Friday, June 24, 2005

Malaysia to hold Human Rights Film Festival

Freedom Film Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Jul 6 - 9, 2005 Posted by Hello

While Singapore bans political films, Malaysia will host a film festival dedicated entirely to the promotion of human rights and freedom of expression.

KOMAS, a non-governmental organisation, is organising the 2005 Freedom Film Fest in Kuala Lumpur from 6th to 9th of July. Some 38 short films, mainly from independent South-east Asian filmmakers, will be screened. The range of subject matter is diverse - themes of child trafficking and labour, state corruption, environmantal activism, atrocities in Burma, AIDS sufferers, youth movements, the investigation of murdered activist Munir Said, poverty, tsunami aftermath - all of which will get their airing in the 4 day festival. Singapore Rebel will close the festival, and is preceeded by a film about ex-detainees of Malaysia's Internal Security Act (imagine a Singaporean filmmaker attempting that!)

Freedom Film Fest Screenings 2005
Dates: July 6 to 10 2005
Venue: The Actors Studio @ Bangsar Shopping Complex

Entry by invitation, please call Kathlyin at 03-79685415 or 013-2634105 for your invite.

KOMAS is a community communications center and video production organisation based in Kuala Lumpur. For the last 10 years, KOMAS has been providing training workshops in creative use of traditional and modern media, exploring and situating the perennial issues of cultural diversity, freedom of expression, social justice, human understanding and solidarity.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Go ahead, film whatever you want, says CNA

Showcase your vision for Singapore in video clip
By Farah Abdul Rahim, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: What's your vision for the future of Singapore?

You can air your ideas on Channel NewsAsia.

As part of the nation's 40th birthday celebrations, Channel NewsAsia is inviting you to make your own one-minute home-video to showcase your hopes for the nation.

Your videos could be aired on Channel NewsAsia.

40 of the best entries will be chosen to make up a special 10-minute programme before National Day.

Others will be hosted on a dedicated website so you can view it online.

A three-part documentary called "The Singapore I Want" - which will look at the country's future - will also be telecast.

To make this a truly national project, very few limits have been imposed on the themes for the entries.

Melvin Yong, MediaCorp News executive editor, said: "Let your imagination run wild. It can be people dear to you, what you enjoy doing at work, in school or at your leisure time, anything at all.

"What we're going to do with those entries, of course, is to assemble a whole montage of pictures to create a Singapore video, if you like, to show what it's to be a Singaporean, and develop and show the future of Singapore through these pictures.

"We hope to assemble a montage of pictures such that we can tell the story of Singapore, the hope and aspirations of the people for this place they call home."

What Melvin Yong didn't tell you are the fine prints of the terms and conditions for the submission of your one minute video

Here are clauses 12c and 15

(12c) Each participant expressly waives all rights which the participant may acquire or have under the provisions of the Copyright Act of the Republic of Singapore (and any subsequent enactment or amendments thereto) and any other moral and/or performers' rights which the participant may have or be entitled under any legislation now existing or in the future enacted in any part of the world.

(15) These terms and conditions shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of Singapore and the participants submit irrevocably to the jurisdiction of the courts of Singapore.

Filmmaker under police investigation

What are 'party political films?' Why are they banned in Singapore?

The Films Act - Are you frightened yet?

Monday, June 20, 2005

Filmmakers to seek Govt's clarification on 'political' films

Singapore Gaga, a local media favourite at this year's Singapore International Film Festival, has been invited for screening at the prestigious Rotterdam Film Festival. Meanwhile, director Tan Pin Pin and other filmmakers are planning to seek from the Media Development Authority clearer guidelines on what constitutes a 'party political film' . I am currently under police investigation for making such a film.

Both Singapore Gaga and internet soccer film Tak Giu has been lauded by the local media for their humorous expose of the Singaporean ethos. Tak Giu has been singled out as "radical stuff" and an illustration of how filmmakers can still question authorities without breaching the Films Act. (Get the hint, Mr Martyn See? You can still make art without getting into trouble with the law.)

Herein lies the paradox of the making political films in Singapore.

