Emerging Singaporean Filmmakers Present Contrasting Aspects of City-State at Southeast Asia Film Lab

The next generation of Singaporean filmmakers are displaying the rich tapestry of the city-state’s culture at the Southeast Asian Film Lab, which is part of the Singapore Media Festival.

Shopping malls are an intrinsic part of Singaporean culture and for Dewi Tan, who is from an anthropology and environmental science background, they are endlessly fascinating. The filmmaker’s lab project “Practical(ly) Consumption,” currently in the script development stage, follows a secondary school boy who gets into trouble stealing a supermarket trolley.

“Malls are more than a space to hang out or get your daily needs, it is also a place of self-discovery that often project and engineer societal ideals,” Tan told Variety. “In many ways, this film is an experimental and exploratory take on the essence of the Singaporean hunger for endless consumption – a meandering piece that’s ‘something about nothing’ in an air-conditioned sanctuary, amidst an inescapable urban heat.”

Tan previously made the acclaimed LGBTQ+-themed short “The Cycle” (2017), which received considerable festival play and in 2018, attended Werner Herzog’s film workshop where he brought 48 international filmmakers to the Peruvian jungle location for “Fitzcarraldo” to make films based on the theme of fever dreams.

Chan Sze-Wei hails from a background of contemporary dance, has directed several dance-based shorts and has been mentored by dance filmmakers including Gabriela Tropia and Alex Reuben. In early 2017, fellow dancer Sun (Phitthaya Phaefuang) asked Chan if they knew anybody who might like to make a documentary about the vogue and ballroom subculture in Southeast Asia. Chan decided to take up the opportunity and began filming “I Am Walking,” which is another lab selection.

“This is the project that I’ve been preparing for my whole life without knowing it – as a dance filmmaker, as an arts journalist and researcher on Southeast Asia, as a queer activist, and as a movement activist using choreography and improvisation to question politics and privilege,” Chan told Variety. “At the same time, I have been on my own long journey with my sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The production of “I Am Walking,” which follow the journeys of four misfits as they carve out sanctuaries for queer folk, was paused by the pandemic, and the shoot will recommence in 2022.

Giselle Lin’s short, the grief-themed “Time Flows in Strange Ways on Sundays,” debuted at Locarno earlier this year, where it was nominated for the Leopards of Tomorrow award. Her lab project “Midnight Blue Spring,” which is in the early stages of conceptualizing and writing, will tell the story of a solitary secondary school teacher in Singapore who counsels one of her students, all the while knowing that the student is the teenage daughter of her first girlfriend. Through these circumstances, the teacher is made to confront long denied truths about her own sexuality, identity and regrets.

“Deep down I also always knew my first feature would be this, and while I’m really grateful to be able to work on it, I am also terrified,” Lin told Variety. “This is a story that draws from my own struggles with sexual identity and growing pains, and after winding it in my head (and heart) for 10 years, it’s scary to finally see it as something else other than just a secret.”

The Southeast Asia Film Lab is mentored by Indonesian filmmaker Edwin (Locarno winner “Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash”), Thailand’s Taiki Sakpisit (Rotterdam winner “The Edge of Daybreak”) and Singapore’s Tan Chui Mui (Busan winner “Love Conquers All”).

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