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FOOISM: Looking Back – The Singapore Film Scene in 2018

2 January 2019

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FOOISM: Looking Back – The Singapore Film Scene in 2018

Some noteworthy milestones and ripples for the Singapore film fan – a quick look at the busy indie film scene and what’s coming up in 2019.


Films are Reaching Shores (新片上岸了)
When you think of film prominence in 2018, A Land Imagined immediately comes to mind, both lyrically and figuratively. The film is an internationally-acclaimed Singaporean feature helmed by filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua. A philosophical trippy investigation into the immigre-insomniac, A Land Imagined has likely become the most awarded Singapore film to date, with a total of up to 14 recognised awards garnered since its festival release at Locarno in August. The film will be commercially available in Singapore late February 2019 and I do wish more Singaporeans will have a chance to watch this film.

Crazy English-speaking Asians
The local crew and cast had an opportunity to experience a ‘Hollywood-level’ of $cale and $cope during the local production of romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians. The international success of this meld of Asian-Americanism and Singaporeaniche also proved that English-speaking Asian faces have box-office potential. Pride and kudos to the Singapore actors who have found fame, following and futures in the Hollywood hinterland of English language films. Honed from theatre and television, it has been tough for them to go international with a lingua franca not in demand from a ready (Chinese-speaking/Ethnic) market. This is a great springboard. Fantabulous.

Honouring Our Friends
No film community can survive without their key stakeholders nurturing and supporting film art and event spaces. Art centre Objectifs celebrates 15 years of being a node and a nod to filmmakers with their exhibitions, campaigns and artistic residencies. Shoring up a more widespread support of media talent and voices is SCAPEmedia, organisers of the annual National Youth Film Awards (NYFA). In the fourth year running, NYFA is presided over by practicing industry professionals, who benchmark the state and standard of film product made across the media institutes and youth community.

Stand-alone cinema halls such as The Projector, alternating their programming with festival favourites and world cinema, see growing attendance, and independent distributors like Anticipate Pictures field this curiosity for the alternative films. The niche appetite needs to grow to offer more perspective and variety. The challenge here then is competition from non-cinema events, and perhaps an over-concentration of calendar schedules?

With a growing cosmopolitan audience base, Singapore also became a popular venue for film festivals. From curated genre fanfare such as the Scream Film Fest, the national/regional film festivals by country such as France, Israel, Japan; to the faith-based festivals like the Cana Film Festival and the Buddhist Film Festival, Singapore successfully hosted up to 43 film festival-events in 2018 alone. Out of which, 22 were co-organised by the Singapore Film Society, which also celebrated 60-years of eclectic film appreciation in 2018. SFS’s new partnerships even saw Mexican film director Alfonso Cuaron grace a special screening and interview for his Netflix film Roma – something that was boasted, feted and attended by the who’s-who of the film community in December.

Lost and Found
The film society also screened the lost gem of a feature Shirkers. This feature resurfaced in the the form of a documentary made around the making of, disappearance of material, and the rejuvenation of the film project itself. Made in the early 1990s, the film gave Singapore film hipsters and millennials a peek into prehistoric days of Singapore guerrilla independent filmmaking; almost like a spirit returning to haunt those who dare proclaim themselves Singapore filmmakers. Do you really want to b a filmmaker? This is how far you should go and how long it could take. Shirkers is available on Netflix.

Genre is the New Mainstream
What is a nation’s cinema heritage without embracing all genres? Hampered by budget and a small market, the immediate instinct for many filmmakers would be to go niche and genre.

Broadcast TV veteran Goh Ming Siu will also present his silver screen debut with Repossession – a psychological horror about an unspeakable evil threatening the life of status-conscious Singaporeans. The film, now in DCP finaling, is slated for a March premiere at Conquest San Jose.

Filmmaker Jacen Tan, from the Hosaywood trilogy (Zo Gang, Zo Hee, Zo Peng) together with producer-performers Alaric and Benjamin Heng bring us Zombiepura a rendition of national service jibes within the known undead trope. Touted by many as Singapore’s first Zombie genre film, film researchers may quickly correct, that there was another commercially released zombie film – Hsien of the Dead in 2012, also crediting itself as Singapore’s first zombie movie. But as the audience we say the more the scarier.

Another anticipated first is Circle Line, an ambitious filmmaking collaboration of CGI animation, action stunt effects and VFX encapsulated in a story of parenting. Many months of preparation and gestation belie the efforts in craft, talent, technology and partners in bringing Circle Line to fruition – Singapore’s first genre monster movie.

Something that went under the radar of festival films and fanfare is a film called Konpaku – directed by filmmaker Remi Sali. Writer-director Remi, to those who know, should also be considered a returning pioneer, for he directed a feature screen adaptation of The Necessary Stage play Off Centre way back in the 1990s. Konpaku or ‘soul’ in Japanese is a modern heartland creep on spiritual harassment and is market ready for a new cinema run in 2019.

Upcoming vibes from the next generation of filmmakers also include the filmmaking team He Shuming (director) and Tan Si En (producer) with the project Ajoomma. The film project follows a K-drama fan Singaporean widow’s journey to Seoul in search of her own narrative. The film project was involved in the Singapore International Film Festival’s Southeast Asian Film Lab and won the most promising project prize there, as well as winning the SEAFIC Award 2018 and the Best Co-production Award at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao’s Project Market 2018. The project is supported by script development grants from both the Singapore Film Commission and the Seoul Film Commission and will be produced under Giraffe Pictures. We will be watching their careers with great interest.

Still Waters Run Deep
The dark horse of the year in the Singapore film circuit should be accorded to a film called Jimami Tofu produced by Bananamana duo Christian Lee and Jason Chan. In the true sense of independent guerrilla filmmaking, this film was conceptualised, researched, prepped, produced, post-produced and released by the filmmakers on their own. Resistance and rejection strengthened their resolve to brace the film journey head on, retain their IP and work with trusted partners for a staggered release pattern that is driven by social media and real person accolades. More than 10,000 people have seen the film, and Jimami Tofu is already in their fourth run of a January release 2019.

Love Thy Neighbours
In an effort to develop the industry further, the Singapore Film Commission, under the IMDA, released news of a Southeast Asian film fund, where it will support up to S$250,000 per film that is produced and developed by Singaporean producers with Southeast Asian partners. This fund is a grant and is seen to encourage creative producers from Singapore to collaborate with their neighbours to make films and generate IP ownership. I feel this is a long awaited step in the positive direction where Singapore producers can develop Southeast Asian cinematic stories beyond our borders, thus expanding markets. After all, many theorists say the next market after China and India is this archipelago itself.

The red dot just got redder. The world just got smaller. Don’t stop making films. Mai Tu Liao.

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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