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It’s a wrap! – by Lionel Chok

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I had honestly thought – this would be quite easy… After all, I had witnessed its development for almost the whole year that had gone by… Surely – just writing a couple of words, sentences, paragraphs — to wrap up the film scene in Singapore for 2008 is not going to be – that – difficult, right?

lionel.jpgI think you might know the answer by now: as it turns out: the hardest part for me is not really about how or what to write  (since I usually think aloud quite a bit, so I’d assume that putting thoughts down before a computer should be quite easy). Believe it or not – the hardest part that I’m facing is just figuring out how to actually title what I’m about to write. Even if you think aloud quite a bit and found your knack for putting your thoughts down before a computer, what title would possibly encapsulate the ups and downs, the ins and outs, the longs and shorts of films produced here in Singapore over the last 11 odd months, which is 40 plus weeks, or over 300 days?!

Perhaps a good point to start is to just recall what was new this year, which I’m sure there are a lot. But just what was developed and realised this year that has made a tremendous and significant impact on the industry? Would a thrown-up title like: ‘Celebrating the year-end with the new in 2008’ be too ridiculously long-winded, vague and just uninspiring? To elaborate, one of the few things that were personal to me was of course: the newly introduced Singapore Panorama that was part of the 21st Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). And this is not just because a film which I produced was part of this selection.

The Panorama also featured a whole slate of other local films of such varied genres that truly marked the light at the end of the tunnel for many struggling filmmakers who were looking for a platform to showcase their hard work. It really couldn’t have come at a better time. Even if there were film schools to educate, monetary grants to aid production, and many other efforts put in place to help creative talents realise their visions and stories; without a recognisable space for the public to see and appreciate these works would mean certain death for local films in time to come (though some may even say that it is already happening).

No doubt we will always have sufficient and if not, more and more platforms for short films to be screened, but feature length/long-form films will always be struggling to find their audiences, dare I say, till now. With the Singapore Panorama continuing into 2009, I already know of many filmmakers who are creating new works specifically for this programme.

And if SIFF is set to be that new recognisable space to premiere or showcase new local films, then Sinema at Old School must be attributed as the new recognisable physical place, where life for local films can take off or even continue for a season of time. In such a commmercialised city like ours where the usual cinema halls and screening venues are strictly businesses, like any other venture, Sinema literally offers an alternative ground for filmmakers to find their audiences without the harsh demands of dollars and cents. Although some would have loved for this place to be the old Capitol cinema, the reality is quite obvious – I can probably keep going on about the praises for Sinema but the fact you’re here at the site already says so much. Given our innate efficiency and driving ambition to constantly innovate and strive ahead, the new will always emerge – like certain imported film school and certain revised film grant. The crux of the matter however, is whether they’ll make a significant difference or not.

But as everyone would know: ‘Celebrating the year-end with the new in 2008’ is really not the most appropriate title for use here, simply because the year also saw a couple of productions that were not so new. Besides the most apparent – which was (as if you didn’t know) the ten-year-awaited (for some) sequel to the (still) highest-grossing local movie of all time by Jack, directors such as Royston, Eric and Kelvin also brought back their magic to our silver screens with their new works: each bigger and better (in my most honest opinion) than their previous works.

So while I was very tempted to re-title this piece as: ‘Singapore’s 4 dominates again’, it would have caused grave injustice to simply ignore the other new independent films that were also released in local cinemas this year. Instead, the injustice came with the box office and its devastating response to almost all our new local works, and not just this year too! Perhaps an inspiring title that could invoke the masses as a wake-up call might be more apt, but will anyone really listen?

Despite this, filmmakers, from writers, producers, directors and even actors continue to put their time and money into their craft, push on, despite knowing full well that for most times, they will not be rewarded for their hard work. But to what end? Can we learn anything from this? Will we be able to one day find a way to not only get both the film awards but box office success as well?

And since we’re getting into the line of questioning, can local films only do well if it’s targeted only towards the heartlanders and produced in Mandarin? Is the problem our Singapore identity, or because we don’t have one? Perhaps because we are multi-diverse, and without an indigenous culture. Or what about our budgets, as in most times there’s virtually none; or the fact that you can only hope to make a film with Ma and Pa as your backers? Could my title be: ‘What’s the next big question to face?’ or could the big wrap-up for 2008 be one big lesson for what to do and what not to do?

Well… as I said – I had honestly thought that this would be quite easy, but as you would now know – that’s really besides the point. The point to do a wrap-up: is to simply acknowledge that it’s a wrap! As in: its a done deal, finished, completed, over, etc – and we all move on to a newer and better 2009

And with that – I think I may have just found the most appropriate title, and it’s none other than: It’s a Wrap!

Lionel Chok is a Singapore-based producer, and is writing as part of Sinema.SG’s end-of-year series of articles.

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