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The Torch: On building a sinema community

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Sometimes I find myself dreaming (can’t help it) of a world united, of undoubted peace across the globe all the good stuff and of course I know it’s a fool’s dream. But just before waking to harsh reality like I must, in one of those unwatched moments when self-deception is still, barely passable, I envision the possibility of a true Sinema community to be: take a tour!

The TorchFilm critics, cinema lovers, mainstream audience preferences – that is a wide range. A film makers’ ambition, festival programmers’ demands, marketing geeks and their ways of defining and measuring success… it doesn’t take a genius to understand the immense conflict potential in the industry set-up. Lastly, there is the army of arts educators and academics, journalists, the full circus ensemble not to be neglected or underestimated in their power to build or destroy a reputation for some reason (not every one of them, frankly, objective). Whatever your part in the game, no matter what feelings you harbour deep within about its import, we all mutually affect one another, like it or not.

What is indisputable is the fact that this interdependence does not work without respect being built into the system, and quite a considerable portion of it. We are the environment. So if bringing about changes for a more fully developed appreciation for the art of filmmaking is part of your agenda, you know where to start.

It doesn’t take a New Wave for Singapore cinema to realize its full potential; bubbles have a habit of collapsing anyway. Also I’m always a sceptic when it comes to prophets of any kind, and accordingly, I for one wouldn’t call for a revolution since examples abound where the sum total of what’s been lost in the event far outweighs the gains. Let’s call it a restoration, a renewal, a reformatory process that is needed; an understanding which gradually evolves but steadily so, gaining momentum as it unfolds with natural ease – an evolution of the cinematic eye and mind, growing in capacity to judge. All of this budding from amidst the lowlands of mass market production and consumption, how about that for a start?

Raising the general level of sophistication may seem like a daunting task for a single individual to take on, but it’s all part of one sweeping effort: an inclusive strategy growing from the grassroots. This is essential because consumption and production are closely intertwined, oftentimes biographically so. Just as any writer needs to be a serious reader first, whoever wishes to get involved in filmmaking can’t be anything other than a dedicated cinema-goer to begin with. In this way we build our personal record, our life’s history of good films and not so good ones; we establish benchmarks for ourselves and depending on how deep you are in to it, come to question and challenge the standards. Eventually, this may lead to acquiring professional reading skills and techniques of assessing a film, which in turn may very well inspire you to take up the craft on your own.

So we’ve come the whole way and hopefully, we’ve learned a lot, but not forgetting about our rather humble beginnings as well. This is being said on account of the many voices out there raising a hailstorm about what injustice Made-in-Singapore films suffer from the unknowing hands of their fellow countrymen, showering blame upon all who seem to hold on too tight to their wallets where buying tickets to local films is concerned. I’m no judge in this, but I think I know the ambivalent truth behind the story. Germany has experienced something similar as well, with German film regaining its stature only by maturing alongside its home audience, regaining acceptance and eventually recovering lost ground internationally – all the way “up” to the Oscars, which took 15 years to accomplish.

Do you want to be inclusive or shield off the seemingly sensible against a barbaric onslaught of unqualified comment? That precious campfire of professional reason you now so comfortably huddle around, which after ages of hard work and many sacrifices to your social life, you and your peers have managed to ignite from that scarce supply of dry wood in that tropical jungle you live in: Can it be shared with the unenlightened masses encircling? It so often gets to the point where elitism is just another form of ignorance, let’s not spoil the future of our cinema. That future is the interested youngsters and the promising audiences they constitute. Therefore, yes, go out and teach the kids, be pedagogic and discover the teacher in you! You are childish already… Get to know and learn to trust your future audience, you’ll need them. Some people, I take, are already doing the right thing, and all the good love you put into the effort will surely pay off.

Personally, I trust that mutuality is a constructive force by itself. Not only should everybody add in their energy and creativity every step of the way, they also have to show their commitment by bringing in talent they know and can trust; by sharing in the quest for that common goal; staff, producers, marketing agents and programmers alike. Likewise, an audience that is aware of its determining power by being quality conscious, actively demanding and vocal, is something very much to be wished for. Everyone who likes to go out with their friends, watch movies, then enjoy the relaxed evening by talking about the films – you’re having an opinion, are you not? That is being just one step away from reviewing (and training your own linguistic skills to cover the emotional is a learning process that might even have some practical value to it), so why not send in your comments to a forum of your choice, not just to this site, and make your voice be heard and counted?

At times, it seems, one has to go in circles a few times before arriving at where you originally wanted to get, so don’t tire just yet! After all, we are now experiencing a ground- and record-breaking year for Singapore cinema; that sure looks promising. Honestly I hope all this isn’t just another instance of preaching to the choir (it certainly isn’t meant to be prop-up talk). It is but an earnest call for a joined and mutual commitment among those in Singapore who want to build a fully grown and vibrant filmmaking environment in their own country. The opportunity to do so, to contribute, has probably never been better. We can ill afford not to share what assets we have, can’t we?

What it comes down to, in my opinion, is more than keeping with your cohort and relying on your home-grown support. After which, according to reliable sources, comes a character building process so thoroughly individual, it is no use discussing; you’ll see it when you get there. The real challenge is in convincing your fiercest critics and winning over your staunchest enemies, which might be tantamount to overcoming prejudices in your local audience. The test is where you finally manage to free yourself and your product from these constraints and move on, realising that ultimately, nothing else matters in a film than its quality. It is (and should be) plain irrelevant whether a movie be Singaporean, French or whatever – it needs to be solid and original in its every aspect. No-one should reject a film on the very short-sighted ground of its being Singapore-made. But, just as equally, nobody is obliged to like it for that reason either. We all should live up to the sensible, to the justified expectations of those we care for and who hold rightful claims to our respect, then justice will come naturally.

So, who dares to wake up?

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