Lion City Dance Film Festival 2022 — A Refreshing Blend Of Film And Dance

What better way than a dance film festival to showcase prominent talent and artistry in Singapore? Here’s what went down at the inaugural Lion City Dance Film Festival.

Lion City Dance Film Festival (LCDFF). Never thought the day would come where a group of immensely passionate dancers and filmmakers in Singapore would unite to commemorate the art of dance films, much less produce some of the most beautiful pieces. Once again, this little red dot of a community proves that it has the talent, passion and capacity to go beyond the surface, into uncharted levels here.

On 16 July, right at *SCAPE The TreeTop, we were welcomed with a well-dressed committee and a literal red carpet. Joined with the top 10 nominees, there was a film screening, panel discussion and an award ceremony where the winners were unveiled.

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The concept of dance in moving pictures isn’t new. Moving up the ladder, there’s short-form dance videos on Tik Tok, plenty of concept and dance class videos on social media as well as a surplus of K-Pop dance videos or music videos. We’ve also seen dance presented commercially or in its raw form on the big screens — Fame, Footloose, High School Musical, In The Heights and of course the Step Up film franchise.

In recent years, there’s been an increased quality of video production across all types of media and this year, LCDFF took up the opportunity by giving its community a platform to connect, create and convey. Never before seen, the efforts of this festival was notable for its first try.

The theme was “LOVE”, which could be interpreted in several ways — self-love, unrequited love, loss of love, love at first sight etc. What a theme, indeed. Generic, a necessity, simple yet complex…the exploration is almost boundless! And the driven participants surely showcased what this art could be as we took our seats and peeped into their minds.

How was it judged, you ask? 40% dance, 55% cinematography and 5% theme. To ensure that all components were covered, LCDFF invited three qualified individuals to judge. Looking at the dance segments was TRDOco founder and creative director Ryan Tan, one of Singapore’s best when it comes to the local dance industry with 20 years of industry experience. Meanwhile, film director Jasper Tan judged the cinematography aspects. A fitting judge for someone of his calibre, with unconventional and off-the-wall visual directions. Last but not least, reviewing both dance and film parts is the highly revered Los Angeles-based director and cinematographer, Jonathan Shih. Dubbed as “the Wizard” for all the magic he’s done behind the scenes, Jonathan is the founder of Vibrvncy and the visual director of Kinjaz.

26 submissions and 10 nominees. With each dance film, we were being transformed into different worlds. Emotions ran high and brain neurons were firing as we saw what “LOVE” meant. To say that we were utterly impressed would be an understatement!

The Champion

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Bringing home the first ever LCDFF trophy was ‘MAN MADE’ by XEN and Not Brothers Collab. (NBCB), deservedly so. Just with the picturesque cover frame, we already knew it was going to be good. The film rolled and was welcomed with an unanimous gasp of wonderment from the audience.

Film stills from ‘MAN MADE’. Courtesy of Not Brothers Collab.

“I think when we looked at the judging criteria, it was the most comprehensive in terms of…you could feel the consideration for everything on the list [dance, cinematography and theme]. Not that anyone else was not, but I think it was most clear,” said Vibrvncy’s Jonathan Shih.

Jonathan added that his approach for watching the submissions was to watch without reading the synopsis first, to see if he could understand. “I think it’s easier to get into some abstract concepts and development, which is great. But maybe when it’s a competition that is related to a theme or based on a theme, I’d like to see if I can understand it without having to read first.”

Film still from ‘MAN MADE’. Courtesy of Not Brothers Collab.

If you’re as much of a film geek as I am, you’ll immensely enjoy and appreciate this film. Shot by cinematographer Jaron Boey, with dancers Andrea Andie, Jaime Chin, Madeleine Tan, Sherry Lim and Yan Ting Tan, the film explores our obsession with plastics and love for Mother Nature.

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What made ‘MAN MADE’ a standout too, was the fact that it could “only be done by Singaporean filmmakers and dancers”. Jonathan revealed that it was something that’s more embedded into the culture, which is what he has recognised as “a strength of Singapore” from his experience here.

“My understanding of Singapore is that there’s a very clear relationship between the people and nature — you can see it in the architecture, it’s a very defining feature that you don’t find in a lot of places. So their story is absolutely about the negative effect of that, really. And I like how they sort of spun it and looked at this environmental problem from a less common direction. So I think that was just really powerful and maybe unique to this place [Singapore].”

