February 25, 2024

The Singapore Film Commission (SFC) celebrated its 25th anniversary during the 34th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) with a lavish party attended by the great and the good of the industry.

Though the local box office for Singaporean films has yet to regain its pre-pandemic heights, they are doing well internationally with 2023 alone seeing selections at all the top festivals, including Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Busan and San Sebastian.

Variety spoke with a cross-section of producers and directors whose work is featured at SGIFF’s Singapore Panorama strand and they are understandably appreciative of the SFC’s efforts.

“Our SFC has been very supportive of festival/independent films,” said Michelle Chang, writer and producer of “Wonderland,” which is supported by the SFC. “With our government’s support, it is easier for us to attract more sponsorships and investments with international partners. Hence you notice that Singapore has a slate of films that are not just Singaporean in theme but are southeast Asian in theme, where Singapore producers are able to venture beyond our shores to make films with prominent directors and producers in the region. And at a glance, many of these stories that were given grants, tend to be more arthouse or ‘festival’ in nature.”

A hot current example of local producers venturing beyond the island nation to tell southeast Asian stories is SGIFF opener and Cannes Critics’ Week winner “Tiger Stripes,” by Malaysian filmmaker Amanda Nell Eu, where Singapore’s Akanga Film is one of the producers.

Another example is Shaun Neo’s Panorama selection “My Endless Numbered Days,” which is a Singapore-Japan co-production. “I think one of the most important factors that contributed to Singapore cinema being prominent internationally in the festival circuit is the individuals who are not just filmmakers from Singapore cinema, but world cinema. I think Fran Borgia of Akanga Film and Jeremy Chua of Potocol, who also produces non-Singapore films, then allow Singapore films to be able to hold their weight in the international arena,” Neo said.

The SFC has supported more than 800 short films, scripts and feature films, as well as film-related events in Singapore that showcase homegrown talent and works. The 25th anniversary celebrations kicked off in August and continued through October with the “Our Stories, Well-Told” campaign that included free film screenings, industry sharing sessions and access to Singapore-made content in collaboration with MediaCorp.

Veteran Kelvin Tong, whose latest work “A Year of No Significance” is a Panorama selection, said: “Singapore came to cinema relatively late compared to other countries. Hence, we have a large reservoir of untold stories. To see those stories celebrated internationally on the festival circuit is heartwarming. It’s a testament to the power of simple storytelling, which in these days of downloads and playlists, is still cherished.”

“A Year of No Significance” producer Leon Tong added: “Singapore filmmakers and producers have taken huge risks to build up the industry one step at a time. Far-sighted government aid and grants have also provided the much-needed fuel for our industry to capitalize on each gain, no matter how big or small. It’s a top-to-bottom push that has allowed Singapore to achieve outsized results in recent years.”

“Wonderland” director Chai Yee-Wei concurs that government funding strategies have aided to the industry’s global exposure. “We have largely given up on strategies to grow our own market for local genre and commercial films. Partnering on festival indies allows for a set of KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] that is much easier to achieve,” Chai said.

“I guess because of its small market size, local films tend to be small in budget, non-studio backed and perhaps that gives the filmmakers more opportunities to do auteur, non-genre, personal work. There has been a lot of initiative by the SFC as well to send filmmakers to script labs and academies – and that definitely starts paving the way for these filmmakers towards success in the festival circuit,” said Sean Ng, whose feature directorial debut “Sunday” is a Panorama selection.

The relatively small size of the Singapore film industry is a virtue, rather than an obstacle, according to “Sunday” producer Caleb Quek. “In my view, a strong communal spirit, attributed to its small industry size, prevails. The Singapore film community is very tight-knit. Everyone knows one another and is aware of each other’s projects. There is a sense of mutual support, where we genuinely want each other to succeed, and help is readily available. It also feels like there is a collective goal to improve our film industry,” Quek said.

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