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CAROUSEL GENERAL COMMENTARY

A Look Back At Sinema Media’s Past Decade

6 January 2021

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A Look Back At Sinema Media’s Past Decade

Starting out as an independent blog in 2006 by Originasian Pictures, Sinema.SG declared: 

Sinema gives a greater voice to all Singapore filmmakers to showcase their work and gives Singapore film lovers an opportunity to get unbiased reviews (reviews are based on their merits and not measured against big-budget foreign products), in-depth (we really mean in-depth!) interviews with filmmakers of yesterday and tomorrow, as well as features and DIY budget-filmmaking tips.

It was started because we realised that the mainstream media and cinema hall operators have their priorities and they might not be in line with what the industry needs to grow and flourish. This site is to help bring the community together and maybe for once, we start doing something for ourselves.

We will try to bring a new experience to Singapore cinema. By organising screenings in alternative venues, we will not be limited to the cinema halls. Essentially, anywhere with space, a projector+DVD player and a screen can be our sinema.

Throughout its numerous reiterations, this core objective has remained largely intact, while growing to encompass broader developmental goals. Between 2007 to 2012, Sinema operated Sinema Old School, Singapore’s first fully-independent cinema screening in HD, which dedicated itself to showcase local filmmakers and their works. 

Following the theatre’s closure, Sinema bloomed into a project management company focusing on film and initiatives through Sinema Media, responsible for programmes such as the National Youth Film Award and ciNE65. Meanwhile, the independent blog Sinema.SG strived to continue to be a resource hub for both filmmakers and the film obsessed, with an added focus and dedication towards Asian cinema and creatives.

To mark the beginning of a new decade and of a new chapter, we crack open the photo album to recap Sinema’s story so far.


Film screenings at Sinema Old School

Sinema Old School, Singapore’s first high-definition community theatre, opened its doors on 12 December 2007 with the 10th-anniversary celebration of Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys. The theatre featured a seating capacity of 136 and a state-of-the-art sound and projection system provided by Panasonic.

Sinema Showoff!, a monthly curation showcasing local short films, would be a mainstay programme for the Sinema Old School. It welcomed submissions of all genres from local filmmakers, amateurs and students alike, with one of the programme’s main goals being to be a platform for their works. 

Hosted every last Tuesday of the month, Sinema Showoff! featured an eclectic mix of themes and genres from the celebration of Deepavali with Masala Mix to a celebration of Malay – Muslim culture with The Balik Kampung Collection. A slice of the programme was even showcased at the Singapore Film Festival Melbourne in 2010 while a Sinema Showoff! Class of 2010 DVD was produced and distributed during Singapore Day 2011 in Shanghai.

Other programmes on Sinema Old School’s schedule included Films For Change Thursday, which showcased a social action film every Thursday, and Sinema Retrospective!, with its first session featuring the works of Fran Borgia. Following the 2011 Japan Earthquake, Sinema Old School teamed up with Festive Films to help out relief efforts with two screenings and box office proceeds for the day donated to the Japanese Red Cross.

The theatre played host for premieres for both feature-length and short films. Some of these include Han Yew Kwang’s 18 Grams of Love and Brian Gothong Tan’s Invisible Children. Even television dramas such as season one of C.L.I.F had its preview at the theatre. Sinema Old School was also one of the screening sites for festivals such as Singapore International Film Festival 2010 and the International Social Action Film Festival, and of competitions such as the 48 Hour Film Project. 

These, together with countless more, created a community amongst local filmmakers, film lovers and anyone who was willing to climb the dreaded 120 steps of stairs up to the theatre. Unfortunately, Sinema Old School would close its doors in 2012 with the end of its lease. The theatre held its last screenings on 17 December 2011. 

Soon afterwards, Sinema would team up with Golden Village to showcase Singaporean and Asian independent and social films every second and fourth Wednesday of each month at GV Grand, Great World City.

Today, some of the red sofas that adorned Sinema Old School are now enjoying retirement life in Sinema Media’s office, making occasional cameos on programmes such as 100 Seconds On The Red Sofa and Say it like it is.  


Developmental Programmes

At its core, Sinema Media was and continues to be dedicated to bringing the local film industry to new heights by uplifting local filmmakers and creatives.

One notable programme run by Sinema Old School during its heyday was the Actor’s Workshop. Hosted every Wednesday, it gave opportunities for scripts sent in to be read and brought to life by professional actors. The SAMPLIFY series brought industry figures together to discuss paramount issues faced by filmmakers, with its first session in January 2009 welcoming actors Tan Kheng Hua, Sunny Pang, Alaric Tan and Pamelyn Chee.

