Postcard from Singapore: American Short Shorts On the Road

Postcard from Singapore: American Short Shorts On the Road
Tim LaTorre, indieWIRE / 08.03.01

Ah...beautiful Singapore...rickshaws, chicken rice, and...short films? As yet another sign that the world arts community has a growing interest in the art of the short film, American Short Shorts successfully invaded the small city/state with its July 11-14 festival.

Founded two years ago by Los Angeles-based Producer Douglas Williams and Tokyo-based Executive Director Tetsuya Bessho, the 2001 installment marks the first time the festival has crossed its Japanese borders and pulled into Singapore's port -- the Southeast Asian city/country best known these days for outlawing gum and dishing out corporal punishment to an American teenager guilty of vandalism.

Organized in association with The Substation, the local 'multi-disciplinary, multi-media, multi-cultural and multi-lingual arts center,' the festival sold out each of its 4 screenings, which underscores the success of the festival with the American-savvy Singaporean audience. According to Festival Executive Wahyuni Hadi, "because American culture is so predominate in Singapore people are not in a big hurry to see American films like Japan. So we had to think of how we were going to sell it and we sold it through artistic merit, which I think the films we are showing deserve."

Shortened from the Japanese program in order to appease the local government censors and fit the allotted time frame, Singapore highlights included Jason Reitman's "In God We Trust," Michael Horowitz and Gareth Smith's "This Guy is Falling," Sam Hoffman's "The Ride Home," Rebecca Rodriguez's "Soul Collectors," Marc-Andreas Bochert's "Kleingeld" and David Greenspan's "Ohagi (Bean Cake)." To give some perspective on the use of short filmmaking in an artist's development, the program also included Tim Burton's animated student film "Vincent." Despite some of the technical limitations -- all films were transferred and projected on video, the program succeeded in its mission: to expose the diverse art of short filmmaking to a new Asian audience.

This focus on short film comes at an important time in the reconstitution of Singaporean cinema. While the country has many theaters that are technologically up to par with or exceed American standards, local production has been limited to about 2 to 3 features a year. Go to any theater and you'll find that they are filled with American or Hong Kong imports.

The last decade has seen a few homegrown hits, which include Eric Khoo's "12 Storeys" (1997), T.L. Tay's "Money No Enough" (1998), and Chee Kong Cheah's "Chicken Rice War" (2000). Director Glenn Goei's debut dance movie "Forever Fever" (1998) was the first feature from Singapore to find a U.S. release. It was picked up by Miramax and subsequently retitled "That's the Way I Like It."

As nervous business interests flee from a post-English Hong Kong looking for a safe business harbor, Singaporeans are beginning to realize that they have the opportunity to develop their own artistic voice. In response to this growing interest in Singaporean cinema, the Singapore Film Commission was established in 1999 to "nurture, support and promote Singapore talent in filmmaking, the production of Singapore films and a film industry in Singapore."

Singapore has discovered that short films are the perfect foundation for this new voice and the Singapore Film commission is handing out funding accordingly. Thus far, 34 short films have received up to S$5,000 each, 2 features have received up to S$250,000, and 5 Singaporeans or permanent residents have been awarded up to S$100,000 each for undergraduate or post-graduate film studies overseas. Not a bad start for a 646 square kilometer country with a population of 3.1 million.
According to Wong Wai Leng, Assistant Director of the Singapore Film Commission, "We believe that if [Singaporeans] really want to make [filmmaking] a career, it's really best to start making short films."

Using American Short Shorts as a testing ground, according to Festival Executive Wahyuni Hadi, The Substation is planning on starting its own short film festival in December that will focus on Asian short films. This coincides with an important change within the American Short Shorts Film Festival. Starting next year, the festival is dropping the "American" and transforming into the Short Shorts Film Festival. No doubt, Singaporeans will have more to contribute in future installments.


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