It Was Only Light, but It Was Magic

by Dr Alex Mitchell


Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash 



She was

It was at the Singapore film festival, it must have been 2002, when I first saw the film.


We would volunteer at the film festival every year. The deal was we checked tickets and showed people to their seats in exchange for watching free movies. It was a chance to see those films that would never be shown at the mainstream cinemas unless they won awards. We never missed it.

She was running.

It was always the same crowd, those familiar faces that we would see every year, some whose names would appear in film fanatic chatrooms or Yahoo groups, with the occasional crossover into the world of indie filmmakers.

She was always running.

There was something about the film that stuck with me, even though I had to duck out of the hall and perform my volunteer duties several times, making for a somewhat fragmented viewing experience. Although later after watching it on DVD I realised that this may not have been the only reason why it seemed a bit disjointed on that first viewing.

What was she looking for?

I remember there was an older man who seemed to be at every single screening. Sometimes it was as if he appeared in several halls at once. He always had at least one, maybe two, canvas bags full of notebooks, magazines and newspapers. 

What would the key unlock?

Everyone seemed to know him, and he seemed to know everything there was to know about every film, but I never managed to speak to him. 

Did she even know any more?

And then, one year, he was no longer there.

Maybe it was the running that defined her.

Eventually, we stopped volunteering. It was only many years later, reading an obituary in the Straits Times, that I realised who he was, and how strong his love for local cinema had been. 

Even if it brought her back to where she began.

Cinemas have been closed during the pandemic, only recently starting to open as "vaccinated venues". I think I had come to take it for granted that Netflix and the like would fill the gap.

Did it even matter any more?

It was only when we made the difficult trek to Golden Mile Tower, searched for the correct lift to take us to the fifth floor, and waited for the lights to go down, that I realized what I had been missing.

She was running.

Although the film was an adaptation of a short story I had read years ago, it felt fresh, new, and alive. It brought me back to those film fest days, when the flickering images on the screen would draw me in and create a new, magical world. 

She was always running.

It was then that I realized what she was looking for, what we were all looking for.

It was only light, but it was magic.


NAF programme title:
Millennium Actress



Chan, B. (2014, January 19). He lived and breathed film. The Straits Times.