Thoughts on Singapore Film
What are your thoughts on the development of Asian Film vs. Western Film?
First of all, these are very broad terms.
What do you mean by 'Western film'? Is it Hollywood, European, films from Australia/NZ?
Same goes for Asian films...we have East Asian, South Asian, Southeast Asian films etc and they are all very different culturally.
So if we put away the generalisations to answer the question, I would say we are seeing two broad trends. First, films are increasingly transnational – being co-produced and funded from various countries. These films may be shot in multiple countries and feature actors from across the globe. So what's the country of origin for these productions and would they be considered 'Western' or 'Asian', especially if they're funded by the East and West?
However, since we do classify films for different geographical markets and hence need national labels on films, the second trend that we are seeing is the rise of Asian cinema.
Cinema has been around for more than 100 years and for most of that time, Hollywood has dominated world cinema and is seen as the canon against which other cinemas work. Cinemas from around the world developed in trying to emulate or counter Hollywood.
Now the tide is changing as Asian cinema rises to prominence. For the first time in Oscar history, a foreign (and Asian) film, Parasite, won 'Best Picture' this year. Increasingly, Hollywood is turning to Asia for collaborations or remaking Asian films. It used to be the other way round.
This trend will only continue as China recently became the fastest growing film market in the world. Not to mention, India is the largest producer of films in the world, dwarfing Hollywood's annual output. India's film industry produces over a 1000 movies annually, compared to Hollywood's 600 to 700 films a year.
So with these two cinema giants being Asian, we will no doubt see more Asian films and Hollywood would want to tap on these markets. It also helps that the Korean Wave has such global appeal and Southeast Asian cinema is growing.
Where does Singapore stand? How do we develop more talent?
Singapore cinema is still very young – if you consider Singapore contemporary cinema as being around 25 years old. So we still have a long way to go in terms of building a national cinema. That being said, we’ve had significant success despite being such a young industry. Singapore films have won prestigious film prizes at Cannes, Sundance and Golden Horse Film Festival, amongst others.
With that said, I don’t think we are short on talent. We just need more time to nurture Singapore cinema as an industry and cultural institution. Culture doesn’t happen overnight. Time is needed for our film schools to become established, for our filmmakers to hone their craft (our veteran filmmakers are in their 50s and 60s and the newer filmmakers are in under 40) and for local audiences to start embracing Singapore films.
Basically, we need to develop cinema’s eco-system from production to exhibition to have a successful industry. We had this during the Golden Age with Shaw Brothers and Cathay – the studio system – but Singapore has since become too expensive and regulated.
What are the obstacles Singapore faces in creating good talent?
As I mentioned earlier, we need to develop a whole eco-system for our cinema. This has to go beyond having film schools. It has to start earlier with education.
Cultural literacy and critical thinking have to be nurtured in our children so they grow up with a natural appreciation for the arts and with the ability to question the world around them through art.
With critical thinking, we would also become active, rather than passive, viewers of film. We don’t really have film critics, which is ironic for a country which has ranked among the world’s most avid cinema-goers over the last sixty years. So we need more film critics/writers, not just academics, to write articles or commentaries on film.
We should take inspiration from prominent French New Wave directors like François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard who immersed themselves in movie-going and film criticism, writing for journals like Cahiers du Cinéma, before moving on to directing and starting the French New Wave.
Besides nurturing critical thinking which would create better filmmakers and more discerning audiences, we also need to develop our spaces for exhibition. We should go beyond cineplexes and have cinematheques or other smaller screening spaces that allow for more variety in films screened – to be able to see more foreign films or independent fare.
It may also be good to have a ‘Singapore films only’ cinema which is a dedicated space for screening local cinema. Right now, Singapore cinema has to compete with higher budgeted films from Hollywood and elsewhere as they are share the same screening space.
So I’ve discussed education and exhibition as part of the eco-system, but what about production and reception? Improving the quality of our films is one thing, but we also need a mindset change in local audiences. The majority of Singaporeans do not support local cinema, and the ones that do, are mostly Jack Neo fans who subscribe to a certain type of Singapore cinema.
It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation – audiences avoid Singapore films because they think they are bad, and with less audiences, productions are not incentivized to improve their production value. And the cycle continues. But I do think audiences need to support local films more, because even though our films have gotten better, we are still seeing very low attendance amongst Singapore audiences. And this inevitably affects production.
What do you hope to see in our local arts scene in the next 10 years?
Developing the cinema eco-system as mentioned above would be good – having more film writers, having more varied spaces for exhibition, having more people support local films.
I also hope to see more freedom given to artists and filmmakers to practise their craft because currently, the arts is very much regulated, be it in terms of funding or censorship.
With a more critical thinking audience, we should be able to decide for ourselves what we can/should consume and have conversations about these issues. With a more open approach to the arts and the fostering of a cinema eco-system, we can move towards establishing Singapore cinema as a cultural institution.
About Jeanine Lim (Faculty Bio from School of the Arts Singapore)
Jeanine Lim holds a Bachelors Degree in Media Studies from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Australia, a Masters Degree in Film from Boston University, U.S.A, and a PhD in Film from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
As an educator/filmmaker, Jeanine has 17 years of experience in video/film production and 11 years of tertiary level teaching in Singapore, U.S.A. and New Zealand. Some of the institutions she has taught at include the University of Auckland, Boston University, Singapore Polytechnic and PSB Academy. She has also held academic support roles at the Singapore Management University.
In her educational pursuits, Jeanine has presented papers at various academic conferences in Spain and Canada, and published journal articles for IAFOR Research Archive and The International Journal of Diverse Identities.
As a filmmaker, Jeanine has produced over 40 corporate and educational videos and 10 short films, which have been screened at several international film festivals. In addition to her own projects, she has also served as production crew on over 25 independent films and television series, and mentored on countless student video projects and films. Her latest film is a feature documentary on Singapore identity and cinema which was produced in 2018.
On the side, Jeanine runs her own charity initiative, Project Give Pray Love, which helps the poor in Vietnam. She is also an avid tennis player and runner, having represented the various organisations she has worked at.