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Digital Dawn of Film

More avenues to help young filmmakers hit the big screen, as discovered by Ian Ng of HYPE.

Who says local film is dead? With 4titles to show at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Singapore is on a roll with Anthony Chen’s prestigious Caméra d’Or winner, Ilo Ilo. This gives hope to a wave of aspiring local filmmakers eager to leave their legacies.

Ms. Aishah Abu Bakar, program manager for The Substation, commented, “I think it definitely made a lot of people, not just overseas but in Singapore, stand up to pay a little more attention to stuff being produced.”

The Substation hosts First Take, a monthly program that screens new homegrown films by amateur filmmakers. By giving them a chance to express themselves and obtain feedback from a discerning audience, it is hoped that this will sculpt their confidence in making future films.

Art Avenues

The Substation has been one of the few art spaces for local enthusiasts to showcase their original works for years. This is alongside other annual staples such as the Singapore International Film Festival, the Singapore Short Cuts showcase, and the Fly By Night competition organized by Objectifs. This local visual arts center focuses on film and photography.

“It was a real challenge trying to shoot something in the span of 24 hours with a given theme,” recalled Jeremy Chua, 19, a 2012 Fly By Night participant.

The competition kickstarts once Objectifs releases the theme for the year, where contestants have exactly 1 day to shoot a short 3-minute film. Following that, they all gather at a cinema for a mass screening and to witness the winners’ announcement.

Many local directors, such as Kelvin Sng (The Gang) and Jacen Tan (Work), have propelled their careers forward via mediums, which have been invaluable for exchanging ideas, learning from creative mistakes, and getting talent spotted by local and overseas investors.

Naturally, the joy of watching your opus on the big screen also helps.

As aspiring filmmaker Shelly Chan, 20, shared, “The applause you receive after they screen your film…it makes all the effort worthwhile.”

Shelly, who is pursuing a degree at LASALLE College of the Arts, belongs to a group of like-minded people who believe these platforms provide much-needed exposure for young budding filmmakers in Singapore.

Audiences, Are You Ready?

Still, challenges abound in getting their viewer counterparts to embrace homegrown films’ emergence fully.

In an online survey of 50 youths aged 16 to 25, 4 percent said ‘No,’ while 52 percent gave a lukewarm ‘Maybe’ when asked if they would support local movies. Citing the distraction of Hollywood blockbusters and A-list casts, many said they had yet to know the true quality of their films back home.

“Creativity is, while not lacking in Singapore, is certainly not promoted enough,” lamented one respondent. “I think there are many like me who would enjoy local films but have no idea where to get exposed to them.”

Visibility remains an issue given Singapore’s tightly-knit film community, which has yet to actively reach out to a broader audience about its competitions and screenings. Every gear in the machine that allows such platforms to happen comprises people already involved in the filmmaking scene, from the organizers to participants and audience members.

Indeed, only 16 percent of respondents had experienced such platforms, so most viewers were limited to the few local films shown in cinemas and broadcast channels.

Ms. Aishah also added that people aged 14 and below might be unable to attend such events due to “school restraints” or “parental restrictions.” Also, there remains strict governmental censorship placed on sensitive films like Royston Tan’s 15, which contains themes ranging from gangsterism to homosexuality.

To help young filmmakers gain visibility and alleviate restrictions, Mr. Derek Tan and Mr.Ho Jia Jian formulated, an online film portal dedicated to user-submitted works from Asia.

“Everyone tells you to put your film on to reach a global audience, but there are tens of millions of videos on It’s really hard to find good quality content if you don’t know the filmmaker’s name,” commented Mr Ho in an interview with

Content Is King

As Yue Jie, 20, a regular contributor to entertainment publications like Popspoken and Straits Times Communities, shared, most local films still lack commercial viability due to their niche content and technicalities.

He explained, “At the moment, I believe that we are striving for the awards and not really the entertainment side. So the amount of films that go into cinema is not that much.”

Still, most respondents expressed viewership promise, saying they were interested in what local films offered. Given fellow young Singaporeans made them, many said they would probably be highly relatable and refreshing in perspective.

Alongside mentorship competition cine65, The New Paper Film Fest, and the 48 Hour Film Project, is just one of the newer platforms filmmakers and viewers can look forward to as the Singaporean film scene opens up.

Promoting such art spaces and films encourages viewers and filmmakers to learn more about other filmmakers’ works and be inspired to make their own.

With more avenues to express themselves, anyone even remotely passionate about the film will find it hard to resist picking up a camera and, well… shooting.

 Alternative Cinemas

Still not sure where to look? Here are 5 go-to venues offering the best arthouse movies and homegrown films.

1. The Picturehouse

Established in 1990, The Picturehouse was Singapore’s first alternative answer to an era of mainstream films. Despite closing down several years later, The Cathay was revamped in 2006 as a relaxing 82-seater venue that showcases many exclusive local and foreign motion pictures. No wonder it remains one of the most popular venues for film festivals and events- part of the viewing magic is basking in its historical significance.

2. Sinema Old School

Don’t be fooled by the whitewashed exterior of this Mount Sophia compound, for this former Methodist Girls’ School is a lighthouse for young startups dedicated to all things art. Although Old School has unfortunately closed down more or less, it still hosts Sinema Old School in partnership with Sinema.SG, whose name is a deliberate combination of ‘Singapore’ and ‘cinema’, expresses its deep support for local films. From Royston Tan’s 881 to Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys, you will find many famous movies in this 136-seater with powerful messages that will hit home.

3. The Arts House Screening Room

Although much more cramped, this humble 75-seater theater room is a silver screen treasure, having once held late 20th-century offices in Parliament Lane. It is a well-established venue that boasts film series such as But Is The Book Better? and festivals like the Singapore Chinese Film Festival, all in the old-world charm of a colonial building.

4. Golden Village Screening Europa

Surprise, surprise- in the heart of bustling Vivocity, there actually lies Cinema Europa, an extension of Golden Village that celebrates the finest local and international art houses and indie films all year round. From exclusive local flicks to lesser-known Asian titles, there’s no reason to miss out on this luxurious 108-seater theater with a state-of-the-art digital surround sound system.

5. The Substation Theatre

Looking for an even more exclusive hideout? Choose The Substation Theater, which is still one of our nation’s best curators of independent films. The 108-seater is not content with just motion pictures alone; it’s a versatile black box space that hosts performance dialogues and music performances- all in its dedication to promoting diversity in interdisciplinary art in Singapore.

Suruchi Lohani
Suruchi Lohani
suruchi lohani is a content editor who love playing with words to make stories come alive. Besides editing the content she loves reading books and writing.


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