COLUMNS FOOISM

Like the Rainbow Colours We Know, in the Country We Call Home

27 July 2015

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Like the Rainbow Colours We Know, in the Country We Call Home

7 Letters, easily a must-see for SG50 celebrations, is an omnibus national film made by 7 Singapore directors. It premiered last Friday to a standing ovation. First reactions were exhilratingly positive with accolades all round. Like the colours of the rainbow, each filmmaker’s personal letter to Singapore in celebration of SG50 brought out individual styles of the different filmmakers, yet revealing many lines of recognisable similarities to what makes us Singaporean, before and beyond this Jubilee celebrations.

For the love of cinema, Eric Khoo reminds us that filmmakers make films regardless of whatever we see our differences to be. In an homage to the “˜Pontianak’ (folkloric female vampire succubus) films, the audience will be kickstarted into the world of cinema and how films, and being part of films, resonates through our lives till we age. It is like a cinematic homage for filmmakers, past and present. Films will forever have an emotional connect to any individual who appreciates it.

"Cinema" Photo: 7 Letters, Eric Khoo. Image Source: Yahoo! SG Movies
“Cinema” Photo: 7 Letters, Eric Khoo. Image Source: Yahoo! SG Movies

Jack Neo recounts a tale of unrequited love and unreciprocable. His smirk on the 7 Letters poster hints at a signature comic undertone, but don’t let it mislead you. The king of the box-office presents a situation that many of us can revel in nostalgia or in fact remind us of our own. Perhaps Jack is quietly paying tribute to all that have helped him become who he is, or could he could be silently and humbly paving ways for those in need, without wanting recognition? Look out for the scene where the cane is used to reprimand, you will feel the ache in your heart not only for the protagonist, but also, I would dare say in your own memory.

Indian filmmaker K Rajagopal is one of Singapore film’s best kept secrets. He shares a close community and an even smaller community of artist-friends (who became screaming rock-star fans when his name was announced). Those of us who have seen his earlier works of The Glare and Absence will immediately reconnect with this style of quiet exactitude in staging and blocking. This short film is of pure discipline in the art of mise-en-scene and when matched with convincing performances, drew silent attention from the crowds.

"The Flame" Photo: 7 Letters, K. Rajagopal. Image Source: Yahoo! SG Movies
“The Flame” Photo: 7 Letters, K. Rajagopal. Image Source: Yahoo! SG Movies

Royston Tan took a lovely folk song and shared with us his creation of the early days of HDB living where your neighbour was your surrogate parent and friend. Moments captured were also immediately recognisable to anyone who has lived in national housing estates. Washing oneself with a bath ladle is probably too strange and too “˜obiang’ for the contemporary, who now use unpronounceable European-branded shower systems. In true Royston fashion this blend of culture, music and kinship, left me and many others humming the melody.

I first heard of Pekan Nanas on the Mandarin radio. It was a song dedication programme where listeners as far as Johor could tune in to choose the latest pop hits to dedicate to their loved ones. Life was simpler then, where a mere mention of your name or your friends name wouldn’t need other “˜Likes’ to make it worthy. The deejay would receive dedications to and from the people in Pekan Nanas, a town. Tan Pin Pin played out a story of a foster mum’s attempts to connect and relate to her foster child’s roots. The search for knowledge, and knowing seems to be the true way to live. And as the filmmaker says, “˜We are what we know’.

Woe be us should we ever forget that our roots run deep with our neighbours. Boo Junfeng’s short film revisits our bonds with Malaysia and immortalising the Tanjong Pagar Railyway station on the cinema screen. A paced, searching story of an aging man seeking a reconnect, the reveal also pays subtle tribute to lost relationships during the nation building years.

Kelvin Tong’s letter to Singapore also revolved around Malaysia as a hinterland, where roots remain grounded in the cycle of life. In his story, a family makes mechanical trips to visit and clean the grave of their departed, with its only true bond only realised as if like an epiphany. The film also sombrely recounts Singapore’s changes through the years, but pays tribute to the things that have survived. Our pioneer generation knows best because sometimes, as millenial as we get, we need grandma to position ourselves.

"Grandma Positioning System" Photo: 7 Letters, Kelvin Tong. Image Source: Channel News Asia
“Grandma Positioning System” Photo: 7 Letters, Kelvin Tong. Image Source: Channel News Asia

This being an SG50 and MDA/SFC initiative, anyone would think that in typical Singapore fashion, there would be a necessity to balance racial representation. While we did a double take of noticing that there were no Malay directors in the 7, before we rant and cry that this is politically incorrect, we become aware that many of the stories reflect a shared psyche of where we are anchored and how we are linked to Malaysia. There is none greater tribute to our sense of place and a recognition of belonging than this perception. Some would differ, but I somehow think Singapore is beginning to blur some lines that separate us.

Extra screenings have been announced, and the call to donate generously is resounding. Kudos to the filmmakers who have named their charities for donating the proceeds. This is the real celebration of national cinema, where the intent to share as a nation matches the cause to help those in need. After the continued badgering of Hollywood films, and the drive to make commercial films to make money to drive the fledging industry; I think it is catharthic to clear our cinematic conscience and donate to a cause larger than ourselves

I want to also especially reach out to the cinephiles and the fans. There is a commemorative DVD for sale which is by orders only. Proceeds will similarly be for charity. Put in your order. It will add some moons, stars, crimson and purity to your criterion collection. A potential commercial release has been slated. And this is to examine the possibility of putting this anthology series up for international awards.

If you call Singapore home, you will see home manifested in these 7 short films. Timeless yet having a sense of the times, they will etch themselves in your psyche.

Whether Singapore is a mere stopover, an ATM machine, a clinical factory, an air-conditioned nation, or at its worst ‘Disneyland with a death sentence’, these films have captured and encapsulated the zeitgeist of this little red dot.

Mai Tu Liao lah, watch leh”¦no horse run one.

 

7 Letters will be screened at the Gallery Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, on Aug 8, 9 and 10 at 11am. Tickets are free and available on a first-come-first-served basis at the museum’s front desk on Aug 1 and 2, between 10am and 6pm.

Juan Foo is candidly regarded by many as the filmmaker who is ‘still’ around doing independent work. He is a producer, educator and activist, and was involved in Singapore’s pioneering independent features like The Road Less Travelled, Return to Pontianak, Dirty Laundry and Perth. Juan teaches at media institutions on subjects ranging from animation, filmmaking and producing. He also looks forward to penning more thoughts on Singapore filmmaking in his book Film is a Four-Letter Word but procrastination gets to him on better days.
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