18 December 2015: Short film by Yale-NUS students wins award and international recognition

Written by Clare Isabel Ee | Image from Duende

duende still
Poster image for Duende

In 2015, four Yale-NUS students came together to produce a short film – Duende- on the spirit of the Spanish dance flamenco in an unlikely neighbourhood – Geylang, Singapore. The film went on to win the top award the European Union Centre Short Documentary Film Competition 2015. It was also featured at the prestigious Guam International Film Festival 2015.

The film follows Ms Daphne Huang, a long-time flamenco dancer who runs her own flamenco dance company, Flamenco Sin Fronteras, in Geylang along with her husband, Mr Antonio Vargas, a dancer and choreographer of flamenco.

Over the course of the film, Ms Huang talks about duende, the heart and soul of the flamenco dance form, the spirit that moves the dancers’ feet, and the passion that they feel while dancing.

Duende is a very special word in flamenco,” she says in the film. “For me, duende is very hard to describe in words… But when you experience it, you know that it is a strong spiritual connection when you are completely free.”

Shanice Stanislaus (Class of 2017), who has been practising flamenco since she was in junior college and is part of the Flamenco Sin Fronteras company, spearheaded the project. She asked her friends, Timothy Chua, Stacey Yuen and Reuben Su (Class of 2017) to join her in creating the film, to which they readily agreed.

“As much as flamenco is something very close to my heart, I didn’t expect them to be so invested in what this film had to offer, from filming to editing,” said the petite dancer with a beaming smile.

The crew filmed over a few days around and in Flamenco Sin Frosteras, and due to their tight budget, improvised with basic equipment such as using an iPhone and GarageBand for audio production.

For Shanice, the experience has helped her to grow as a filmmaker and an artist.

“Every choice we had to make felt like a risk because we didn’t know if we were doing this right,” she explained. “Because the film crew was so small, we all had to take on multiple roles to pull this off.”

“The biggest challenge is to make it look professional, especially when you don’t have the experience or the right equipment,” she added.

With all the rocky bumps in production, making the film was still a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

“Capturing the lives of these women was one of the best parts of filming,” said Shanice upon reflection

“They may be mothers or have other jobs, they may have problems in their lives, but it’s always beautiful to see them so connected to this dance form. As Ms Huang says in the film, they keep coming back to it because it’s something internal, like a release. To capture it was something I’ve wanted to do for such a long time.”

Duende was the first film Shanice conceptualised and directed, as her prior experience involved acting and co-directing. Timothy and Shanice are both part of 13th Floor Productions, a Yale-NUS student organisation of budding filmmakers.

Watch Duende here.