Singapore might be an Asian nation, but over the years, the country has gradually succumbed to the creeping Westernisation that has swept much of the globe. If you’ve lived in this town long enough, you’ll notice this Western influence has seeped into its film industry as well – just check out any theatre in Singapore and you’ll see a string of Hollywood films dominating the theatres.
Your Guide to Singaporean Filmmakers
However, that doesn’t mean there is a lack of talented local filmmakers on this small tropical island. The Singaporean film industry is an ever-growing one and its people are slowly waking up to the many rising filmmakers who are working tirelessly in the hopes of making a name for themselves in Singapore and beyond. To get you started on your journey of local films, here are five Singaporean filmmakers that should be in your radar:
With a rich portfolio consisting of seven short films as well as works done for high profile clients like Giorgio Armani and Heineken, Kirsten Tan has definitely made herself one to look out for in the community of local film directors here. Having led a nomadic lifestyle, living in South Korea for one year and Thailand the following two years, Tan settled in New York City in 2005 to pursue a Master’s in Film Production at New York University. In 2017, Tan released POP AYE, her debut feature that tells the story of an architect who stumbles upon his long-lost elephant that he grew up with. The film follows the pair’s journey across the vast landscape of Thailand as they make their way back towards their hometown. POP AYE premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2017, where it received the Special Jury Prize for Screenwriting. Other accolades for POP AYE include the VPRO Big Screen Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Best International Film Award at Zurich Film Festival.
Having done television commercial work since 1996, Sanif Olek released his first feature film entitled Sayang Disayang in 2013. The film follows the difficult relationship between Murni, an Indonesian domestic helper who is homesick for her home country, and Pak Harun, the wheelchair-bound widower whom she takes care of. The film was even selected to enter the category of Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards but unfortunately did not clinch a nomination. Most recently, in 2016, Olek produced a short film called The Usual, which features a cameo from Dr Ng Eng Hen, the Defence Minister of Singapore. The short showcases the relationship between national serviceman Rosli and his childhood barber Uncle Siva. It also follows Rosli’s transformation from a young boy to an adult. The four-minute film was produced for ciNE65’s fourth edition, a Singaporean short film competition which occurs every two years.
If you’re an avid viewer of Netflix, you’d most likely have chanced upon the trailer for the documentary, Shirkers, which was directed and co-produced by Singaporean filmmaker Sandi Tan. Shirkers showcases the strange and mysterious story of the making of what would have been Singapore’s first independent film by Tan, also called Shirkers. In the documentary, Tan as well as her fellow Shirkers co-producers Jasmine Ng and Sophie Siddique try to unravel the possible reasons behind why Tan’s film production teacher ran off and disappeared with all the footage of Shirkers, leaving Tan and her friends in the dust. In 2018, Shirkers premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won the Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary. Prior to Shirkers, Tan also directed one other documentary in 1996 entitled Moveable Feast as well as a short film, Gourmet Baby, in 2016.
M Raihan Halim
Currently, the Creative Director of Papahan Films — a local television production company — M Raihan Halim’s writing and directing television works have spanned the four main channels in Singapore. He is best known for his television dramas, Yazid Wears Diapers as well as Big Time in Little Street. The former won the award for Best Special Drama at a local television award ceremony while the latter clinched a nomination at the 2010 Asian Television Awards. Halim has even worked on children’s television shows such as The Private Bengs, Nick of Time, and What?! I’m on a Game Show!. His latest work is his first feature film, Banting, which was released in 2014. The film tells a story of a hijab-wearing Muslim girl who has a love for the possibly most unfeminine sport that exists — wrestling. It follows her journey towards finding a balance between her love for the contact sport and her religion and shows her determination in proving to others that her hijab is never an obstacle in her quest to achieve her dreams.
Tan Shijie might not be a household name in the Singaporean filmmaking industry, but the critical acclaim and accolades he has received for his works prove that he deserves a place among the ranks of other more notable local filmmakers such as Royston Tan and Eric Khoo. A Masters of Fine Arts graduate at New York University’s Tisch Asia School, Tan’s debut short film, For Two, was screened at the 66th Venice Film Festival. Another of Tan’s short films, The Hole, was awarded Best Director, Best Fiction, Best Sound as well as Best Script at the 2013 Singapore Short Film Awards. In 2014, Not Working Today, which is Tan’s most recent short film, bagged the Best Singapore Short Film Award at the Singapore International Film Festival. A year later, Tan got the opportunity to direct his first feature film, Distance, alongside two other budding filmmakers in the region.