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The Torch: angry.political.cinema5 min read

17 July 2007 4 min read


The Torch: angry.political.cinema5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Remember the last time you complained about something? Was it sometime around the end of last year, last month, last week? Could’ve been just yesterday or in fact this very morning when discovering that, damn, this one bus you absolutely needed to catch had gone and it seemed like the whole universe once again was up in arms against you, right?

Such juvenile tribulations being entirely alien to me of course, the question of how to remedy the ill has to be asked.

More precisely: if you find yourself angered by the world’s condition on a regular basis, how would you intervene? And in the terms of film, would you devise the medium’s capacity as your means of intervention?

I’ve said it before, making movies should be about making a point. It should aspire to bring about change of some sort: first in the mind, then in actuality and real life. As there obviously is no shortage of things to address, so are there many ways in which the two worlds, the fictional and the real one intersect. Merely to mention in this context the very existence of such a thing as a “National Board of Censors” (how could it slip your mind for even a second) will undoubtedly provide you with an armful of fond memories, I think.

Actual people dedicate their passion, time and money to making films, serious films that do have a meaning and are relevant to their audience. This alone is a sure enough guarantee that cinema faces the same principal situation as any sensible individual does: to decide for better or worse which attitude to profess in addressing our world, the environs we are part of and mutually dependent on. So what stance do you want to take? What is the power of film, if any?

When and where on the planet did idle navel-gazing achieve anything than dipping into that endless reservoir of sentimental self-pity? If melancholy and nostalgia are your only assets it seems to me like little else than worshipping a state of mind which exhausts itself in self-serving inner absorption. “Renewable despondency” works and can be reiterated time and again without end, but is a brand not to my taste. Besides, it is well covered by many art-house productions and has become familiar if not formulaic as of late. Maybe the only thing this overflow of inner exile representations in films is indicative of, in independent, personal filmmaking in particular, is some unresolved, deeper and more substantial, cancerous ill working its way through the social fabric to the surface of artistic expression.

At this point another urgent question comes to the fore: Can we afford to see (and make) films as nothing more than mere escapism? Does every cinema enthusiast by necessity entertain a pathological relationship with reality? Is there no-one who can imagine anything more courageous than such a defeatist kind of approach for the medium of film, I wonder? How about expressly venting your anger for a change and speaking in a straightforward manner to the matter that causes you to suffer?

Your power as a filmmaker is enormous, there’s literally a world at your disposal that you can bring others to think about, to confront for a start. You have their (mostly) total attention for 90-odd minutes, so use it to raise awareness, to tackle an issue, to ward off ignorance, bigotry, hypocrisy, decadence and all the other things that make life miserable without a true cause. Be aware and respectful of the power you possess to make a difference. There’s a lot of sound optimism in this!

We all are more than just our mere selves, products of our contemporaries and their views as well as a continuation or correction of those before us, our beloved parents, predecessors, traditions and the culture(s) we have been raised in. All of this has a very distinct value of its own and should be worth our commitment. So when next driving through some useless tunnel or contemplating the wondrous procedures of public funding, ask yourself how engaged you really are or want to become, ask yourself if you’re not in fact dangerously (consequentially?) close to traipsing onto the hotbed where things start getting political.

And I leave it to your judgment to define for yourself what you’d consider “political” to mean in this or, in truly, in any context. To some, being political could mean to go out and deliver a flaming speech at “Speaker’s Corner”, decrying each and every shortcoming in that entangling mess of rules and regulations called a functioning society (shining and so harmonious). Others would even go so far as to call a Shakespearean sonnet being read against the backdrop of some, say, desalination facility a subtle form of opposition, I don’t know. But one thing is undeniably true whatever your take on the matter: being politically aware and to develop a critical capacity in yourself and others, this is urgently needed. In any society, not just in Singapore, but maybe, even here.

That a film is simply a film, may be just as far as some people care to get in their understanding — and I won’t interfere with a truism of such standing (and backing), however wrong it may be. Not while with film the question of whether it affects or informs an individual is variable to an infinite degree. But if seeing is believing, then to envision what a situation should be like would be tantamount to hoping for it to come into existence, wouldn’t it? But I figure film is even more powerful than that.

So you are aspiring to realise your visual idea and bring it to the silver screen? You care about your community and want to contribute to building a better future? Getting politically involved in Singapore today sure is fun as hell, I would guess. Still, ask yourself the following: are you being politically aware and politicised in your actions? If you are, act up on what you believe in. Then make your movie, make an impact — and you may eventually initiate a change. That way anger could be something quite constructive indeed.

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