Singapore Cultivates Creative Community on Global Stage

March 22, 2021
Posted by

Emphasizing quality, collaboration and ease, the island nation is welcoming international productions

By Bob Verini

In the market for a reliable and respected international partner for film and television projects?

An all-encompassing outreach strategy is currently underway to persuade producers that Singapore will be a perfect fit.

Blessed with stunning locations, stable geopolitics, advantageous financing terms and across the board AAA sovereign credit ratings, the prosperous island nation is living up to its official motto and anthem, “Onward Singapore,” through initiatives aimed at creating and supporting entertainment, creativity and collaboration worldwide.

Justin Ang, assistant chief executive of media, innovation communications and marketing for Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), puts it this way: “We are always open to working with both international and regional media companies to produce quality content for an international audience.”

That openness will be on display throughout this year’s Cannes Festival, centering around the joint Singapore-Philippines pavilion at the Marché du Film’s Village International. Special emphasis will also be placed on showcasing myriad films that arose from Southeast Asian co-production projects supported by the Singapore Film Commission (SFC), a part of the IMDA.

The SFC is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, so its mood on the Croisette will be particularly jubilant. Ang points out that “over the years, Singapore has premiered more than 25 titles in the major and parallel sections of the Cannes Film Festival.” Recognition there, he proudly notes, “is an affirmation of Singapore’s media industry capabilities.”

Since 1998, the SFC has supported more than 800 scripts, short films, features and film-related events showcasing home-grown talent. According to Ang, the commission “provides holistic support to ‘Made With Singapore’ content, including grant support, matchmaking with suitable partners and marketing by way of presence at international trade events, among others.”

At trade events like the Cannes Film Market, those whose projects were selected from IMDA’s Media Talent Progression Programme (MTPP) Long-Form Content Grant, will be looking to secure financing or partnerships.

The nation will also be introducing several new films at the festival, including Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen’s “The Breaking Ice” (in the Un Certain Regard section); Singapore-based producer Fran Borgia’s “Tiger Stripes” (which will screen in Critics’ Week) and Singaporean Jeremy Chua, lead producer of “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” (which will be part of this year’s Directors’ Fortnight).

As products of collaboration with other countries, these three films are emblematic of Singapore’s long-standing cinematic tradition and overall mission to encourage and support international co-productions.

Like most Asian countries, Singapore was quick to embrace the new technology of film as the 20th century dawned. The nation established a domestic industry, and pivoted easily to television 50 years later. What the world has seen of Singapore, it seems to like. International audiences have enjoyed glimpses of its cityscapes in contemporary films such as “Hitman: Agent 47” and “Equals.” Pre-World War II elegance, contrasted with the chaos of invasion, was memorably re-created in “Paradise Road.” Most recently, Singapore served as the epicenter of luxurious excess in the global sensation “Crazy Rich Asians.” No question, the nation offers a great deal of untapped opportunity for the world’s filmmakers in terms of locations and expertise.

At the same time, the SFC wants potential international partners to know that its outreach schemes by no means require that partnership projects be filmed in, or even be about, Singapore itself. Indeed, to qualify, there simply has to be a significant Singaporean presence. As Ang puts it, “‘Partnership With Singapore’ means that content can be filmed anywhere in the world, so long as it is in collaboration with Singapore media talents in credited talent roles.”

That was the case with “In My Mother’s Skin,” the dreamy horror flick from Filipino writer-director Kenneth Datagan that was an instant hit at Sundance this past January. Filmed entirely in the Philippines, it boasted Singaporean collaborators such as co-producer Huang Junxiang, who represented Zhao Wei Films on the project, and director of photography Russell Morton.

Huang previously produced “Apprentice,” directed by fellow Singaporean Boo Junfeng, which was selected in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2016. “In My Mother’s Skin,” he maintains, was a project “easy to jump on … given a common alignment in vision, between both production companies, of the artistry that genre films can bring to a commercial audience.”

With co-producers from the Philippines and Taiwan on board, “It was a true collaboration, and we always found harmonious solutions to any problems we encountered. Co-productions,” he observes, “allow discovery and cross-pollination of creative talents.” (By way of illustration, Variety’s critic praised DP Morton’s lensing as “impressive … bathed in pale moonlight that’s as unsettling as it is gorgeous.”)

A strong civic booster, Huang asserts that “Singapore has a wealth of savvy producers who are well-versed in working with different cultures, while maintaining the integrity of the story.”

One such producer is Tan Si En, co-founder and managing director at Momo Film Co., also no stranger to high profile festivals. (In 2019, at the age of 26, her Anthony Chen-directed film “Wet Season” premiered at Toronto and went on to win numerous awards, and “The Year of the Everlasting Storm” made its debut at Cannes 2021.)

This year, she will be at Cannes representing Thai director Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke’s first feature project, “A Useful Ghost,” a fantasy with comic overtones dealing with family and air pollution. “The film will be shot entirely in Thailand,” Tan reports, “but we will be bringing expertise from Singapore, such as production design, post-production, sound design and animation.”

As such, “A Useful Ghost” became eligible for the MTPP Long-form Content Grant. Tan Si En explains, “The fund offers up to $300,000 [SGD] to projects directed by non-Singaporean, Southeast Asian directors with at least one Singaporean and one Southeast Asian producer on board.”

Alongside “A Useful Ghost,” Singapore will also be showcasing several Southeast Asian co-productions at the Cannes Film Market, including Momo’s “Don’t Cry, Butterfly” and “Tropical Rain, Death-Scented Kiss.” Both were shortlisted through 2022’s call for proposals and are seeking financing or partnerships.

The willingness, even eagerness, to partner with filmmakers and companies from other countries only adds to Singapore’s stature in the film community, Tan believes.

“Over the past couple of years, through regional collaborations, we see Singapore talents adding value to regional productions,” Tan says. She cites sound designer Lim Ting Li, who has lent her talents to the Malaysian director Amanda Nell Eu’s “Tiger Stripes,” “Yuni” by Indonesian helmer Kamila Andini and Thai director Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s “Anatomy of Time,” a standout at Venice’s 2021 fest.

Working with Singapore, Tan enthuses, “gives access to talent, expertise, markets and market intelligence. [We are] at the forefront of media technology, an important financial hub with a nurturing film commission. And, of course, we have great talents that are pivotal in the regional and global film industries.”