Tag: Film

Singaplural: Perspectives on an Island (2007)







What does Singapore mean to us?

Through a series of seven film screenings at the rooftop of the Wee Kim Wee School Of Communication and Information held in 2007, my friends and I challenged viewers to think about this island by looking at it from different perspectives provided by the films.

All the films screened were past final-year projects by former students and we also managed to invite some of the directors back for a question-and-answer session. You can hear some of the interviews here.

As part of the screenings, the following films were shown:

We explore what it means to be Singaporean 
Radio Station Forgot to Play My Favourite Song (2003)
In a Spo[r]t (2007)

Sin City 
We ask if Singapore is really such a “clean” city 
Waking Up  (2005)
The Last Flight of the Red Butterflies (2003)

Singapore’s Others 
We seek out the “unwelcome” people in Singapore 

Spaces (2004)
Going Glocal (2007) (24mins)

Singapore Culture? 
We examine the culture product of our Singaporean way of life 
Singapore Standard Time (2006)
Love in the Making (2005)

Love the Singapore way 
Romance in Singapore 
九月 (aka September) (2006)
Clean (2006)

Haunting Singapore 
Spooking ourselves out Singapore style 
Grey (2004)
Suicide Symphony (2007)

Singapore 201X 
Projecting the future of Singapore 
Merry Morticians! (2006)
Inspector X and the Eternal City (2006)

Filament ’08

For the second year running, the graduating students of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information held Filament ’08, an annual showcase of the students’ audio and visual projects. Just a little history for the uninitiated, the school does not have a strong tradition of showcasing student’s works. Other than a public screening held some years ago, most final-year showcases have been small affairs held in the school’s auditorium and largely attended by its own students. It was only last year that the graduating batch decided to organise a screening of a grander scale to better promote themselves to the public as well as industry players.

This year’s projects were generally of a much higher quality and one reason for this could be the willingness to engage external help to give the films a more professional touch to it. This included hiring equipment instead of depending on what was available in school as well as engaging crew and talent from the growing film industry here. A good production needs more than the maximum number of four students allowed in a final year project so kudos goes to the graduating batch for looking beyond themselves and the school for help.

The strength of the school lies in the area of journalism so it was no surprise to me that the better films were documentaries. These were some the films that stuck on my mind for various reasons:

Health, Peace, Happines
This documentary followed the dying days of two ladies diagnosed with cancer. Its biggest selling point was that it was actually filmed during the dying days of the ladies so they really died. It had all the elements to tear-jerk the audience, even scenes at one of the ladies funeral, but this was also where I thought it was set up to exploit the situation they had access to. I did not come away learning anything more about cancer or these two ladies. From the beginning to the end, it was set up such that here are two people dying and here is how it is going to happen – dying is sad. It would be interesting to hear the film-makers talk about the ethical dilemmas they had to contend with and how much effect it had on the making of the film.

The documentary was about kidney trading in the Philippines was the gem of the first night of the screening. The interviewees were engaging and its environment very layered. It even had a dose of reality-tv in it when a scene of a patient going for his kidney removal operation was furtively filmed entirely by the patient’s friend because no filming was allowed in the hospital. Some might argue that this film works because the subject matter is “exotic” to us as an audience, and I would add that it lacked other voices as it only contained the voices of the people selling their kidneys. However, I’ve been told that there was just too much footage to fit in the 24-minute limit but a feature-length of this documentary was in the making.

Platform 1932
This was a nostalgia film about the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and it being a “platform of memories” for its various users. While it was interesting to see how the lives of the railway personnel, former hotel owner, provision shop owner, railway enthusiasts and train users revolved around the station, a element totally left out of the film was its contentious place in the bilateral relations between Singapore and Malaysia. I thought this film had a lot more potential in connecting the people of these two countries if more attention was given to this aspect of the film. Alas, it went down a road of nostalgia, showing Singaporeans an interesting landmark that many might not be familiar with.

Love, Your Son
A very powerful film about the death penalty for drug trafficking in Singapore, this fictitious piece follows the live of a young Thai drug trafficker who writes letters to his mother while awaiting his turn to be hanged. The piece is set up to portray the drug trafficker as a victim of such a harsh policy and it even borrows a line from a similar film, “Dead Man Walking” to end it. This film did arouse me emotionally, but then I was left empty after, wondering “So what?”. I was disappointed that the film did not give me a hint of what to do but simply left me hanging, but maybe that was the point of the film?

This documentary attempts to trace how the common space of a void deck holds different functions and meanings to different Singaporeans. To me, it came across as a corporate video for “Uniquely Singapore” or HDB, because it had more beautiful shots than substance. At times, it felt like the film-makers simply spent their day at different HDB areas to shoot whatever they could find, not knowing what to look out for. To some, it worked because it was simply a snapshot of what happens in a day at your HDB void deck, but I thought it lacked something more that could hold these snapshots together.

I have to say again that this year’s works was probably one of the best I’ve seen so far. I only hope that the respective filmmakers will work hard to push their works to other platforms that can showcase their works to more people. There is good work coming out of the school but it just needs to be seen!

Post-event thoughts

In a week, I’ve attended the Singapore Design Festival, Singapore Writers Festival (poorly designed site) and the 10th anniversary of The Substation’s Movings Images program (it’s still on!) and I would like to make these observations.

Concept is king
…but that is one thing that is an exception rather than the norm in the much of the work I have come across. Especially when it comes to design, I think many people still have that idea that it is mainly an aesthetic tool rather than a problem-solver. I think Mr Fong of 
Ethos Books, a local independent book publisher, put it very simply when he narrowed it down to two things when considering design or anything in general, what is it you wanted to say and to whom. With

Passion drives you and inspires others
This was most evident in the seminars I attended as part of the Singapore Writers Festival. I came away most from Mr Fong and Mr Raman Krishnan, a independent book publisher in Malaysia. These two speakers knew why they were in the business and were more than willing to share their thoughts on issues, unlike some of the other speakers who most of the time gave really general answers. It definitely helped that both were championing local works and Mr Raman Krishnan also spoke about how Singaporeans and Malaysians knew little about each other’s talents despite the commonality in culture. They definitely inspired me because they were not just in things for the money.

Get back to basics
Especially when it comes to design, put aside all the frills and then the question to answer is, have you got your basics right? There was this pair of chopsticks in the “Iamacreativeperson” exhibition (which was a rip-off as compared to Utterubbish) that was elevated on one side so that the ends do not touch the table for hygiene purposes. However, that would mean the user has to consciously place it on the elevated side for it to be effective. I thought that really defeated the purpose of the design by simply not solving the problem and instead added a layer of complexity.

Singapore culture: always anti-government?
This one came about after watching 
Hosaywood.com’s Zo Gang (Hokkien for Do Work) and Zo Hee (Hokkien for Do Film) and I was wondering to myself if the portrayal of Singapore culture in films was increasingly being monopolised by a group of select film-makers, often English-educated Chinese, who focused on topics like lampooning the government, championing Hokkien and Singlish, and focusing on the underbelly of Singapore. What about the rest of our culture, for instance our other races, our history, our politics… I think institutional checks like The Films Act are in a way limiting the diversity of films produced here. Ironically, in order to comment on politics, films have to portray it in a less “serious” form to engage the audience and escape getting in trouble with the government. This dumbs down the political engagement of the audience and also defeats the government’s call to take politics seriously.