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Singapore turns 50

Sunday (9 August) marks 50 years since Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia, gaining independence the hard way and embarking on a road that has seen it become successful. Naturally, there’s a considerable media element to the celebrations.

The directors of 7 Letters

The directors of 7 Letters, one of the films being made to celebrate the anniversary

The celebrations are by no means combined to a single day, or even week or month, with the SG50 umbrella covering events and activities throughout the whole year.

The city state’s first leader, Lee Kuan Yew, died earlier this year, although his legacy lives on as his son is Prime Minister. Just ahead of the National Day anniversary, state broadcaster MediaCorp has released a collection of programming about the late leader. Clip compilation Forging a Nation and a six-part collection of speeches, In His Own Words were released a week ahead of the city state’s National Day this Sunday (9 August). The programmes are available in all four of Singapore’s official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

Singapore’s success as a financial centre and reputation for stability has seen it rival Hong Kong as a centre in Asia for many Western-originated media companies, including the headquarters of several pan-Asia or pan-Asia-Pacific broadcasters such as BBC Worldwide, Discovery, Disney and MTV.

NHNZ’s sister company Beach House Pictures (BHP) is one of the stronger producers of factual content and a regular winner and nominee at the Asian Television Awards, one of a number of major industry conference events hosted in Singapore. BHP is also home in Asia to kids channel ZooMoo, established shortly after David Haslingden bought the group of companies.

Although the TV business is strong, film is weaker with little inbound or co-production activity. Given its limited land area (about two thirds the size of Auckland) and limited ability to pass for other destinations, Singapore has developed a strong post-production and animation offer, which also extends to games (five of which were supported by Media Development Authority as part of SG50).

Asian short film site Viddsee has a decent collection of Singaporean titles. Peter Burger’s 2007 The Tattooist remains the only feature made under the 2000 co-production treaty between NZ and Singapore.

Satay Club

Satay Club, one of the mobile games supported to celebrate SG50

While there are several countries in Asia with stricter censorship laws, Singapore’s align much more closely with Asian sensibilities than Western. 50 years on, a good number of people involved in the events leading to independence in 1965 still live exile from their homeland, liable to imprisonment should they return. Last year Tan Pin Pin’s documentary To Singapore With Love, a collection of interviews with exiles, was refused a screening certificate in Singapore as “the contents of the film undermine national security”.

Ironically Tan is one of the seven directors named for omnibus title 7 Letters, one of two titles being made with state support to celebrate the anniversary of independence by the same agency that banned her documentary.

Also commissioned for the celebrations is Randy Ang’s dramatic thriller 1965 which, unsurprisingly, addresses the events leading to independence.

The other six directors of 7 Letters are a cross-section of Singapore’s film industry, ranging from the relatively new to the very successful. Boo Junfeng, Cannes-selected with Sandcastle (2010); Jack Neo, whose latest film in the Ah Boys franchise holds the box office record for a local title; Eric Khoo, twice selected for Cannes with Tatsumi (2011) and My Magic (2008); K. Rajagopal; Royston Tan and Kelvin Tong, both three-time winners at Singapore IFF (SGIFF).

SGIFF returned last year after a break, making a good splash locally. Max Currie’s Everything We Loved played in the festival’s non-competitive Cinema Today strand. The festival also increased its industry-facing programmes and introduced a South East Asia Film Lab, which John Woo’s longtime producer Terence Chang will lead this year.

In recent years Singapore has achieved international success through Anthony Chen’s Camera d’Or-winning Ilo Ilo (on which SGIFF director Yuni Hadi was a producer) and this year for Kirsten Tan’s selection for Cannes Cinefondation Atelier with Popeye.

The SGIFF played as part of the Singapore Media Festival (SMF), which also includes an umbrella for the Asia TV Forum, Asian TV Awards, and ScreenSingapore. Last week the SMF announced a new addition for this year, industry conference Digital Matters.

Although there’s some risk locally of SG50 fatigue by the time the SMF opens in late November, there will be a number of screenings and events using the anniversary to promote the Singapore industry.

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