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photo: stb.gov.sg

STB fund to encourage local content is contrived and artificial

Is it just me or can anyone else see the irony of the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) creating a fund to encourage content creators in Singapore to create local content for an international audience? According to news reports. the $1 million fund, named ‘Fast Forward’, will provide support to filmmakers, vloggers, media companies and creative agencies to create films, videos and animations that creatively feature Singapore and bring to life STB’s tagline ‘Passion Made Possible’.

On paper, it all looks really positive but if one thinks deeper, it becomes obvious that passion will only be made possible in the Singaporean context if the content is not deemed critical of the ruling government, the Peoples' Action Party (PAP), however remote, by the powers be. Let's look at Singapore's track record.

Do we remember Singaporean film maker Tan Pin Pin's poignant 2013 film "To Singapore with love"? That film was definitely a passionate telling of the journey of varied Singaporeans who for different ideologies offended the sensibilities of the government. While it preached no political statement, it explored the concept of exile and its impact on the Singaporeans who for one reason or other are unable to return home. The film was well received and won a number of international awards. Looking at STB's criteria, this would have been a film that would have qualified for its funding. Yet, judging from the way the film was unceremoniously banned from public screenings in Singapore, I doubt STB would have ever granted Tan funding any way.

This begs the question - What does passion made possible mean? Is it only passion for airy-fairy fun films like "Crazy Rich Asians" or films that heap praise on Singapore like Nas Daily's vlog? if so, how does this reflect on STB and what it expects from creatives?

What about Martyn See's film "Singapore Rebel" about Singapore's infamous opposition politician Dr. Chee Soon Juan? By any yardstick. Dr. Chee is a person of interest. Whether or not we agree with his views, he has sacrificed immensely to be involved in opposition politics. Dr. Chee's passion is therefore undeniable. However looking at Singapore's track record, I have a feeling that this film, however creative and however passionate, would never have been made possible by STB's funding even if the movie was to be made now.

Martyn See's other film, Zahari's 17 Years about  Said Zahari who spent 17 years detained without trial for alleged communist activity in Singapore was similarly banned. Anyone who is willing to make a film about someone detained under the Internal Security Act and anyone who is willing to run the risk of spending 17 years behind bars without charge would definitely qualify as passionate. Yet, I am pretty sure that if this film relied on STB's funding, it would never have been made.

Strangely enough, Royston Tan's 15 about gang activity in Singapore was also banned on the premise that it was deemed a threat to national security. Surely a film about gangs would be one that could be seen as interesting to Singaporeans and foreigners alike. it is also not about politics. Would this have qualified for STB's funding?

The thing about wanting to encourage creativity is this - you can't just throw money at it and expect people to create content that will only put Singapore or its ruling government in a good light. That's not creative. That's artificial and contrived. Please don't call it passion made possible. Call it advertising budget instead.