Email from Italy 15 Dec

Lorenzo Codelli wrote me an email to tell me “Don’t miss the December 15 only screening, with live Indian music, of the following very rare and beautiful silent Indian classic KALIYA MARDAN (that we did screen years ago at our Pordenone Silent Festival). Tickets will sell out soon”. This is part of the Singapore National Museum Opening festival. Kaliya was made in 1912, my favourite silent film period because the command of the film language was very naive then, directors felt they were uncovering a new syntax, a process often filled with joy and magic. This still says it all.


Look Ma, no hands


Just heard from Colin and Yen Yen that their film Singapore Dreaming grossed S$450,000 (USD 300,000) after a 9 week run in Singapore. Colin mentioned in their blog that this was the highest grossing non-Mediacorp Singapore film. Their qualification refers to the fact that they did not have the marketing nor distribution clout of Mediacorp, the mega media conglomerate in Singapore. However, they did have the backing of another, albeit smaller conglomerate in Golden Village who threw their heft behind this release, opening it in 18 screens with posters, trailers and marquees everywhere. No expense was spared by Golden Village for this Singapore film.

That Singapore Dreaming grossed S$450,000 with their help provides interesting information for me, a producer and director who wants to make work about and for Singaporeans. Of course the gross may be more than $450,000 at the end of the day after you factor in DVD sales, TV sales, overseas sales etc. So let’s say, the gross, after three years is S$500,000.

My conclusion is this, if I wanted to make an independent non-Mediacorp feature film whose primary market is Singapore, one that has mass appeal, something you can bring your whole family to, then, if I want to BREAK EVEN, the film must not cost more than S$200,000 to produce.

How did I arrive at $200,000? Of the $500,000 that they will have grossed, I conjecture that more than half will go to distributor fees, hall hire fees as well as marketing costs eg organising press screenings, conferences, buying ad space, printing posters, striking 18 prints, making DVD/press kits,
So, what can one produce for $200,000? In this day an age when people boast that they can make a feature for $300, $200,000, seems alot of money. But I don’t refer to those kind of films, I refer to the films where the crew/actors are paid a fair wage, that the production actually has insurance for them. It would have to be shot on video (DVCam?) with small lighting kit and skeletal grip equipment. The should will likely be about 3 weeks, shot in Singapore or Malaysia, be a contemporary small scale plot oriented drama about anything as along as its is enjoyable, has mass appeal, something you can bring your whole family to watch. As usual, for this kind of industrial narrative-focused production, script and actors are key. So films along the lines of Sepet, Iranian children’s films would probably be do-able for this budget and have a good chance of opening in 10-18 screens. Or you could make a ghost movie though you can’t have a period drama, special effects, car chases, helicopter shots, no not for $200,000.

If you want to attempt something more edgy or adventurous in terms of structure or content, may be documentaries, I say just gather a group a friends and start shooting. So that even if it doeesn’t get released, or goes straight to video, you don’t lose your trousers and you don’t have to be too burdened about ensuring a return on investment for your backers and more importantly, you had fun while you were doing it

Artist Statements

At the recent Singapore Biennale, I read my fair share of artist statements. These statements are sometimes used as an opportunity to explain the work, at other times to explain the philosophy of the artist which may (or may not) shed light on the work. For me the clarity and accessibility of the statement bears a direct relation to the clarity and accessibility of the work.
Here are some of my favourite artist statements that I have stumbled upon
Annette Barbier/Drew Browning’s
Krishen Jit Astro Fund for Malaysian Artists

Image005 2.jpg

Its not art, its air Con piping at the Biennale’s Tanglin Camp

The social life of Opium

A film waiting to be made

Asia Research Institute Lecture
The Social Life of Opium in China by Dr Zheng Yangwen
29 November 2006, 7:00pm
National Library, Possibility Room, FREE but register 6516 8787

Recreational smoking was foreign to China, as was opium itself (like tea to England). How and when, then, did opium smoking come to lodge itself within the sophisticated Chinese consumer culture? I trace opium’s transformation over a period of 500 years to show how the Chinese people of different classes and regions redefined a foreign way of leisure and developed a complex culture of consumption around its use. From aphrodisiac to popular culture, from social identity to political economy, Mr. Opium lived a colourful social life and played a role larger than himself in the theatre of modern China.


