Should Singapore government invest more in local film development?

By David Tham

I refer to the Straits Times Article “Exiles in ‘To Singapore, with Love’ shouldn’t get chance to air ‘self-serving’ accounts: PM

I think the question being provoked by To Singapore with Love, is not simply about whether the exiles have a right or privilege to voice their opinion and tell their side of the story. Whether the exiles are right or wrong is not the central issue here. 

The real issue here is whether and should the Singapore government be doing more to invest in the development of local film industry stories and content. 

Why? Here are three reasons:

1) Even if Singapore bans the film, there will be other countries who will buy or show it. And there is no law that prevents Tan Pin Pin from showing it elsewhere in the world. 

The fact that Tan Pin Pin has to entertain such a niched (and some might argue, “narrow”) idea about Singapore exiles, just goes to show that there is a lack of awareness among Singaporeans about the role of modern documentary makers in civic society. The role of such documentary makers is to push the boundaries of the imagination. And where budgets are constrained or scarce, the more sensational the topic, the greater the publicity.

So the solution is not so simple: More financial support is needed for the Singaporean film documentary industry such that there is no more need to sensationalise rubbished topics. But more hands-on involvement from well-informed and well-read policy makers is needed as well.

If you want to put a leash on what people produce through film, start by building up the local industry first. Singapore has a group of independent film and documentary makers. It’s not a real industry or even a business community. Furthermore, Censorship and MDA funding policies are antiquated stick and carrot tools that are no longer effective in the age of Social Media.

2) The government’s current approach to public debate and investment (it’s not just about pumping money investment) in the local documentary film-making industry seriously needs more work to improve, even though it is currently better than Third World standards! We need more local policy makers with First World experiences/exposure to take us into the 21st Century (which is already here!).

By providing responses to the controversial documentary using the same medium and better quality storytelling, the Singaporean public would benefit from the narratives created. This is because the organic pathway of using film to argue and counter-argue will contribute to a better local Singaporean film documentary industry that has more impact on world-views. At the end of the day, the better storyteller will prevail.

If there are no counter responses through the same medium, people around the world will then only hear and see one side of the story.

What those others might think might not matter much to the current Singapore government. But many Singaporeans, including overseas Singaporeans do care. It is a reflection of what it means to be a loyal Singaporean overseas, bearing in mind that not every Singapore who lives overseas is an exile.

Many Singaporeans today are well-travelled and it is imperative that the Singapore government makes it more conducive for Singaporeans to expand their wealth through overseas acquisitions. Singapore is, after all, a small island city with limited resources. But it is through the wealth and acquisition holdings of its citizens and business organisations, that Singapore’s national wealth grows.

And don’t expect the Jackie Chan’s and Chow Yuen Fatt’s of this world to “immigrate” to Singapore and make films in Singapore. Singapore is getting famous for importing world class sports people… but let’s not start that in film-making just yet please. We are not likely to see Mr Chow and Mr Chan do a locally produced kungfu movie called “Ageing Pirates of the Straits of Malacca” in the next decade!

3) More transparency and more public awareness needs to be created about who are behind the film censorship and appeals committees and how they are selected from the public. In this modern age, where there are questions about religious organisations hiding slush funds, questions about burqas, questions about political transparency, etc etc. – it is clear the public does not like anything that lacks transparency. “Hiding” is no longer acceptable.

So the Singapore government should instead be responding by showing it has nothing to hide compared to the so-called exiles. This is what it means to take the moral higher ground, while demonstrating integrity. In other words, the Singapore government should support the local film documentary industry in the making of a reply / response to Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore With Love.

This post was first published as a comment at a ST article. We thank Mr Tham for allowing us to reproduce here.