Who says local film is dead? With 4 titles to show at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Singapore is on a roll with Anthony Chen’s prestigious Caméra d’Or winner, Ilo Ilo. This gives hope to a wave of young, aspiring local filmmakers, who are eager to leave their own legacies.
Ms Aishah Abu Bakar, programme manager for The Substation, commented, “I think it definitely made a lot of people, not just overseas but in Singapore, stand up to pay a little more attention to stuff that is being produced.”
The Substation hosts First Take, a monthly programme that screens new homegrown films by amateur filmmakers. By giving them a chance to express themselves and obtain feedback from a discerning audience, it is hoped that this will sculpt their confidence in making future films.
For years, The Substation has been one of the few art spaces for local enthusiasts to showcase their original works. This is alongside other annual staples such as the Singapore International Film Festival, the Singapore Short Cuts showcase and the Fly By Night competition organized by Objectifs, a local visual arts centre that focuses on film and photography.
“It was a real challenge trying to shoot something in the span of 24 hours with a given theme,” recalled Jeremy Chua, 19, a 2012 Fly By Night participant.
The competition kickstarts once Objectifs releases the theme for the year, where contestants have exactly 1 day to shoot a short 3-minute film. Following that, they all gather at a cinema for a mass screening and to witness the winners’ announcement.
Many local directors such as Kelvin Sng (The Gang) and Jacen Tan (Go Work) have propelled their careers forward via such mediums, which have been invaluable for exchanging ideas, learning from creative mistakes and getting talent spotted by local and overseas investors.
Naturally, the joy of watching your personal opus on the big screen also helps.
As aspiring filmmaker Shelly Chan, 20, shared, “The applause you receive after they screen your film…it makes all the effort worthwhile.”
Shelly, who is currently pursuing a degree at LASALLE College of the Arts, belongs to a group of like-minded people who believe these platforms provide much needed exposure for young budding filmmakers in Singapore.
Audiences, Are You Ready?
Still, challenges abound in getting their viewer counterparts to fully embrace the emergence of homegrown films.
In an online survey of 50 youths aged 16 to 25 years old, 4 per cent of youths said ‘No’ while 52 per cent gave a lukewarm ‘Maybe’ when asked if they would support local movies. Citing the distraction of Hollywood blockbusters and A-list casts, many said they had yet to know of the true quality in their films back home.
“Creativity is, while not lacking in Singapore, is certainly not promoted enough,” lamented one respondent. “I think there are many like me who would enjoy local films but have no idea where to get exposed to them.”
Visibility remains an issue given Singapore’s tightly knit film community, which has yet to reach out actively to a wider audience about their competitions and screenings. Every gear in the machine that allows such platforms to happen comprises of people already involved in the filmmaking scene, from the organizers to participants and audience members.
Indeed, with only 16 per cent of respondents having experienced such platforms, most viewers were limited to the few local films shown in cinemas and broadcast channels.
Ms Aishah also added that people aged 14 and below may not able to attend such events due to “school restraints” or “parental restrictions”. Also, there remains strict governmental censorship placed on sensitive films like Royston Tan’s 15, which contains themes ranging from gangsterism to homosexuality.
To help young filmmakers gain visibility and alleviate restrictions faced, Mr Derek Tan and Mr Ho Jia Jian formulated Viddsee.com, an online film portal dedicated to user-submitted works from Asia.
“Everyone tells you to put your film on YouTube.com to reach a global audience, but there are tens of millions of videos on YouTube.com. It’s really hard to find good quality content if you don’t know the filmmaker’s name,” commented Mr Ho in an interview with TechCrunch.com.
Content Is King
As Yue Jie, 20, a regular contributor to entertainment publications like Popspoken and Straits Times Communities, shared, most local films still lack commercial viability due to their niche content and technicalities.
He explained, “At the moment, I believe that we are striving for the awards and not really the entertainment side. So the amount of films that go into cinema is not that much.”
Still, most respondents did express viewership promise, saying they were interested in what local films had to offer. Given they were made by fellow young Singaporeans, many said they would probably be highly relatable and refreshing in perspective.
Alongside mentorship competition cine65, The New Paper Film Fest and the 48 Hour Film Project, Viddsee.com is just one of the newer platforms that filmmakers and viewers can look forward to as the Singaporean film scene opens up.
By promoting such art spaces and films, this encourages viewers and filmmakers alike to find out more about other filmmakers’ works while being inspired to make their own.
With more avenues to express themselves, now anyone even remotely passionate about film will find it hard to resist picking up a camera and well… shoot.
Still not sure where to look? Here’s 5 go-to venues that offer the best of arthouse movies and homegrown films.
1. The Picturehouse
Established in 1990, The Picturehouse was Singapore’s first alternative answer to an era of mainstream films. Despite closing down several years later, The Cathay revamped it in 2006 as a cushy 82 seater venue that showcases a multitude of exclusive local and foreign motion pictures. It is no wonder it remains one of the most popular venues for film festivals and events- part of the viewing magic is getting to bask in its historical significance.
2. Sinema Old School
Don’t be fooled by the whitewashed exterior of this Mount Sophia compound, for this former Methodist Girls’ School is a lighthouse for young startups dedicated to all things art. Although Old School has unfortunately closed down more or less, it still hosts Sinema Old School in partnership with Sinema.SG, whose name is a deliberate combination of ‘Singapore’ and ‘cinema’ to express its deep support for local films. From Royston Tan’s 881 to Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys, you will find a host of famous movies in this 136-seater with powerful messages that will hit home.
3. The Arts House Screening Room
Although much more cramped, this humble 75-seater theater room is a silver screen treasure, having once held late 20th Century offices in Parliament Lane. Now, it is a well-established venue that boasts film series such as But Is The Book Better? and festivals like the Singapore Chinese Film Festival, all in the old world charm of a colonial building.
4. Golden Village Screening Europa
Surprise, surprise- in the heart of bustling Vivocity, there actually lies Cinema Europa, an extension of Golden Village that celebrates the finest local and international art house and indie films all year round. From exclusive local flicks to lesser known Asian titles, there’s no reason to miss out on this luxurious 108 seater-theater that comes with a state-of-the-art digital surround sound system.
5. The Substation Theatre
Looking for an even more exclusive hideout? Choose The Substation Theater, which is still one of the best curators of independent films in our nation. The 108-seater is not content with just motion pictures alone, it’s a versatile black box space that hosts performance dialogues and music performances- all in its dedication to promoting diversity in interdisciplinary art in Singapore.