Film-maker wins Singapore's first Sundance award

Pop Aye (above).
Pop Aye (above).PHOTO: GIRAFFE PICTURES
Kirsten Tan.
Kirsten Tan.PHOTO: GIRAFFE PICTURES

Kirsten Tan's debut feature film Pop Aye won the Special Jury award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition for its screenplay at the prestigious festival

Film-maker Kirsten Tan picked up the first-ever Sundance award won by a Singaporean yesterday.

It was the "best hongbao ever!" she told The Straits Times.

Her debut feature film Pop Aye won the Special Jury award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition for its screenplay at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

Pop Aye, which premiered at Sundance on Jan 19 to glowing reviews, follows a disenchanted Thai architect and his elephant on their journey across Thailand in search of the farm where they grew up together.

A screenwriting jury award from Sundance is huge. I did a tiny victory dance in my own bedroom. No words, just pure elation and pure feeling.

FILM-MAKER KIRSTEN TAN, who took three years to write, research, cast and shoot Pop Aye.

The film, which is in Thai with English subtitles, is the first feature by a Singaporean film-maker to receive a nod from the World Cinema Grand Jury.

"I was literally in the shower when I got a call from Trevor Groth, director of programming at Sundance. I rang him back as soon as I got out of the bathroom," New York-based Tan said.

"When I heard the news, it was pure emotion. A screenwriting jury award from Sundance is huge. I did a tiny victory dance in my bedroom. No words, just pure elation and pure feeling."

The 35-year-old,who took three years to write, research, cast and shoot the movie, said she has no time to celebrate as she is flying to the Rotterdam International Film Festival today.

"But to know that the story of the film moved the heart of the jury members at Sundance is celebration in itself for me," she said.

  • WORLD CINEMA DRAMATIC COMPETITION WINNERS

  • Grand Jury Prize: The Nile Hilton Incident (Sweden/Denmark/Germany)

    Audience Award: I Dream In Another Language (Netherlands/Mexico)

    Directing Award: Francis Lee, God's Own Country (United Kingdom)

    Special Jury Award for Screenplay: Kirsten Tan, Pop Aye (Singapore/Thailand)

    Special Jury Award for Cinematic Visions: Jun Geng, Free And Easy (China)

    Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Manu Dacosse, Axolotl Overkill (Germany)

The film has already been picked up for distribution in North America.

Award-winning Singaporean di- rector Anthony Chen is the executive director of Pop Aye.

"This is a great validation of what we do at Giraffe Pictures - supporting and nurturing young talented film-makers from Singapore and the region with a strong focus on script development," he said.

Giraffe Pictures is his film production company.

Sundance has been the launchpad for many independent films and film-makers, and past award winners include Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Boyhood (2014).

Tan graduated with a master's in film production at Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, in September 2014.

She had earlier graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with an advanced diploma in film production in 2005.

Her short films, Dahdi (Granny, 2014), Fonzi (2007) and 10 Minutes Later (2006) had won several accolades in Singapore and abroad.

Pop Aye also won Torino Film Lab's top production prize of €60,000 (S$92,000) in 2014.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2017, with the headline 'Film-maker wins Singapore's first Sundance award'. Print Edition | Subscribe