Seven short films on the lives of Singaporeans to celebrate Golden Jubilee

(From left) Royston Tan, Eric Khoo and Jack Neo. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
(From left) Royston Tan, Eric Khoo and Jack Neo. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
(From left) Royston Tan, K Rajagopal, Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Boo Junfeng and Tan Pin Pin. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
(From left) Royston Tan, K Rajagopal, Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, Boo Junfeng and Tan Pin Pin. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM
(From left) Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal, Jack Neo, Royston Tan, Tan Pin Pin and Boo Junfeng at a press conference on Tuesday for 7 Letters, a compendium of works by seven of Singapore's most well-recognised film-makers, made
(From left) Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal, Jack Neo, Royston Tan, Tan Pin Pin and Boo Junfeng at a press conference on Tuesday for 7 Letters, a compendium of works by seven of Singapore's most well-recognised film-makers, made to mark Singapore's 50th year. -- ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

This will be no "National Day Parade film", says Royston Tan about the compendium of works by seven of Singapore's most well-recognised film-makers, made to mark Singapore's 50th year.

Tan, 37, the spokesman for the group, says that the movie is not a "history textbook", or a statement of patriotism.

"It's the story of people who live here, from the 1950s to the present day. We don't want it to be a textbook lesson. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't do a textbook story," he says, with a laugh.

Titled 7 Letters, the project is an anthology of short works about the lives of Singaporeans, one from each of seven writer directors, to be released in July next year.

The film-makers are Boo Junfeng, Eric Khoo, K Rajagopal, Jack Neo, Tan Pin Pin, Royston Tan and Kelvin Tong.

Royston Tan, noted how, like him, some among them such as Eric Khoo and Tan Pin Pin, have made films banned by the authorities.

He jokingly referred to the group as the "Banned Of Brothers".

The anthology is fully funded by the Media Development Authority and the Singapore Film Commission, and originated from a pitch made by Royston Tan, Khoo and Tong. Tan declined to give funding figures.

The film-makers have been given a free hand, with no attempt made by the MDA or other bodies to shape the film other than a vetting of the "treatment", or rough sketch, he says.

At a press conference on Tuesday, they each gave details about their works.

Royston Tan, for example, says that his film will be about music, and set in the 1980s. He asked poet/playwright Alfian Saat, known for works that touch on race and politics, to write the lyrics for a Malay song in his film, to be sung by veteran singer Rahimah Rahim. Neither will appear in the film.

Khoo's film is a tribute to the pioneers of the local film industry who in 1960s "used Chinese producers, Indian directors, Malay actors" and whose Malay-language films were popular all over South-east Asia. Khoo, 49, adds that his work will be influenced by his love of the horror genre.

Ms Tan Pin Pin, 44, whose documentary on political exiles To Singapore, With Love was recently blocked from public screening for allegedly legitimising subversion in politics, says that she came on board with a treatment some months before the controversy over her documentary erupted.

"Everyone in this project just wants to celebrate Singapore's 50th anniversary," she says, summing up her feelings about the current brouhaha and her short. She says it is a road movie about a family searching for information about their roots.

Royston Tan says the inclusion of Tan Pin Pin and Alfian Saat is significant, as it preserves the "spirit of this special project, where we all come together as one community".

Singapore's most commercially well-known film-maker, Jack Neo, 54, says that his film is a love story set in a kampung in 1965 and reflects his memories growing up in Kampong Chai Chee.

For authenticity, all characters will speak in Hokkien, he says. It will be tricky to find children who can speak the dialect, he says, but he hopes to uncover a few through casting calls. According to the MDA's classification guidelines, "films with dialect content can be allowed on a case-by-case basis".

Royston says that a larger pool of film-makers were invited to join the project, including Golden Horse winner Anthony Chen (Ilo Ilo, 2013). But like Chen, they declined, citing conflicting schedules or personal reasons.

johnlui@sph.com.sg