Documentary on Marxist conspiracy detainees given R21 rating

A documentary film on detainees arrested for an alleged Marxist plot against the Singapore government in 1987 will be screened at a festival here under the R21 rating, a decision that has surprised festival presenters expecting a ban.

The fate of independent filmmaker Jason Soo's documentary 1987: Untracing the Conspiracy, submitted for classification in October, was up in the air until it received the nod from the Media Development Authority just a day before the start of the festival on Saturday. The film will be screened at The Projector in Beach Road on Sunday Nov 15.

Last year, MDA gave To Singapore, With Love, local filmmaker Tan Pin Pin's documentary on Singapore exiles, a Not Allowed for All Ratings classification, barring it from exhibition and distribution here.

The MDA's move this time around therefore comes as a pleasant surprise, said civil society group Function 8, which is presenting the Singapore leg of the festival.

But Mr Soo told The Sunday Times: "Why R21? In 1987, the TV confessions were broadcast on prime-time television without any ratings, and even children could watch the ex-detainees talk about the alleged Marxist conspiracy. So I don't understand why a R21 rating is deemed necessary when it wasn't necessary in 1987."

The Government detained 22 people in 1987 under the Internal Security Act, for their role in an alleged Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the government and establish a Marxist state. This crackdown was known as Operation Spectrum.

Mr Soo's hour-long film features interviews with political exiles and ex-detainees involved in the alleged plot, focusing on the first 30 days of their detention.

His film has been screened across the Causeway as part of the annual Freedom Film Festival, which is organised by Malaysian human rights group Komas.

The Singapore leg of the Freedom Film Festival is the biggest yet with 13 films. The event is non-ticketed and the lineup includes films from around the region, as well as two films by Singapore filmmaker Martyn See.

Two of Mr See's films have received the go-ahead from the MDA. Speakers Cornered, which documents a protest at Hong Lim Park during the World Bank-IMF meeting in 2006, has been given an NC16 rating and Singapore Rebel, a film on opposition leader Chee Soon Juan that was in 2005 pulled from the Singapore International Film Festival, is rated M18.