Filming the Intangible


What has film got to do with heritage? The Kaki Lima Short Film Competition answers that question effectively.

Film can be a very reflective and evocative medium that captures the uniqueness of a place and its communities. And that is exactly what the Kaki Lima Short Film Competition aims to highlight.

First held in 2014, the annual competition is organised by George Town World Heritage Incorporated (GTWHI), an organisation dedicated to the task of making George Town a sustainable city.

The competition seeks to become a platform for films celebrating heritage and culture, and to encourage the making of short films that celebrate the cultural and historical wealth of Penang. Since its inception, as many as 120 filmmakers have participated, with nine winners being awarded prizes from among more than 100 films.

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With filmmaking tools more accessible these days, short films have gained popularity – and so have short film competitions. But the Kaki Lima Short Film Competition is unique in that it revolves around George Town. Every year, the theme of the competition changes; however, it never falls far from home. The inaugural theme was “My Island’s Best Kept Secret”; last year, it was “Treasures of Taste”, which was all about food for festivals in Penang. This year, it’s about “Penang’s Intangible Cultural Heritage”.

The theme emphasises five interconnected realms: performing arts; traditional craftsmanship; social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices about nature and the universe; and oral traditions and expressions. While Penang’s architecture may be eclectic, it is the living heritage that makes up its rich culture. The communities of Penang have, over time, developed their own identity in the form of intangibles, be they dance, music, language, norms, rituals or others.

The competition hopes to highlight the essence of Penang, or rather to capture what our eyes do not usually see. Intangibles can be difficult to articulate through mere words or still images, hence storytelling through film is an excellent way to convey evocative and allusive stories of Penang’s living legacies.

Remarkable stories are to be expected this year. There is so much that one can explore.

Participants are expected to partake of various programmes, such as talks by industry experts like James Lee, Tang Siang Ching, Hassan Muthalib and Sun Koh. Lee is an award-winning independent filmmaker who pioneered the digital film movement in 2000; Siang Ching is the producer and director of the production house, Image Farm Productions; Hassan, the director of the popular animation, Sang Kancil, is a self-taught artist, animator, writer, director and lecturer; Sun is a leading Singaporean filmmaker with many awards in the bag. The talks will be given in two sessions: the first takes place on February 27 and the second on March 19. There will also be a public screening of films by shortlisted participants as well as an award ceremony to conclude the competition.

Karen Lai

Public Talk, Island Exchange 2015.

The judging will be done by Dr Charles Carroll, Hassan, Tang Keng Hong, Lee and Sun. Carroll is a noted ethnographer who holds a PhD in Cultural Transformation, Political Economy and Social Practice, while Keng Hong, founder and director of photography of Image Farm Production, is an expert in industrial and commercial photography.

And with the continuous support of the Penang state government and the help of volunteers and sponsors, the third Kaki Lima Short Film Competition is expected to be another great success.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid

Public screening for shortlisted participants.

“Penangites are becoming more conscious of how important their city is,” says Dr Ang Ming Chee, general manager of GTWHI. “But since it is the living heritage that makes George Town unique, its intangibles must be given the same attention as tangibles.”


The Kaki Lima Short Film Competition this year is open to the public as well as professional filmmakers. Participants will stand a chance to win a cash grand prize. Registration is open until May 31. For more information, visit http://


Goh Shuan Thing is a copywriter, explorer of new concepts and knowledge, and coffee addict. She has been creating copies for more than eight years for a myriad of industries. An avid reader, she never leaves home without a book or two and a tumbler of coffee.

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