My heartiest congratulations to the directors who passed the censors.
I LOVE MALAYA’ World Premieres
25th Nov, Sat, 7pm
Ngee Ann Auditorium, Asian Civilisations Museum

A documentary film by
Chan Kah Mei, Ho Choon Hiong, Eunice Lau, Christopher Len & Wang Eng Eng

In 2005, an 81-year-old man sued the Malaysian government for denying him entry into the country of his birth. Chin Peng was the leader of the Malayan Communist Party, which waged the longest and most difficult war lasting more than 30 years, first to overthrow the British colonial government and then against the Malaysian state.

When peace was finally secured in 1989, more than 200 former guerillas returned to Malaysia. But Chin Peng was not one of them. In fact there are many like him who have remained in southern Thailand, as stateless aliens, unable to step foot into the country they had given their lives fighting for.

I Love Malaya is the story of their journey home.


One unforgettable weekend 24-26 Nov

For five hours, they watched in rapt attention. It was the longest screening anyone had ever attended. They watched 45 videos back to back, videos they had produced for themselves that very weekend, videos made by some as young as 15 and as old as 50. Many of them did not get any sleep the night before, still they stayed and they watched, eyes bright with excitement.

Sign up for the Fourth Fly By Night Video Challenge. Closing date 23 November.
nutshell review

Photo by Chia Yan Wei

taiwan Documentary Festival detour

On the way back from the Earthquake Museum in Wufeng, our tour guide took us all five documentary directors from as far a field as Israel & Holland to eat at his favourite roadside pig organ soup stall. Some of us, inspired by his recommendation, tried congealed pig’s blood for the first time. This is, as you can imagine one of the more intimate and personal film festivals I have been to to date. The programme is small, but very well chosen, as are the guests. An interesting factoid, the two top grossing Taiwan films in Taiwan last year (theatrical) were documentaries! One was about the effects of the earthquake on the townsfolk and another about an old farming couple. Taiwan’s equivalient of the media development authority is catching on to the fact that there is a hunger for taiwanese documentaries (not the travel and living kind) and are throwing their full weight behind this documentary festival



Eng Yee Peng, director of Diminishing Memories invited her mum along to the Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung. Our films were screened in the same programme.
Me: Mrs Eng, why did you decide to come to the festival?
Mrs Eng: I wanted to see what my daughter was up to, she seems to be making mysterious trips abroad, accompanying the documentary.
Me: So what are your impressions?
Mrs Eng: I thought the space would be bigger, more grand, a big hall with a red carpet
Me: The hall in Taichung is actually very big, most halls I have been to are smaller. Are you impressed with the questions?
Mrs Eng: The questions are quite banal actually

australian cinema canon

Where else but at the Substation Moving Images Programme

Mon 20 Nov, 2-5pm: Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) by Peter Weir
Tue 21 Nov, 2-5pm: Sunday Too Far Away (1975) by Ken Hannam
Wed 22 Nov, 2-5pm: The Getting of Wisdom (1978) by Bruce Beresford
Thu 23 Nov, 2-5pm: Newsfront (1978) by Philip Noyce
Fri 24 Nov, 2-5pm: My Brilliant Career (1979) by Gillian Armstrong
Sat 25 Nov, 3-4.30pm: Film as Culture vs Film as Industry A Conversation on National Cinemas with Dr Vincent O¹Donnell and Dr Kenneth Paul Tan from the National University of Singapore (Free Admission).

Tickets from, hotline 6222 5595, or
The Substation Box Office, hotline 6337 7800 (noon to 8.30pm, Mon to Fri)

Pity documentaries aren’t included in this cinematic survey. I am beginning to come to terms with and even relish documentaries’ position as illegitimate children in most countries’ film lists. Be that as it is, it was great to attend the the Taiwan International Documentary Festival held in Taichung. For a few days, I felt like our work was the centre of the world, not an afterthought.