"Biased" political films are banned because the legislators in Government claim that politics in Singapore should not be trivialised. Yet, filmmakers who want to tackle serious socio-political issues are expected to lace their work with humour, satire and slapstick just so the Government can allow their work to be shown.

By the way, I am one of the editors of Singapore Gaga. You can watch it at the Substation Arts Centre from July 1 - 3.

Posted: 20 June 2005 1924 hrs
Local film to be screened at Rotterdam Film Festival
By Joanne Leow, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: It's a film that has a cast of thousands - and they're all Singaporeans. Tan Pin Pin's "Singapore Gaga", a bittersweet documentary on life in Singapore, played to standing-room-only audiences when it made its world premiere at this year's Singapore Film Festival.

And it moved one European film festival organiser so much that he immediately reserved a slot for it at next year's Rotterdam International Film Festival.

But making "Singapore Gaga" had not been easy.

It's all about the sights and sounds of Singapore that we take for granted.

From dialect news readers from MediaCorp Radio to eccentric buskers plying their trade, "Singapore Gaga" has it all - it even reveals why recorders were used for music curriculum in Singapore instead of harmonicas.

All this comes together in an hour-long film on the frustrations and joys about what it means to be a Singaporean.

Director Tan Pin Pin said:
"I was trying very hard to find a side of Singapore that I love and enjoy and I found that in people I have passed by every day on my way to work.

"And, using performances and sounds was really just a portal to enter into that world, that really murky world, bittersweet world of being a Singaporean."

Household name and ventriloquist Victor Khoo felt it was an honour to be part of the project.

He said: "Charlie to me, is to Singaporeans what I think Mickey Mouse is to Americans. A lot of Singaporeans grew up with Charlie and I felt it was about time that Charlie was recognised."

Like most local film makers, Pin Pin faced some challenges when it came to funding 'Singapore Gaga'.

The film cost about $100,000 to put together.

She said there were other constraints that she was worried about when she was making the film.

She hired a lawyer right from the start to make sure that she wouldn't run afoul of Singapore's Film Act, which forbids films of a political nature.

She said: "There is a culture of self-censorship. But I think our duty as artists and film makers is to deal with it in our own hearts and minds and not actually to let it overwhelm us."

"That film is also about normal people talking about what they feel about Singapore, which could also be perceived as being political. So potentially I could be unable to have this film shown," she added.

Pin Pin also said: "So if there was anything that could support film makers, is to sort of take that guillotine off our backs. That would be really helpful.

"I'm sure that when you see it, you'll really enjoy it and you will think that it's actually harmless. But when you're actually making it, dealing with the nuts and bolts of it, dealing with every frame, you're actually making very deliberate choices, and unnecessary ones, I feel."

Pin Pin is working with other film makers to ask the Media Development Authority for clearer guidelines on what constitutes a political film.

They hope Members of Parliament will also bring this up in Parliament.

"Singapore Gaga" will be screened at the Substation in early July and there are plans to release it commercially later this year. - CNA/ir

Local film makers go "GaGa" in battle to present alternative Singapore

Agence France Presse
June 20, 2005

IN the official version of Singapore presented by the nation's political leaders and tourism authorities, there are no women in wheelchairs who beg at train stations by singing haunting, hypnotic tunes.

The Southeast Asian city-state, famous for the "economic miracle" that transformed it from third-world status to first in a generation, is sold to the world as a shoppers' paradise, a high-tech hub and a land of no civil dissent.

The nation's mainstream media, under strict instructions from the People's Action Party that has ruled since independence 40 years ago, rarely deviate from the relentlessly upbeat theme, and life, it seems, is a dream.

A new film, however, offers an alternative, melancholic image of Singapore that documents the lives of a diverse group of proud citizens who share a common burden of having become lost and neglected amid the nation's material progress.

In Singapore GaGa, a woman missing most of her teeth sits in a wheelchair and sings in a beautiful voice a plea to the commuters walking past: "Uncle, Aunty, one dollar, one dollar, buy my tissues ... one dollar, one dollar".

In another scene, an elderly man who is a minor celebrity for his busking at subway stations recalls the time police forced him to the ground and moved to handcuff him for performing without a license. "I am a national treasure," he says repeatedly.

Other people featured include an exquisitely talented harmonica player who has been long-resigned to the government's insistence to teach the banal recorder in schools, and a group of community news readers who lament the fading use of Chinese dialects in favour of the official English and Mandarin.

"The primary theme is a sense of yearning to belong ... to be acknowledged," the film's director and producer, Tan Pin Pin, tells AFP in an interview after a screening for the local and foreign press last week.

The other theme, Tan says, is a "sense of being neglected, abandoned".

"In the process of putting this together, this theme emerged ... these people are coping with being neglected in different ways."

Tan, a 36-year-old honours graduate from Britain's prestigious Oxford University, is part of a small band of independent film makers in Singapore who continually struggle against the government's efforts to stop controversial issues from being aired in public.

Amendments to the Film Act in 1998 mean people who make "political" films can be jailed for two years, while strict censorship laws have for decades filtered out other so-called controversial issues such as sex, race, religion and national security.

One of Tan's early films, a three-minute effort from 1998 called Lurve Me Now that explored the fantasies of Barbie dolls, remains banned apparently because of its sexual references.

But, with Singapore GaGa, Tan has cleverly explored issues the government does not necessarily want aired by using subtlety, humour and pathos. Tan even earned a "PG" -- or parental guidance -- endorsement for the film from the government's censors.

"It's very hard to make anything critical in Singapore. You have to say something without actually saying it. So it's a sort of shadow dance that I sometimes find myself playing," she says.

"I find that making documentaries in this way, where there are many levels, is a way of being able to continue to make films in Singapore. Because doing anything more explicit may invite more questions."

And while the mainstream press such as the Straits Times newspaper have given her film rave reviews for being "quirky" and "striking a chord with every strata of society", others have appreciated the film for deeper political angles.

"GaGa is subversive in a warped patriotic gentle loving way, or rather, it's patriotic in a gently subversive way, i don't know, just don't let THEM know," writes one Singaporean in an entry posted on the film's official website.

Tan emphasises that there is no "enemy" she is trying to challenge. "It's not us against them," Tan says in reference to the government, adding that she has turned the restrictions into a positive.

"It actually makes my films better. You are constantly trying to add subtext to a film. The process of adding subtext or layers makes it a much richer work," she says.

But Tan admits that at times she is overwhelmed by not being able to fully express herself.

"What's most difficult for me is dealing with how not to censor myself when it has become such an automatic reaction. I have to sit down and tell myself: 'don't do that, don't do that (self-censor)'," she tells reporters after the press screening.

Other high-profile Singaporean filmmakers who have adopted more confrontational approaches have suffered accordingly.

Video editor Martyn See is under police investigation for making an unapproved "political" short film, Singapore Rebel about opposition politician Chee Soon Juan.

The film portrays Chee, a marginalised figure in Singapore politics who rarely receives positive coverage in the traditional press and has never been voted into parliament, as a loving family man who is eloquent, well-educated and courageous.

If convicted of violating the Films Act, See could be fined up to S$100,000 (US$61,000) as well as jailed for two years.

Another film maker to have run afoul of the law is Royston Tan, a 20-something director who has won more than 35 international and local awards and was last year named by Time magazine as an Asian "Hero" for his work.

Royston Tan's 2003 feature film about Singapore's gangland culture, 15, suffered 27 cuts at the hands of the censors over concerns of it being a national security threat.

In response, Royston Tan made a 13-minute film last year that became a cult hit called Cut, which lampooned the government's censorship policies and the head of the censorship board -- but managed to avoid being cut itself.

In 2001, a 15-minute film about long-time opposition politician J.B Jeyaretnam, Vision of Persistence, by three lecturers at the local Ngee Ann Polytechnic was also banned because of its political content.

Meanwhile, Tan Pin Pin is continuing to win wide acclaim for Singapore GaGa.

The film, which played to a standing-room only audience at the Singapore International Film Festival in April, will be screened at a local arthouse in July and the Rotterdam International Film Festival in Jaunuary next year.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Our thinking has been coloured by our past, says MP

Straits Times, Insight, June 17 2005 Posted by Hello

Ms Indranee Rajah, a Member of Parliament for the ruling People's Action Party, invokes the spectre of Singapore's political history, more specifically the racial riots and the communist threat, to justify the current ban on "party political films."

The ban is legislated in Section 33 of the Films Act and was passed by Parliament in 1998. Like Mr Wong Kan Seng in a previous interview, Ms Rajah chose to focus the ban on films made for political parties, and failed to address the fact that Section 33 is a law that prohibits all films that make "biased" references to "political" and "controversial" issues of the day. Would a film, for example, made to address the ills of having casinos in Singapore be considered a 'political film'? Would another film, one that attacks government policies such as healthcare, education, detention without trial etc, be considered unlawful too?

Still, from both Mr Wong's and Ms Rajah's reasoning, we can draw some assumptions about Singaporeans' level of maturity (of lack thereof).

That Singaporeans are NOT MATURE enough to watch "biased" films made about political parties, members of political parties or any "political" or "controversial" subject matter. It is believed that by watching such films, Singaporeans will form biased opinions about political matters and this may degenerate into political buffoonery, or worse, stir unnecessary emotions which may lead to a cacophony of mindless arguments, social unrest, anarchy and destruction.

That Singaporeans are MATURE enough to watch films about government ministers explaining policies like "terrorism and health," even if these films are biased, as Singaporeans who watched these films will become enlightened and this will move the country forward in peace, progress and prosperity.

Excerpt of the Straits Times interview with Ms Indranee Rajah

Was the parliamentary committee consulted when Martyn See's film was banned under the Films Act? Do you think this will scare young people off from creative ventures for fear that they are overstepping boundaries?

"No. That was an operational decision made by the police. I guess they clearly felt the film fell squarely within what is prohibited.

I hope that it won't stifle talent. It's a difficult balance to strike. You have to see it in the context of our own political history. You remember the racial riots and communism. Our thinking has been coloured by our past. You don't want things that would unnecessarily stir emotions.

But you also do want a critically thinking population who are keen to comment on issues. The question is how to strike a balance? I don't think there is a fixed answer. Much of it depends on how it's implemented, but I do hope that notwithstanding this banning of See's film, that Singaporeans will still feel free to express their views."

Under the Films Act, which bans political films, TV broadcasts and newspaper interviews of ministers are deemed non-political. But videos of opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, Young PAP and PAP Women's Wing achievements are political. Do you buy that explanation?

"It's a valid explanation. There is a distinction between the Government and a political party, although people often mix the two up in the Singapore context, because all our ministers are members of the PAP. But the Government is not the same as a party.

The Films Act disallows the making of party political films. That is defined as one that advertises or promotes a political party, or a film that is made and directed towards any political end in Singapore.

However, a minister speaking to the media about his ministries' policies like terrorism, or health, for example, is talking about government policy, not party policy. So that is permissible.

It would be quite different if the same minister made a video clip to try and solicit donations for the PAP, for example.

That would be clearly political and would have nothing to do with his ministry or the Government. We are careful to maintain that distinction.

(End of excerpt)

"I make no apologies that the PAP is the Government and the Government is the PAP."
- PM Lee Kuan Yew, 1982, Petir (the PAP party publication)
(Quote found in parties and Politics' by Hussin Mutalib)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Singapore's first political film, Straits Times, June 11, 1959 Posted by Hello

STRAITS TIMES, June 11, 1959 (page 16)

SINGAPORE, Wed - Singapore's Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and his eight Cabinet colleagues are stars of a new film which will be shown before the end of this week.

The film - to introduce the new Cabinet - is being produced by Cathay Keris Films. It was ordered by the Minister for Culture.

The Ministers were filmed "on location" yesterday in the City Hall's committee room for the film, directed by Mr. Tom Hodge, chief of the film company.

The film with a running time of about 10 minutes is expected to be screened at all Singapore cinemas, said Mr. G.G. Thomson, the Director of Information Services.

The Straits Times picture shows (from left): Mr K.M. Byrne, Inche Ahmad Ibrahim, Dr. Toh Chin Chye, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Mr. Ong Eng Guan, Dr. Goh Keng Swee

Friday, June 10, 2005

Repeat the mantra - 'Singapore is opening up'..'Singapore is opening up'..'Sin..

