Monday, November 22, 2004

Conformity is a weakness, says PM Lee

A free society is one where it is safe to be unpopular." -- Adlai Stevenson

Conformity is a weakness, says PM Lee

"...We are so capable, we are so efficient, we are so comfortable that we stick with what we have tried and tested and found working and we are reluctant to take risks and try new things. And that is a weakness. It's a weakness which we have to overcome. The key to overcoming this is a mindset change. We have to see opportunities rather than challenges in new situations, we have to be less conventional, we must be prepared to venture and you've got to do this as individuals, we've got to do this as a government and I think we have to do it as a society. "

- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, National Day Rally 2004

Diverse views, unconventional ideas are welcome, says PM Lee

“We will continue to expand the space which Singaporeans have to live, to laugh, to grow and to be ourselves. Our people should feel free to express diverse views, pursue unconventional ideas, or simply be different. We should have the confidence to engage in robust debate, so as to understand problems, conceive fresh solutions, and open up new spaces... We must give people a second chance, for those who have tasted failure may be the wiser and stronger ones among us. Ours must be an open and inclusive Singapore.”

- Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Inauguration Speech Aug 12, 2004

Let's be rebellious, minister urges youth

"I would prefer your generation to be rebellious. If you are just conforming to the social norms, then you are merely following our footpath, which may not be relevant to you."

- Singapore Minister Khaw Boon Wan, AP (click here for report)

You break the rules, we break your heads, says MM Lee

"I can assure you that in Singapore, when we decide that they are breaking the rules of the game, the unspoken rules as to how we survive, how we have prospered, then either their head is broken or our bones are broken."

- Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew issuing warning to SIA pilots at the World Brand Forum, CNA, Dec 2, 2003

Actor in Royston Tan's 15 interrogated by Singapore police

Police censor fly-on-wall tale of gang life

Acclaimed film dubbed a threat to Singapore's national security

John Aglionby in SingaporeMonday January 5, 2004

The Guardian

With his spiky hair, infectious bonhomie and casual dress sense, the 27-year-old Singaporean film-maker Royston Tan is not obvious as a threat to national security.

He has more than two dozen awards and his debut feature film, 15, last year became the first movie from Singapore to compete at the Venice film festival.

"15 is the best Singaporean work for the last few years," said Philip Cheah, director of the Singapore international film festival, of the drama about a teenage gang of misfits struggling to survive in the abandoned underbelly of the city state's supposedly squeaky-clean society.

But Singapore's police, reflecting the government's obsession with social order and national stability, dubbed the film a threat to national security.

Much of 15, which is cast with real teenage gang members, has no discernible plot, due partly to the fact that one of the stars was arrested for stabbing another gang member halfway through filming. It is a no-holds-barred, fly-on-the-wall part-documentary, part-drama of their unconventional lifestyle.

One "actor" repeatedly slashes his wrists with a box cutter, another forces a condom packed with drugs down his throat to smuggle overseas, two pierce each others' faces to insert studs and one squirms as he gets a rudimentary tattoo.

"The act of inflicting pain on themselves is like a form of rebellion," Tan said. "I think I do have a responsibility [to intervene] but I have a greater responsibility to tell the audience how they lead their lives.

"You know that shows a very real side of their lives and there's a growing number of kids like this."
Police statistics confirm this. Crimes committed by children aged seven to 15 rose 56% in Singapore in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, while youth crime in 2002 was 55% higher than in 2001.

But Singaporeans have no need to learn about this niche of their society in such a graphic way and through a vehicle with no moral message, according to the authorities - even though the Singapore Film Council funded 25% of 15's S$200,000 (£68,000) production costs.

"The police were concerned about scenes which featured real-life gang chants which had resulted in gang fights when they were sung in public places," said a spokeswoman for the Media Development Authority, which oversees censorship. "The film also named actual secret societies and their operational grounds which the police felt would serve to promote and give prominence to these gangs."

