Panorama Shorts Part 1: A review

Written by on January 5, 2016

This year’s Singapore International Film Festival featured a wide and remarkable selection of films, many of which left me with a sense of awe and satisfaction. The Singapore Panorama shorts 1 is no exception, featuring works by well known names such as Ho Tzu Nyen and Liao Jiekai, as well as Jerrold Chong, Sim Chi Yin and Tan Siok Siok.

The program seemed to discuss various ways of perception, be it through cinema or through the lack of sight, however, its overall theme did not follow through and did feel slightly disjointed as we transition from one film to the next. That aside, each film was able to stand on its own and had clear and strong messages. I particularly liked Sim Chi Yin and Tan Siok Siok’s ‘Dying To Breathe’, which uses documentation as a form of storytelling.


‘Dying To Breathe’ is a film shot over four years, intimately documenting the final stages of Gold miner He Quangui’s struggle with pneumoconiosis, a disease that has affected over six million Chinese workers. This film was filled with heartbreaks through every scene, and the nonintrusive camera work served to put us in a perverse observational perspective, heightening the idea that we, as privileged first class citizens, are imposing some sort of gaze on the situation that unfolds. The film serves as a reflection of the audience, perhaps showing that we can not even come close to comprehending the struggles they face, hence questioning if any semblance of sympathy or even empathy we have is merely to soothe our own egos.

As an aspiring filmmaker myself, I often find it hard to connect with the subject of my films as intimately as I would like to, and always questioned where to draw the line between genuine interest and manipulation to achieve my desired story. More so in documentary filmmaking, how does one document such intimate scenes without trespassing ethical values? However in ‘Dying To Breathe’, I didn’t once question if the scene we saw was manipulated nor scripted to emphasize certain emotions, but was instead, highly engaged throughout. The visuals not only encapsulated the raw and genuine struggle they faced, but also the short moments of joy, such as when they sing with each other or when they hold each other in embrace. Both has endured so much hardship, and many years on, the strength to persevere and love each other unconditionally is what keeps them alive. The mastery of storytelling is apparent in this short film, and truly kept me mesmerised till the last frame.

Written by Clare Chong for CTV x Radio Heatwave. Image courtesy of Singapore International Film Festival.



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