State of the Movie Arts

Movie making in SingaporeYou sit wide-eyed as the anticipation starts churning and the reel starts to whirl. Low and behold a film, a movie, and the story you indulge in for just that short time from the outside world. Watching a film provides for an experience that lasts sometimes more than an hour or two and is often accompanied with peals of laughter or just sniffs of sentimentality.

Films are a unique medium which tend to take audiences into a world of their own. Food for thought though; we never do see the sweat that goes into making an actual film, have we? Is filmmaking actually a worthwhile venture? Is there really a pot of gold at the end of countless spools of film?

In this nation of ours, there has been talk about boosting creativity, tapping into local talents, and the introduction of many different mediums of self expression. Is it just a case of no hope or no talent that we must now wonder.

Hope came in the form of Medium Rare, in 1991; breaking through to the Singapore film market after two decades of a hibernating industry. The film was rather dismal and box office takings were none too impressive. Yet another attempt was made in 1995 with a film chronicling the lifestyles of transvestites and transsexuals in the country’s former red-light district Bugis Street.

But it was certainly Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys (1997) that paved the way for future filmmakers to even dare shoot far and high, maybe even higher than the twelfth storey.

The film was the first Singapore feature to be shown in Cannes and Khoo soon became respected as a critically acclaimed director for daring to do the impossible. Who can forget his Mee Pok Man in 1995 too?


Fast forward to 2004, and we see an entire spiel of various types of Singapore films being made since the peaking revival of locally made films which also includes Jack Neo’s highly successful homegrown heartland movies such as Money No Enough, I Not Stupid and Homerun.

What about Glenn Goe’s Forever Fever (1998)? Miramax picked it up for a cool S$4.5 million and released it in the U.S. as That’s the Way I Like it. It was the first Singapore feature to have found an American release.

It helps to know that there are organisations such as the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) that aims to further realise the creative talent on this island. Set up in 1999 to cultivate Singaporean’s interest in filmmaking, SFC’s aim was to “nurture, support and promote Singapore talent in filmmaking, the production of Singapore films and a film industry in Singapore.”

Funding is no longer the major issue; the SFC provides budding filmmakers financial assistance that comes in loans of up to S$250,000 or S$5,000 to short film applicants.

Making Singapore films now seem less of a burden, there are even courses which provide a platform for amateurs who dream of making it big. In July 2000, Ngee Ann Polytechnic started offering advanced diplomas in Film Production; an addition to the polytechnic’s already existing Mass Communication and Film, Sound & Video diploma courses.

With the slew of brilliant local films there comes the tricky part; censorship. Most often, it’s that dreaded word that prevents filmmakers from starting on projects

that might be deemed too offensive. They would rather steer clear than risk being boycotted. Boy are we glad that there are the exceptions; one of who is exemplified in the good lad by the name of Royston Tan. His film 15 has received rave reviews from almost every other film festival (including the Venice Film Festival) except for his home country, Singapore. 15 offers up the harsh dark realities of the lives of Singaporean teenage delinquents.

As Royston said, it gives a “voice to the voiceless”. This very much deprecated local born director has been producing films that harbour on topics most Singaporeans are too scared to touch. One can’t blame him for not wanting to stick to the usual blissful happy ending movies that seem to mix well with sugar coated popcorn so much so that you notice the corn more than the film before you. The film did make it to local theatres, but not without some cuts.

I guess it’s time for more filmmakers to venture away from the cliched topics that have been done to death. As for censorship, well the Censorship Review Committee is here for a reason and it realises that with creativity, there has to be more leeway and the Singapore Media 21 strategy targets to loosen up the reigns too. Hence this website!

Whether it’s censorship, cliched plots or over achieving filmmakers, we all agree that this puny island is not short on talent. With a population of 3.1 million, there’s lots of potential yet. I say there’s still hope for Singapore; just you wait and see. We may never be the next Hollywood but hey, it’s still worth a shot ain’t it?

– Media21: