Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Activists screen political films in "private function"

Despite the Government's ban on "party political films", Singaporean activists on Saturday organised a video exhibition entitled "Dare To Document : Political Films by Singaporeans".

As the law requires that all public screenings in Singapore are to be sanctioned by an exhibition licence, the organisers were quick to bill the event as a "private function." Still, about 50 people, including members of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, Workers' Party, civil activists, academics and even former ISA detainees, packed into a room above an art gallery off Jalan Besar to view three videos - Speakers Cornered, Seelan's Five Day Fast and 鸡蛋碰石头 or How My Favourite Opposition Party Fought the PAP (and lost their pants, again) made by local directors Martyn See and Ho Choon Hiong.

The latter film, directed by Ho, features scenes of the 2006 General Elections where the opposition SDP, already beleaguered by libel suits served on them by PAP leaders, was eventually defeated in the polls by a landslide margin. That the film's content would contravene the Films Act mattered little to the organisers, as See told the audience after the screening that he is issuing an open challenge to the censors to clamp down on the uploading of political films online and such private screenings.

Aside from See and Ho, the other co-organisers were activists Seelan Palay, Isrizal and Muhammad Shafi'ie. See quipped that Ho is the only "virgin" as four out of five of them have been or are still undergoing police investigations for their civil activities. In the post-screening dialogue, Isrizal related how his moment of truth came when he witnessed the police arrest of his friend Seelan outside the City Hall MRT station on 13th of September, 2006. Three days later, he participated in his first open protest in Hong Lim Park, captured in See's film Speakers Cornered.

Noting how audience member Dr Chee Soon Juan's acts of civil disobedience since 1999 has generated much heated debate over the role of opposition politicians vis-à-vis extra-parliamentary measures as opposed to gaining votes via traditional methods like working the ground, See issued another challenge - this time to opposition groups and civil society - that one has to do both. He went on to cite how the three opposition parties in Malaysia managed to mobilise 40,000 people onto the streets of KL in a single largest act of civil disobedience ever recorded and yet at the same time worked hard to gain grassroots support for the elections.

Artist/activist Seelan related how he was recently advised by a senior local artist, a former Cultural Medallion winner, that he should lay off political activism and just concentrate on his art. The irony, Seelan noted, was that the aforementioned artist's claim to fame was his ability to infuse his works with socio-political issues.

At the same time, Ho and See said they were uncomfortable at being called 'political filmmakers.' "I'm doing no more than what journalists all over the world do - interview political dissidents, talk to an ex-political detainee, record a street protest. It's just that our CNA and Straits Times are not doing it so I'm filling that vacuum. I'm just a citizen journalist," explained See.

Yawning Bread's Alex Au also brought up the subject of the anti-Islam film made by a right-wing Dutch politician and asked for the organisers' response. None of them supported any outright banning of the film but noted that it should perhaps be restricted. Seelan's philosophical take was that the artist and the community who supported his right of expression should also bear the consequences should repercussions occur.

To applause, Au also announced that a committee of bloggers, formed recently to look into internet reform, will make a recommendation to the Government for the total abolition of the Films Act.

After the glitch-free, three-hour event ended, some participants went up to the organisers to express their wish to see more of such screenings in the future.


Read WP member Yaw Shin Leong's review here.
Another point of view from Rachael Absinthe.

Why the Films Act should be thrashed by Yawning Bread

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