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The Torch: Bridging the gap

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Living in my beloved hometown of Berlin, Germany, right in the heart of Europe, I have quite a different perspective of some things over here from what their perceived appearance may be in Singapore, I suppose. But with that digital age and all, almost anyone can turn themselves into some low-fi version of Emerson’s “all-seeing-eye”. So I decided to put this truism to the test.

Paired with my burning passion for film, I would like to share with you some little reflections of what has become my very own version of a reality check . It all began when I was ordering the DVD of 4:30 via some Singapore-based eBay seller. He asked me in sheer disbelief: “How come you know of that film anyway?”

Of course, he could have guessed it. But still, with the question being asked, I felt like giving it some thought and looking at it more broadly: What does it take for a film of Singaporean origin to make its way internationally? What exactly are the inherent challenges with the bringing Singapore cinema out to the silver screen abroad? What, if anything, is missing from this city’s cinematographic storytelling to successfully reach out globally and connect with foreign audiences?

Well, to have a look beyond your task’s original framing may at times provide for a helpful widening of your standard perspective. So let’s take architecture, for instance.

It seems to me that most of contemporary architecture is more telling about conditions than it is respectful in terms of the real-life places it materialises in. Environs do matter, of course, but it isn’t quite that easy to precisely define wherein this natural state of interconnectedness lies — and what it refers to. When one considers the current emergence of new cityscapes blossoming all over mainland China and along its coastal regions, or take a close look at urban reconstruction, reinvention and redesign in any other big city around the world, one thing is striking above all: the seeming effortlessness with which the most distinct structural codes are being applied virtually everywhere, regardless of each place’s individual, specific requirements.

Some simply call it “globalisation” or “internationalism” and are content with patching this label onto the phenomenon. As if, in themselves, these all too common terms explained anything. As if naming something was the same as understanding what it was all about. To me at least, this is hardly a convincing answer.

Here is what I read into it: We all know our Gehrys, Fosters and Calatravas when we see them. We instantly discover Pei, Ito or Libeskind in every corner of the world.

But what do these buildings, impressive as they may be, tell us about where on earth we actually are? There’s very little generic inheritance in them. And we identify them all the more as landmarks of our modern times precisely for this quality of interchangeability. Among a plethora of pasts and characteristics right at eyes’ height all around us, we somehow relate to towering concrete creations of glass and steel, looming façades of unknown intentions and enigmatic design.

It has to do with anonymity, yes, but even more so it allows us precious flights of the imagination as we invest the faceless with a momentary flicker of meaning suited to (and often moulded from) our personal needs and fears. We appropriate the inchoate signs of our times, make them speak to our sense of an urban identity that can substitute for the missing local connection.

In the foreground of the picture, there is the dazzling skyline, the entrance that makes the branding. And in back of that you’ll inevitably find all the rest of the unpolished everyday, the literally more down-to-earth aspect or counter-face of life in the city.

And now, if you will: what city was I speaking of here? – See?

The urban experience for one looks quite familiar the world over, doesn’t it? And this is no trifling matter. If indeed there is some truth in this, then all of a sudden it seems like the gap is not so much in the question of which part of our planet you happen to live in, but rather in discovering it right there at your doorstep, at the very moment you take a more than just superficial look at your surroundings (and it is then that one can barely keep from toppling right over and falling down into the abyss – remember 15?).

It is obvious when viewed in this light that structurally there is more shared than there are things that separate someone living in Singapore from, say, someone living in Berlin or China or _____ .

So, is there a cultural divide? Yes, there are many — but we’re all in them together. For each of us in our own peculiar way to face them, then exchange and discover our similar/dissimilar views of them (in the medium of film especially!), we are already bridging some of these gaps; at the same time, as we visualise the one gap, we actually are bridging another, simply by joining in the experience.

Our common differences, they are challenging to address, they are thrilling to confront, they are fascinating to share. They are an asset!

Look out for mo’s comments on the arts, films and filmmaking in “The Torch” every other Thursday.

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