"The Government will pull back from being all things to all citizens. This is so not only in minor municipal issues, but in some far-reaching ones too. For example on questions of public morality and decency, we are increasingly guided by the consensus of views in the community. We will give weight to minority views, but we cannot move only when the last man or the most conservative person is willing to move. Otherwise we would be restricting the options open to many others in our society, and stifling the diversity that we need to be an open, cosmopolitan people. We would eventually atrophy."

- PM Lee Hsien Loong, 6 Jan 2004

"To say ‘no’ after worldwide publicity for a year, Singapore will be sending out the wrong signal, that we want to stay put, to remain the same old Singapore, a neat and tidy place with no chewing gum, no smoking in air conditioned places, no this, no that, - not a fun place. The old model on which I worked was to create a first world city in a third world region - clean, green, efficient, a pleasant, healthy and wholesome society, safe and secure for everyone. These virtues are no longer sufficient. Now we have also to be an economically vibrant and an exciting city to visit, with top class symphony orchestras, concerts, drama, plays, artists and singers and popular entertainment. These are the lifestyles international professionals and executives seek. We want the companies who manage these entertainment troupes to include Singapore on their tour of cities around the world."

- MM Lee Kuan Yew on integrated resorts in Singapore, Parliament, 19 Apr 2005

Dear all,

Just an update on developments regarding the police investigations on Singapore Rebel.

Well, there is none. The police has not called me since the last interview on May 16.

And while I entertain in my own mind some possible reasons for the delay, made even more perplexing since they had hurried me for the first interview, I have been more intrigued lately by a spate of events which has led me to believe that Singapore is now caught in a moral dilemma.

We want to relax, to loosen up, to be cosmopolitan, to build casinos, to host topless revues, to be the London of the east. Yet, at the same time, we want to be seen as a country that upholds high moral values. As such, we continue to ban gay concerts and parties, risque pictues in fashion magazines, 'biased' political films and anything which is "contrary to public interest."

What constitutes "public interest" is itself a contention which can be discussed some other time.

But what must strike any visitor to this island is how Singapore balances its clean, wholesome image with a seemingly new missionary zeal to embrace pop culture,mavericks, bohemians, rock n'roll and anything that is "with it."

It makes for a pretty schizophrenic situation. Take these examples.

- We ban a drawing of a sex orgy in Benetton's Colors magazine but allow our bloggers to pose nude on the internet, and our own celebrities to go braless on the covers of FHM, Maxim, etc.

- We ban nude pictures and sex publications but we have one of the highest percentage of internet users who surf the web purely for pornography.

- We ban Christian pop duo Jason and DeMarco for promoting a gay lifestyle but proudly hosted Elton John and Boy George, two of the world's biggest gay icons.

- We ban foreigners from 'meddling' in Singapore politics but allow foreigners to run our casinos, helm our GLCs, make recommendations to our wages and compete for jobs here.

- We ban Singaporeans from staging protests but allow foreigners to stage theirs at next year's IMF/World Bank meeting.

- We ban gay parties but allows gay spas to sprout all over town. (Did I hear anyone say there are no sexual activities in these spas?)

- We ban 'unnatural' (or gay) sex but allow gays to work in the civil service.

- We ban crusading journalism but allow our journalists to petition the Chinese government for a fair trial of detained correspondent Ching Cheong. For the record, six people were detained in Singapore under the ISA in 1997/98 on spying charges. Their names were never disclosed.

- We ban foreigners from criticising our system but cite foreigners when they praise our system.

- We ban adult videos but allow the documentary Inside Deep Throat to be shown in our cinemas. In other words, we are not allowed to watch Deep Throat but we are allowed to watch a documentary made about it.

- We heavily censored local filmmaker Royston's Tan's teen gang film '15' but allowed a much more violent Young And Dangerous (HK) and City of God (Brazil) to be shown with minimal cuts.

But all things considered, Singapore has indeed opened up in some ways. For example, we can now shop from ten shopping malls instead of one; we can now afford to travel to places further than Malaysia for our holidays; our students have a lot more choices in education; we have invented more ways to spend and invest our money.

