This gives us the option to choose between reality or a simulated experience.

A scene from the short film 'Anonymous' by Sojung Bahng (South Korea).  Photo: SeaShorts Film FestivalA scene from the short film ‘Anonymous’ by Sojung Bahng (South Korea). Photo: SeaShorts Film Festival

“If the virtual world could give you all the experience you could want, would you embrace simulation and neglect the physical world? Would you wake up if you were told that your life so far has been an illusion? Or would you continue to live in Zhuangzi’s dream – a fluttering butterfly, happily doing whatever it wants? ” he adds.

If you’ve had a taste of what it feels like to walk around in a VR environment, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine wanting to stay there forever.

Some work at beyond the mirage are interactive pieces, allowing the audience to move around the virtual world and manipulate virtual objects to help move the film’s narrative.

“During the pandemic, many filmmakers have had to become more resourceful and find ways to continue to develop their craft. It has opened up more possibilities for them in filmmaking, pushing them to incorporate new technologies to tell stories,” says SeaShorts 2022 Festival Director Goh Lee Kwang, who is also a multidisciplinary artist.

“Also, they’ve become more introspective with their storytelling, perhaps due to the time spent in isolation. Virtual reality can break down the barriers that separate a film from a viewer. It’s a highly immersive that has the ability to create very impactful experiences,” he adds.

Okui Lala and Nasrikah’s “Rasa Dan Asa” follows the activities of members of Pertimig (Indonesian Association of Migrant Domestic Workers in Malaysia) during the pandemic, with most of the film’s footage shot remotely. Picture: handout

Goh describes them as a new breed of storytellers and the future of Malaysian cinema, adding that

SeaShorts is the only place this year to experience all of these VR films, including four films by Malaysian filmmakers, in one sitting.

“It might surprise audiences how each of our filmmakers has a unique approach to VR storytelling. For example, Mahen Bala and Zarif Ismail’s Cep bah hep (To enter the forest) is a VR documentary about the indigenous Batek people (scattered in the deep jungles of Pahang and Kelantan). Meanwhile, Fariz Hanapiah and Idril Mihat Pick up the VR horror experience places you as a highway patrolman on the Karak Highway who decides to help a stranded woman before all hell breaks loose,” says Goh.

In another Malaysian work, Vimala Perumal Cow Rojak Cow puts the muhibbah mix in the story of an Indian family who asks for the blessing of a ceremonial cow for their housewarming prayers.

Vimala Perumal's VR short film 'Rojak Cow Cow' is inspired by a story told by her father, about a new neighbor who brought a cow up a flight of stairs to the apartment for the blessing ceremony of a new house.  Photo: SeaShorts Film FestivalVimala Perumal’s VR short film ‘Rojak Cow Cow’ is inspired by a story told by her father, about a new neighbor who brought a cow up a flight of stairs to the apartment for the blessing ceremony of a new house. Photo: SeaShorts Film Festival

On the Asian front, the work of Sojung Bahng (South Korea) Anonymous, a real-time cinematic 3D virtual reality experience that applies gaze-based interaction, invites viewers to access the perspective of objects in a domestic setting where an elderly man living alone spends his day under the gaze of his wife’s portrait deceased.

Regarding the concept of memory, space and time, Taiwanese artist and filmmaker Singing Chen Afterimage for tomorrow builds further on this intriguing premise.

It’s time to experiment

Some movies in beyond the mirage will have their Malaysian premiere at the festival, as Big Hoax: The Moon Landing by John Hsu and Marco Lococo and House by Hsu Chih-Yen, two films officially selected for the Tribeca Film Festival and the Venice International Film Festival in 2020.

Other special highlights are Whose hand plays this sound, organized by Chloe Yap Mun Ee, which presents young artists and filmmakers and their personal approaches; and What’s inside the sea curated by Jacky Yeap, a cheeky selection of short films from Japan and Southeast Asia exploring the medium’s playful and inventive potential for cinematic storytelling.

A still from 'Great Hoax: The Moon Landing' by Marco Lococo and John Hsu (Taiwan), part of the 2022 SeaShorts International Program. Photo: SeaShorts Film Festival A still from ‘Great Hoax: The Moon Landing’ by Marco Lococo and John Hsu (Taiwan), part of the 2022 SeaShorts International Program. Photo: SeaShorts Film Festival

The workshops, conferences and forums of this festival are also geared towards introducing new technological approaches to storytelling,

Yap, also programmer of SeaShorts 2022, notes that in programs such as Beyond the mirage, sea what’s inside and Whose hand plays this sound, artists and filmmakers take nuanced and thoughtful approaches with their chosen tools, allowing us not only to reconsider familiar modes of cinema or the moving image, but also to consider what is so uncomfortable about the feeling of “novelty” when we think of using them. tools.

“These programs would hopefully change our expectations not just by looking at the future as represented by ‘the advent of technology’ and ‘sparkling newness’, but rather by looking at it as a point in time, lifting the lid of the box to see if the named cat Coming is in there. And everyone alive right now is having a little fun, doing our little experiments and hoping for the best,” Yap concludes.

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