The Sinema Showoff! programme not only gave a platform for filmmakers but also for students curious to try their hand in film curation. Sinema Media also organised a field trip to Shooting Gallery Asia’s Singapore studio in 2011 together with ciNE65, as well as engagements with schools and social organisations on the promotion of film literacy.

Even before Sinema Old School opened its doors in 2007, Sinema Showoff! was already well underway with Timbre being one of the programme’s first hosting locations; the closure of the theatre would not deter Sinema from its goals.

Started in April 2011, YouTube channel SinemaTV.SG looked to highlight Singapore creatives and focused on producing “content that matters” through its array of programmes. M for Magic gave a platform for Singaporean magicians, while the first season of series The Underground Stage featured interviews with creatives from the local fashion scene. Predating most Singaporean YouTubers popular today, SinemaTV.SG — much like Sinema Old School — was ahead of its time. However, the channel would upload its last episodes in 2012. 

SinemaTV showreel 2011/12 from jillyn koh on Vimeo.

Not all of the programmes started by Sinema Media were hits, such as efforts to start the Sinema Film Students Club in 2010. However, Sinema Media continues to endeavour in its goals. 

Since 2006, independent blog Sinema.SG has welcomed a vast number of writers throughout the years, providing them with a platform to both hone their skills and explore opportunities to give back to the local creative community. Each writer has brought to Sinema.SG their own focuses and interests — all with the ever-constant goal of being a cultural resource hub through its editorial content, video content, and initiatives. 

Through its countless reviews, the blog looks to offer fair critiques on films and series that may be left unnoticed. Through its feature interviews, it looks to highlight the work and contributions of creatives throughout the region. Through its film analyses, Sinema.SG hopes to bolster film literacy while highlighting films’ role in the creation and reflection of culture. Video series such as Say it like it is, 100 Seconds On The Red Sofa, and SEE WHAT SEE?! distilled the spirit of the blog’s editorial content into easily digestible and entertaining tidbits. 

Sinema Media recently celebrated a milestone with the conclusion of The Inciting Incident’s inaugural year. The screenplay competition aimed to encourage screenwriters to “shake off their hesitation, flesh out their stories and put them into the world”. Held in four quarters throughout 2020, participants were challenged with penning a screenplay for a short film based on the round’s given genre.

The screenplay competition was made possible in partnership with casting agency Hello Group, acting school Method Acting Asia, publishing house Epigram Books, online interactive and fundraising platform Premise, and production company Catharsis Film. In total, The Inciting Incident 2020 received over 200 entries from both film students and professionals alike.

Sinema Media is currently working on a print collection that will feature the winning works from all four rounds of the competition.


National-Level Initiatives 

Throughout its existence, Sinema Media has worked on and created a number of national-level initiatives.

One of these was biannual short film competition ciNE65 for Nexus in 2011. The first edition of the competition served as a platform for aspiring filmmakers, encouraging them to express what Singapore means to them through short films. Sinema Media would take over and run the 48 Hour Film Project Singapore from 2013 to 2017. 

2014 marked the start of its collaboration with Singapore Writers Festival’s Utter initiative. Utter 2014 featured a selection of four Singapore literary works adapted into short films, directed by four local filmmakers and produced by Sinema Media over the course of ten weeks. 

Utter 2016 brought the initiative to yet another level with the realisation of the feature-length film One Hour To Daylight. Directed by four local filmmakers and produced by Sinema Media, the film featured subplots adapted from four local short stories each in four languages. In 2018, the company worked with the Singapore’s Writers Festival to present Utter Redux, a one-day conference of film screenings from previous Utter editions, and panel discussions and workshops regarding film adaptations on Singapore literature. 

In 2015, Sinema Media created *SCAPE’s new “Media Pillar” for industry development and the National Youth Film Awards (NYFA), running the competition until 2018. Striving towards talent development, NYFA has grown to be regarded as one of the top awards for Singapore’s film students and youths. 

In collaboration with Taiwan’s Golden Harvest Awards, Sinema Media has brought two batches of NYFA winners to Taiwan and hosted the first Golden Harvest Awards Singapore Showcase in 2019, which brought Taiwanese short films to Singapore. These efforts looked to encourage cross-pollination between filmmakers from both countries while giving Singaporean youths valuable networking opportunities. 

More recently in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sinema Media’s Managing Director Nicholas Chee hosted Sinema Live!, a livestream series housed on Facebook group SG COVID-19 Creative/Cultural Professional & Freelancers Support Group. Created by Chee in February 2020, the group has grown exponentially with over 9300 members to date. 

The livestream detailed updates on how the pandemic has affected creative freelancers in Singapore, with episodes featuring both industry figures and professionals to share their experience and insights. Available for all, the livestream provided a deeper understanding of Singapore’s gig economy and brought their issues and concerns to the forefront while encouraging previously untapped collaborations between creative disciplines.