Culturally, too, there appears to be some loosening up - there are more nudity on cinema screens, more bar-top dancing in the pubs, more cacophony of advertising campaigns on the streets.

Still, when the mantra of 'Singapore is opening up' is repeated too often, we sometimes confuse consumer freedom with the civil rights to freedom of speech, assembly, association and media.

But first, what exactly constitutes an 'open society?' And here, no one described it better than Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew.


"Let us get down to fundamentals. Is this an open, or is this a closed society? Is it a society where men can preach ideas - novel, unorthodox, heresies, to established churches and established governments - where there is a constant contest for men's hearts and minds on the basis of what is right, of what is just, of what is in the national interests, or is it a closed society where the mass media - the newspapers, the journals, publications, TV, radio - either bound by sound or by sight, or both sound and sight, men's minds are fed with a constant drone of sycophantic support for a particular orthodox political philosophy? That is the first question we asked ourselves. I would like to see minds stimulated and debate provoked, and truth refined and crystallized out of the conflict of different evidence and views. I, therefore, welcome every and any opportunity of a chance to agree, or to dissent, in order that out of thesis comes synthesis - thesis, anti-major premise, anti-premise, synthesis, so we progress... I welcome every opportunity to meet members of the opposition, and so do members of my party, over the radio, over the television, university forums, public rallies. We never run away from the open encounter. If your ideas, your views cannot stand the challenge of criticism then they are too fragile and not sturdy enough to last. I am talking of the principle of the open society, the open debate, ideas, not intimidation, persuasion not coercion... Sir, the basic fundamentals we asked whether the duties of the Minister of Information and Broadcasting are to produce closed minds or open minds, because these instruments - the mass media, the TV, the radio - can produce either the open minds receptive to ideas and ideals, a democratic system of life, or closed and limited. But I know that the open debate is a painful process for closed minds...But let me make this point: that 5 million adult minds in Malaysia cannot be closed - definitely not in the lifetime of the people in authority. It is not possible because whatever the faults of the colonial system, and there are many...they generated the open mind, the inquiring mind."

- Lee Kuan Yew Dec 18, 1964 Malaysian Parliamentary Debates


Yes, Singapore has made incremental changes in opening up society. But sometimes we take one step forward only to take two steps back.

Take these examples.

- 50 years ago, Singapore was home to a thriving movie industry. Back then, the Shaw Brothers and Cathay Keris studios were churning out blockbusters for audiences in Asia. In the last ten years, we made only an average of three to four local feature films a year, as the rest of Asia have surged ahead in movie-making technology, creativity and marketing.

- 40 years ago, Singapore had a vibrant pop music scene. Bands like The Quests were hitting the top of Asian charts. Today, the English-language pop and rock music scene is barely breathing, struggling even to get onto the airwaves of their country's own radio stations.

- 50 years ago, Singapore had a dozen or so newspapers that were mostly independent. Views were freely expressed from the Left, from the Right, from centre, to a largely illiterate population. Today, even with a largely educated citizenry, our press freedom is ranked 147th - the most locked-down domestic media amongst developed nations.

- 20 years ago, Singaporeans had more chances to exercise their votes simply beacuse we had more opposition candidates. The last GE2001 saw the worse participation by the opposition since the Barisan boycott of 1968. Two or three elections from now, Singaporeans' right of universal suffrage will be forfeited, as the opposition may be rendered extinct.

- 17 years ago, the NTUC held a mass demonstration against U.S. interference in Singapore politics. Today, the government bans all forms of protests and demonstrations.

- 10 to 15 years ago, we could watch live proceedings of parliamentary debates on television. There were also televised select committee hearings on the Law Society, Elected President, Shared Values and so on. Today, we get only edited snippets of parliamentary debates on the nightly news bulletins. Open political debates on TV has become a thing of the past.

- For 4 years running, the gays, lesbians and party-goers of Asia could congregate in Sentosa for the annual Nation party. Just this week, the police slapped a ban on it.

- 10 years ago, there were no laws banning the making of 'biased' political films. Today, I am under police investigation.