The censorship board reportedly wanted only one cut before approving 15's release in Singapore, a brief shot of a 17cm (7in) penis, while the police insisted on 26 further deletions. After four months of deliberations 15 was released with about 10 of its 100 minutes expunged, but with an 18 rating and not in suburban cinemas.

Tan had prepared a version for Singapore with the penis and a few other shots deleted but was not prepared for the scale of the controversy. But he says he is unable to discuss the way his film was treated.

"I've been advised not to talk about censorship, that we should move on," he said, admitting only that one of the stars, Shaun Tan (no relation), had told him police had interrogated him.

"Shaun [told me he] was threatened to be stripped and have cold water poured over him if he didn't give the answers they wanted," he said. "It's strange I haven't been questioned. I offered myself but they didn't want to speak to me."

The police declined to comment on this allegation.

Singaporeans' desire to see 15 was unambiguously demonstrated on the only occasion it was shown uncensored, at the Singapore international film festival. "The 1,002 tickets sold out in less than a day, breaking the record for the festival," Tan said.

But perhaps 15's greatest accolade was not winning the international film critics' award at the festival, but the authorities' response.

Last month the national crime prevention council and police released their own 90-minute feature about gang life and the consequences of teenage recidivism, After School.
"We were told this film was made to correct the image of Singapore that 15 did not give," Tan said. "They said 15 is an extreme film while their film brings out the right consequences of crime.

"That's the biggest compliment that somebody could ever give me."

The executive director of the crime prevention council, Lee Chee Chiew, denies this, saying he has never seen 15 and cannot comment on any comparison.

A police spokesman, Acting Superintendent Ang Poon Seng, said the decision to make a film was merely "to harness the power of movies and their widespread popularity among teenagers" and had nothing to do with 15.

The two films' styles are undoubtedly very different and After School is laced with such moralising soundbites as: "There's nothing to lose, just walk away"; "The police are so powerful they can target anyone"; "How can he survive if he has a criminal record?"; and "The things that come free are actually the most expensive."

"The films differ in terms of treatment and messaging," the Media Development Authority spokeswoman said.

"After School is about love and the importance of family bonding, and carries a clear anti-crime message. 15 focuses on secret societies and teen gangs, and has no clear moral message."

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Film-makers on JBJ threatened with criminal charge

Documentary on Jeya withdrawn from film festival: report

Agence France Presse
January 4, 2002

A DOCUMENTARY about Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was withdrawn from a film festival here last year on fears it could have violated a law banning political films, a report said Friday (Jan 4).
The makers of the 15-minute documentary had submitted written apologies and withdrew it from being screened at the Singapore International Film Festival in April after they were told they could be charged in court, the Straits Times said.

The film-makers, all lecturers at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, had said they just chanced upon a man selling books on a street and decided to make a documentary on him, unaware at first that he was an opposition figure.

A little-known law called the Films Act bans the making, distribution and showing of films containing "wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter."

Singapore, whose reputation as a global financial centre and manufacturing hub is underpinned by domestic political stability, has strict laws governing political activities.

Some of the few people who have seen the film -- A Vision of Persistence -- said it showed Jeyaretnam, a former MP and erstwhile leader of the opposition Workers' Party, selling his books in public places and meeting with his supporters.

One of the film-makers had resigned from the school and the two others were not available for comment.

The polytechnic told the Straits Times that the three lecturers from the department of film and media studies had not sought the school's permission to make the film and that it now considered the matter closed.

A person familiar with the case told the newspaper: "It's a sort of paranoia on the part of the authorities."

The source, who was not named, said a government official went to the school and asked: "How can your staff do this sort of thing?"

Philip Cheah, director of the film festival, said he saw the documentary but declined to comment on its contents.

"It should have been shown at the festival. Then people can decide," he said, adding that as far as he knows this was the first film considered political under the Films Act.

Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, entered parliament in 1981, becoming the first opposition politician to break the stranglehold of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on local politics since statehood in 1965.

He has championed issues such as the abolition of the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial, and the promotion of human rights and democracy.

The 76-year-old was expelled from parliament in July after being declared bankrupt after he was unable to pay massive damages awarded to PAP members for defamation.