Film still from ‘MAN MADE’. Courtesy of Not Brothers Collab.

The film truly presented how every aspect of production was considered and how each creative decision was made with purpose. The team unveiled that each dancer’s costume colours were specifically chosen to reflect the five plastic bags at the ending scenes and also to stand out in shots; representing that these ‘plastics’ shouldn’t be appearing at the very places where Mother Nature thrives.

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And I simply can’t not mention how the edit and colour grading were done spectacularly. According to NBCB, its amazing shots were mostly taken at Yishun Dam — something you don’t hear everyday and won’t expect to see in Singapore. Other than that, I have to confess that it’s almost impossible for me to pick a favourite scene from the dance film, from the serene meadow and beachfront to the artistic studio shots and wedding scene!

Film stills from ‘MAN MADE’. Courtesy of Not Brothers Collab.

Captivating and thought-provoking is how I’d summarise ‘MAN MADE’ — a perfect blend of Hip-Hop and intuitive, conceptual art! It brings us on a whole journey, gives dimension in filmmaking and stimulates introspection in our relationship with plastics.

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The Films

In speaking about the festival and submissions, Jonathan congratulated all 10 nominees before expressing how inspiring it was. “I come from where the dance industry lives, but you don’t really see this kind of thing very often. And also, what’s really cool is to see you guys supporting each other, even in competing films — I think that’s really cool. I was really impressed. I think I’ve been doing this kind of work for a long time. But to see how you interpret the theme differently…there’s quite a lot of variance. And I think also in hearing you guys speak about it, I can tell that you guys pushed yourselves, maybe beyond what you’ve done before.”

Other than ‘MAN MADE’, there were some really moving and well-filmed pieces that showcased fresh concepts, artistic direction, heartfelt narratives and skillful techniques.

‘Saya’ stems from the collaboration between dancer and choreographer Ahmad Kamil and Director of Photography Stan Poh — a visual and physical response to self-love and our hesitancy towards it. It’s no doubt that the dance and film elements came together cohesively. Filled with dynamic shots and paired with intricate choreography, the film stands as a relatable visual analogy to the struggles we face within ourselves.

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‘And Then, I Knew’ brought a sense of reminiscence with a local flair that left us with a bittersweet feeling of how we never really move on from the past. Directed by dancers Daryl Tan and Alton Tian and shot by Director of Photography Kester Yeo, the film is set in the early days of Singapore and uncovers memories of a lost love between a young, multi-racial couple.

Directed and starred by dancer and choreographer Arif with the help of Carin and Hamzah on the script as well as Alif Aircho for the music mix, ‘L.O.V.E’ presents an inception and entanglement of wordplay and poetry. This piece, with a more abstract direction, screams ‘intention’ in its concept, narrative, edit and sound design.

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The Future

It may have been a long time coming, but there’s really nothing much better than seeing the dance community grow and advance. The inaugural LCDFF is a marvellous start and sets the bar for all future local dance films. The talent we have in this little red dot, especially from the rising young ones, is undeniable. But it does beg the question: will future showcases be able to deliver and surpass all expectations?

“It was definitely hard to judge because at the end of the day, we’re talking about a mixture of two art forms, at least three actually, including music. And art is objective. So at the end of the day, we are grading against a rubric. Who wins and loses doesn’t matter as much as the fact that Richard [Prayoga] and his team put this event together as a competition. It’s the reason that this work gets made,” shared Jonathan.

Well said, indeed. Each dance film stands out in its own ways — some were really personal projects which adds onto the sentiments as we come together and appreciate these creatives immortalising a part of their story into film and dance.

As for dance cinematographer and LCDFF organiser Richard Prayoga, who has always been covering dance events in Singapore, the reason why he brought LCDFF to life is to bridge an existing gap in terms of mediums in dance.

“The events I cover, it’s mostly a battle or competition, but I realised that there’s another medium that hasn’t been shown. And because of COVID and all, I see a lot of trends that we do actually have. Creators are doing well but they don’t have the platform to shine. And I do think that because of this event, I will probably see more interest [from the community] in doing this kind of thing!”

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If you’ve been looking for something to binge on, get cosy and immerse yourself in the worlds of film and dance. With all 26 submissions that are worth a watch, you’ll be sure to pick up on a few inspirations, enlightened moments or appreciation for culture.

Take your pick from all the films, on! Watch the livestream of the awards night here.

For more dance reads, click here.

All images courtesy of Lion City Dance Film Festival 2022, unless otherwise stated.


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