Films, Reels, Lives

Contributed by Carissa Yow from Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) who was on a two-week work attachment to the Asian Film Archive.

On the first day of my internship at the Asian Film Archive, I left the house two and a half hours before I was due to report to the office. After a wait lasting an hour and a half, I knocked on the door of the office on the fourth level of the National Library Building, bouncing on the balls of my feet, anxiously awaiting whoever who would greet me from the other side. Entering the office and the two-week long internship I was to complete, I asked myself: What do I want to get out of this internship? Among the other typical stress-induced questions bouncing around in my head, that underlying question was the most important in shaping my mindset for my internship. Walking into the first internship of my life, I decided to keep my mind open for anything that I would experience.

So how was my experience interning at the Asian Film Archive?

I spent most of my time in the office on level six, cataloguing short films. The films that I catalogued were all final projects of students from various schools. During my time watching and re-watching the films, pausing and playing, forwarding and rewinding, I was exposed to various concepts and issues the films explored.

While I took home some skills, like Excel tricks and a better grasp on how to write a synopsis, what made the most impact on me was the new insight I gained from watching the films I was assigned to catalogue. The films I was assigned to catalogue explored interesting and heavy themes and topics. The creators used the films as platforms to express their opinions on many things, ranging from the importance of prioritisation to loss and identity.

Short documentaries opened my eyes to the world beyond, to see the lives of other people, to explore the discrimination against female drag queens and the loneliness of live streamers. Animations presented everyday problems and harsh realities through complex characters, dynamic sceneries and unique story lines. Live films delve into loss and love with intense artistry. As a person who was never particularly interested in Asian films, I was not expecting the films I was assigned to catalogue to be so rich and potent in their meanings.

Other than cataloguing films at my desk, I also had the opportunity to work with a 35mm movie reel. I was guided through the intricate process of cleaning the reel. From lifting the reel out of its case to cleaning it, there is care behind every single step. Through this, I was transported back in time, to the years not so long ago when such reels were how everyone watched movies, when today’s digital world was still in the making.

So what did I get out of this internship?

When I walked away from the Asian Film Archive after two weeks, I brought with me new skills: how to write a synopsis, how to catalogue films, how to properly carry and clean movie reels. However, more importantly, I walked away with a new appreciation for the art form that is filmmaking – how a short film less than twenty minutes long can encourage, inspire and enlighten, how a movie reel tells stories beyond the images printed on it, how Asian films can move audience members as much if not more than those produced by more well-known Western film companies.

What about you? On the first day of your internship, when you report (hopefully) on time to the office on the fourth floor of the National Library Building, when you are (probably) apprehensive and asking yourself multiple stress-induced questions, what do you want to get out of your internship?

Well, from my experience, I can guarantee you fulfilling experience, rich knowledge, and a new outlook on life.

About the Writer