Singapore Film in New York

Something to Write Home About, a Singapore arts festival to be held in New York City from September 12 – 22, will feature an evening of Singapore film. Curated by Kirsten Tan, five short films by up-and-coming Singapore filmmakers will be screened at the iconic downtown venue of La Mama Theater on Monday, September 14, 7:30 – 9:30 pm.

From the festival website: “A boy on the cusp of adulthood entering compulsory military service. The end of an era in Mandarin radio. Two schoolgirls and an autograph book. The compressed lifespan of a woman from the 1960s to present day. Film school friends in an honestly side-splitting interrogation of religion. Each film in the selection seems wildly different from the next, but they are all deeply Singaporean in their own specificity. In presenting a range of diverse films that are entertainingly watchable yet socially sharp, they stack up to reveal a jigsaw portrait of Singapore that may not square with official domestic narratives nor foreign media generalities, that is to be taken on its own terms.”

The films featured are Autograph Book by Lilin Wee (11 min), Homecoming (Keluar Baris) by Junfeng Boo (16 min), Singapore Panda by Koh Sun (20 min), Curry Fish Head by Srinivas Bhakta (7 min), and The Longest Distance by Sin-Yee Lee (24 min). Tickets ($12) can be purchased on-line.

Kirsten Tan, the curator of the showcase and a fine filmmaker herself, kindly agreed to answer a few questions.


SP. What unites the five films that you have chosen for this showcase, besides the fact that they are made by Singaporeans?

KT. Apart from being palpably Singaporean in their sensibility, these five films appeal to me for their honesty and charm. They are some of my personal favorite Singaporean shorts over the years, and have the scope and flavour to attract both cinephiles and mainstream audiences.


SP. What is a moment, scene or character from the films that an American audience may misunderstand or not fully appreciate unless they understand the cultural context?

KT. The strong suit of this selection is that all five films are self-contained universes, confident in their imbued cultural specificity that doesn’t exoticize (or in this case, orientalize) just to pander to a wider audience. I think audiences these days are really well-versed in decoding cultural detail and filling in the blanks for themselves. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to list out moments that an American audience may or may not understand because I sincerely believe that that actually takes away the fun in experiencing something foreign, especially when I believe each film has enough inherent pull from start to end. If anything, this would make for a livelier post-film discussion.


SP. What will an American audience identify with or find appealing in the films?

KT. If I use vacationing in Singapore as an analogy to describe watching the films, then this is the type of travel where you experience a slice of local culture that’s authentic and off-the-beaten path. Being Singaporean, it doesn’t get too dangerous, but this is as uncensored and as unfiltered as it gets. If you have a genuine curiosity for the world, this would be for you.



Still from “Singapore Panda” by Sun Koh


About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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