Singapore commission raises profile

5:00 AM PST 05/17/2007 by Janine Stein, AP

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Singapore has an unprecedented profile on the Croisette this year, with three films selected for the Festival de Cannes across various categories, including an official competition slot in the short film line-up.

Man Shu Sum, the Media Development Authority's broadcast and film director and director of the Singapore Film Commission, attributes this year's showing to "the concerted and continued effort that the Singapore Film Commission has made along with people like (filmmaker) Eric Khoo."

Singapore-based Thai Director Ekachai Uekrongtham's "Pleasure Factory," which was selected for a slot in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, stars Golden Horse Best Actress Yang Kuei-Mei in a story about pleasure seekers and providers in Singapore's red light district of Geylang.

Anthony Chen's short film "Ah Ma" ("Grandma"), a 14-minute film inspired by the death of Chen's grandmother, will screen in the short film official competition (Les Courts Metrages en Competition). This the first Singapore film ever to screen in the short film competition.

And Pok Yue Weng's "SuperDONG," a four-minute animated short, will screen as part of the Directors Fortnight. "SuperDONG," which Pok describes as "gritty but within the limits of Singapore censorship," looks at what happens when toilet-graffiti comes off the wall and develops a life of its own.

The Singapore Film Commission plays two key roles in pushing Singapore to punch above the expected weight of a country with about four million people.

The first is direct funding, and the second is promotion, Man says. "Even if we don't fund the film, we put in a lot of effort to push films locally and internationally," he adds.

At the same time, Man is not taking full credit for the results of a government-backed film environment that includes funding for local filmmakers. Grants include up to $6,700 for high-definition or film-format films of 30 minutes or less. There are also various project development and co-investment schemes for feature films.

"No matter how hard we push, if the films are not up to the mark, then nothing would happen," Man says.

Certainly nothing would have happened without Singapore Film Commission money, say the two filmmakers behind "Ah Ma" and "SuperDONG." The Singapore Film Commission gave Pok and Chen each $6,700 towards their films.

Chen emptied his savings account, and begged and borrowed another $10,000 from family and friends to complete "Ah Ma," which he describes as "a film about the things I saw, the different reactions, when someone close was dying."

The Media Development Authority (MDA) provided additional funding for Chen to fly to Canada to make the 35mm film and complete the French subtitling required for the competition screening.

Pok, a director of photography who has so far focused on television, came in on budget for "SuperDONG" "with the help of friends and colleagues."

"SuperDONG" won second prize in the Media Development Authority's Digital Film Fiesta this year. Like myriad other media-related initiatives, the Fiesta is part of Singapore's Media 21 framework to create a global media city.

Lim Tek, Innoform Media managing director and "Pleasure Factory" co-producer, also says official support has gone a long way towards boosting the influx of talent. "The Singapore government has made it very comfortable for people from elsewhere coming here," he says.

In deciding which projects to back, the MDA's Singapore Film Commission looks at every proposal from two perspectives, Man says. The first is return on investment, but the second is less tangible. "If people start talking about local production, that's a return for us," he adds.

Man expects a major return on the Croisette this year, particularly after the profile given to Singapore last year during the World Cinema section.

"With these films in the competition categories, I think there will be a lot of buzz and attention given to Singapore film and producers," Man says. Already, back-to-back meetings have been scheduled, particularly with European companies, "because of these few films," he adds.

"After the success of Eric Khoo's 'Be With Me' in 2005, we were given the chance of showing Singapore films last year under the World Cinema category," Man says. "This is part of the momentum that we are building up."

But he is under no illusion about the challenges still ahead for Singapore's film industry.

"We are trying to figure out what Singapore film means," Man says. "We are young, we are trying different genres. We are not there yet, but we know we have a lot of passion... we have a growing group of young film-makers with their own stories to tell. These could be Singapore stories, or regional or international stories. If we do it right and provide opportunities, this passion will grow and we will have something to showcase to the world."
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