Grey Scale by Evelyn Teh wins FreedomFilmFest Grant

Poh Choo waiting for her turn for a thyroid test in her neighbourhood. She is the central character in Grey Area, a FreedomFilmFest film grant winner
Irene waiting for her turn for a thyroid test in her neighbourhood. She is the central character in “Grey Scale”, a FreedomFilmFest film grant winner

We all have them: a precious elderly relative who’s living alone, and we have all worried about them over the pandemic.

With restrictions on travel, these elderly folk are socially isolated now more than ever before. Worse off are senior citizens living in gentrified neighbourhoods, which are empty of their neighbours and friends. 

Seventy-nine-year-old Irene lives alone on the fringes of Georgetown, Penang. Her friends and neighbours have long left the neighbourhood, and the streets are empty after 9 pm.

She finds solace in a house gecko whom she’s befriended since her pet dog Jasper died. This gecko is fed rice grains during lunch, as Poh Choo told her niece Evelyn Teh.

Evelyn has not visited her aunt as regularly as she can due to travel restrictions.

Evelyn is a researcher on environmental and urban policies, who will tell Irene’s story in the context of urban inequality in “Grey Scale”, which won this year’s FreedomFilmFest grant.

Evelyn explains: “The city we design today has more of an impact on the latter stages of our lives than we realise. The pandemic has amplified this urban inequality. 

Director Evelyn Teh is passionate about city design and the social milieau that exists within it

“Societies require webs of interpersonal ties to operate successfully. But the ones built today are so fractured that we are unable to forge those ties, and we sever existing ones.” 

Judges Poh Si Teng, Ras Adiba and Ayam Fared say that the strength of her story is in presenting the issue of gentrification through a personal lens. 

“We immediately felt the intimacy with the film’s protagonist. The challenge is to move away from telling a story from an academic lens.

We know the issues of gentrification and ageing but we want to see it through the aunt’s eyes,” says Poh Si, an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker. 

A snapshot from Evelyn's childhood with aunt Poh Choo
A snapshot from Evelyn’s childhood with aunt Irene (left)

The grant will cover production costs and raise awareness on these issues, especially from architects, engineers, and urban planners.

“I want to demystify city design for the general audience by making the issues relatable. Then only we can begin to understand what and who is at stake and how we can do better. 

“As for the town and transport planners, architects, and policymakers, I hope this film will help them humanise the blueprints they draw and the policies they draft. 

FreedomFilmFest Grant Judges (2021)

Read about the other grant winner, Umashankari Yomarakuro here, for her documentary “CAN’T RUN, CAN’T HIDE”.

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