Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Opening of the Singapore International Film Festival on 21 November 2019.
Mr Sebastian Tan,
Chairperson, Singapore International Film Festival,
Mr Boo Junfeng,
Vice-Chairperson, Singapore International Film Festival,
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy to join you for the opening of the Singapore International Film Festival. There are several reasons why I am happy to be here. The first is that I used to be a film buff. For many years, I was a member of the Singapore Film Society, together with my wife, where Kenneth Tan and his team brought in films of different genres and from different regions to Singapore and I said “used to be” because since entering politics, I can count with my two hands the number of times I stepped into a cinema. So you gave me a good reason to indulge my passion tonight – and I am happy to be back at this iconic Capitol Theatre – my favourite cinema when I was a kid. I remember watching wuxia films here.
Another reason I am happy to be here is that we are celebrating an important milestone – the 30th edition of the Festival. From humble beginnings, the Festival has since become the longest-running and largest international film festival in Southeast Asia. This year, more than 90 films from over 40 countries will be screened. Films evoke a range of thoughts and emotions in us – in entertaining and amusing us, in capturing our imagination and sense of wonder, in inviting us to be more empathetic, in inspiring and uplifting us, in provoking us to think and reflect, and in challenging our values and worldviews.
In these ways, good films share something in common with good novels, plays, poetry and music – they move us. But there is something magical about a moving visual image, combined with dialogue and sound.
Indeed, perhaps more than any other medium, films capture the richness of place and time. It reflects who we are, as individuals, and as a society. Our local films thus help us turn the mirror on ourselves, and examine what makes us uniquely Singaporean, and Southeast Asian. In the words of Royston Tan – “Film offers a platform for fellow Singaporeans to have a glimpse, appreciate, and also cherish what we have.” Our local films capture the poetry in our everyday experiences, and provide us with the opportunity to see our society through each other’s eyes. I personally enjoyed “7 Letters” a lot, and thought it was a very poignant reflection on our journey as a nation, other collaborations such as Project Lapis Sagu, under which Kelvin Tong, K Rajagopal and Sanif Olek made three short films, also examined our diversity, put our differences in context, and emphasised what we have in common.
Over time, the body of Singapore films has not only captured, but also helped to crystallise, our evolving identity as a people and a nation. Each time our films are viewed beyond our shores, they serve as “calling cards” for Singapore, helping others understand who we are, and what we stand for.
In the same way, each time we watch films from abroad, they help us understand other cultures better, and help us appreciate what we share in common as humans.
Spotlighting Singapore films and talent
For more than 30 years, the Singapore International Film Festival has played a seminal role in profiling Asian – and especially Singaporean – films and talent! As was recounted in the 2018 documentary, “Singapore Cinema: Between the Takes”, many who are familiar with the history of Singapore cinema credit the Festival for playing a catalytic role in reviving the local film scene in the 90s! In the same documentary, many notable local filmmakers also mused that if not for the Festival showcasing their early works, their careers might have turned out quite differently!
Tonight, the Festival is opening with a Singapore film, Wet Season（热带雨）. This is only the second local film to open the Festival, after Ken Kwek’s Unlucky Plaza in 2014.
Wet Season is Anthony Chen’s much-anticipated second feature. I am sure of all us know of Anthony – his debut feature film, Ilo Ilo, won the Best Debut Feature Film at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013. The film also won four awards at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards that year. Wet Season recently premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the film has also already picked up three awards at the Pingyao International Film Festival （平遥国际电影展）, including the Fei Mu Award for Best Film in the Chinese language and the Best Film Award at the London East Asia Film Festival earlier this month. Like Ilo Ilo, Wet Season has been recognised at the Taipei Golden Horse Awards – it has been nominated for six awards this year.
I understand the Golden Horse Award results will be announced in two days’ time, and I look forward to our filmmakers being recognised. Apart from Wet Season, Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined has also been nominated for four awards. Congratulations to Anthony, Siew Hua and their teams on the nominations, and I wish you all the best at the Golden Horse Awards!
Strengthening Singapore’s Filmmaking Community
This global recognition of Singaporean films reflects the immense growth of the local filmmaking scene over the last thirty years. Today, our filmmaking community is still small by international standards, but very vibrant. Our actors, directors, scriptwriters, producers, sound and light crew – and even unpaid volunteers – are passionate and professional about their art. There are now many established schools – NAFA, LaSalle School of the Arts, our universities and polytechnics – where aspiring filmmakers can hone their skills, and grow their passion. I was very happy to hear from Sebastian earlier about how we are reaching out to our students and the Singapore Film Commission continues to support the community to tell our stories with courage, clarity and excellence.
Beyond the growing skills and professionalism of our film industry, I am very glad that at its heart, the community remains close-knit, rooted in a shared passion to tell compelling stories from a uniquely Singaporean perspective, and to grow the body of Singaporean works.
One key area where this comes through most clearly is in the strong culture of paying it forward, with veteran filmmakers mentoring younger ones. For example, Eric Khoo has mentored a number of outstanding young filmmakers – including Boo Junfeng, Kirsten Tan, Nicole Midori Woodford and Huang Junxiang.
Many of these younger filmmakers have gone on to put Singapore on the world stage, and their success, in turn, has inspired their peers and juniors to continue refining their craft, and producing excellent films. I am happy that two short films by young Singaporean filmmakers have been selected for the Cannes Film Festival this year: Piece of Meat, an animated short film directed by Jerrold Chong and Huang Junxiang, and Adam, directed by student filmmaker Shoki Lin. Both films, together with fifteen other Singaporean films, will be screened as part of the Festival. Congratulations!
Storytelling through film is an important part of how we build and examine our identity as individuals, as a society, and as a nation. Thank you to everyone involved in filmmaking for your labour of love that helps us to understand ourselves better, and for doing our nation proud. Please continue telling our stories and carrying our voices, hopes and dreams, to the rest of the world through your films.
Once again, my heartiest congratulations to the Singapore International Film Festival and the Singapore film community on the 30th Edition of the Festival. I hope you will continue your good work into the next 30 years and beyond. Please join me in giving Sebastian, Junfeng, and the organisers a much deserved round of applause.
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