Monday, June 6, 2011

Screen Singapore

For just over a week in June, major stars -- Tom Hanks, Zhang Ziyi, Shah Rukh Khan and Lee Byung-hun -- filmmakers, directors, producers and film trade professionals will be gathering for the inaugural Screen Singapore (June 5-11).
This film entertainment event will see premieres of top Hollywood, European and Asian films along with a string of actors and actresses lending the event some star pull.
Tom Hanks will promote his latest movie “Larry Crowne," starring Julia Roberts and Lee Byung-hun. Japanese actress Aya Omasa is slated to appear to promote her new film “Paradise Kiss.” Hong Kong actor Nick Cheung and director Wong Jing will be on hand at the opening night of his new comedy “Treasure Inn." And Singaporean producer Sukee Chew will launch American director Dennis Lee’s offbeat comedy “Jesus Henry Christ.”
Other events lined up include the Asian Short Film Awards, film previews, forums and discussions held by key players in the international and local film industry, including Singaporean filmmaker Kelvin Tong, who is known for his commercial productions “Eating Air” (1999), “The Maid” (2005) and “Men in White” (2007).
But how will the event realistically elevate the local film industry? Elaine Ee talks to Kelvin Tong and Sukee Chew for their take.
CNNGo: How has the local film industry changed in recent years?
Kelvin Tong: It has changed by leaps and bounds. When I made my first film in 1999, Singapore films were still a novelty, and the film industry averaged one film a year. Slightly more than a decade later, Singapore is averaging four to six films a year.
CNNGo: What else needs to change for the local film industry to grow?
Tong: We need to make films that can resonate with audiences beyond our shores. Only then will Singapore cinema truly take flight.
Sukee Chew: I think Singapore should offer tax incentives to attract projects to be filmed here, and to give local filmmakers more opportunities to participate in projects on an international level.
Singapore may be building facilities and sound stages, but producers will still want to know what incentives they can get to shoot on location.
CNNGo: To what extent do you think big international events like Screen Singapore will help prop up the local film industry?
Tong: Big foreign players can come into contact with Singapore films. When people talk, opportunities arise. Who knows, maybe Tom Hanks will like Singapore so much when he visits that he decides to make a film here?
CNNGo: Do you think it is authentic and credible to have international arts-based events here when Singapore’s own arts environment is still subjected to censorship?
Tong: No society is free of censorship. And if anything, the interaction between arts events and censors provides a forum and an opportunity for debate. Old ideas will be challenged and envelopes will be pushed. It's inevitable and utterly necessary.
Chew: I think art equates, for the most part, freedom of expression, so censoring the arts is a bit of an oxymoron.
CNNGo: What would you like to get out of Screen Singapore?
Tong: I'd like to see Singapore filmmakers or production companies clinch mini deals in foreign markets. I think it's good exposure.
Chew: As an ambassador of Screen Singapore and a Singaporean producer of “Jesus Henry Christ” which is getting its international premiere at this event, I'm thrilled and honored to have the opportunity to share this film with everyone back home.
Hopefully Screen Singapore can be the advent of a successful Singapore film industry, as I would love to produce a movie made in Singapore, even though I already have a career in the United States.
In fact, I hope to get a high octane action thriller off the ground, and with the Media Development Authority's support, the script has already been rewritten and relocated to be shot in Singapore.
CNNGo: How does Singapore’s local film industry compare to that of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam or Indonesia?
Tong: Compared to many other Southeast Asian film industries, the Singapore industry is small because of our population size.

In addition, our films are bereft of a unique tongue that speaks intimately to all viewers. The Thais make Thai films for Thai audiences and the Indonesians make Bahasa Indonesian films for Indonesian audiences. In Singapore, our moviegoers are divided by language -- we have Chinese, English, Malay, and Tamil speakers.

When we make Chinese films, we are up against movies from China and Hong Kong. When we make English films, we are up against Hollywood movies. But because of our constant struggle against a fragmented marketplace, we are forced to find ideas that are universal.

We are at a very early stage of this struggle. If we persist, however, I feel we will find success.
CNNGo: What would you like Singapore’s local film industry to become?
Tong: I hope the Singapore film industry can develop equally in both the commercial and art house sense.
It is just as important for Singapore films to win prizes at significant film festivals, as is it to make money at the box office. I hope that the government and our audiences will give wings to both commercial and art house Singapore films and love them equally.
Only then, will the identity of Singapore cinema be cemented.
Chew: I'd love to see local filmmakers step up to the level of international filmmakers and create content that will either be highly commercial, or win an Academy Award some day.