3 short films and a message

Local film-makers (from left) Kelvin Tong, K. Rajagopal and Sanif Olek will each have a film in the collection, called Together Apart.
Local film-makers (from left) Kelvin Tong, K. Rajagopal and Sanif Olek will each have a film in the collection, called Together Apart. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE PICTURES, ST FILE, NEXUS

MCI presents collection which explores relations between locals and foreigners

A collection of three short films, each of which explores relations between Singaporeans and foreigners, along with issues of social integration, will be released next week.

Presented by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), this collection was initially supposed to comprise four films. The number was cut by one after a film produced by Eric Khoo was dropped by the ministry.

The ministry said it tested the film with focus groups and the test audience found that the film - which explores irrational phobias - might unintentionally cause offence. To depict "fear of the other", the film had portrayed foreigners as zombies.

The three films in the collection called Together Apart were directed by Kelvin Tong, K. Rajagopal and Sanif Olek. They were produced based on ideas submitted by the public in an online contest, the ministry said yesterday.

"These ideas originated from the public, and our directors helped develop them further," said Ms Karen Tan, who is senior director of MCI's public communications division.

Project Lapis Sagu, as the film-making contest was called when launched in November, takes its name from the multi-layered dessert, and holds it up as a symbol of integration and tolerance. The contest attracted over 1,200 entries.

MCI said the films explore relationships between Singaporeans and foreigners from different angles and in different settings.

"All three arrive at the same meeting point - that we can move beyond our differences and find common threads that bind us - if we take a moment to put ourselves in one another's shoes."

Sanjay, the Rajagopal film, touches on the struggles of a young couple who have just migrated here from India. The theme was submitted by digital film student Sean Loo.

Sanif's film, The Manifest, is set hundreds of years in the future, in space. It explores tensions between a Singaporean space engineer and a naturalised citizen, who are on a critical mission. The theme was submitted by national serviceman Thomas Goh.

"There is so much literature about how locals should be more accepting, but new migrants also need to break away from their enclaves and mingle with locals,"said Sanif.

Tong's B.M.T. (Beijing, Mumbai, Tampines) examines the National Service experience shared by Singaporeans and naturalised citizens - who have poignantly similar conversations with their mothers. The theme was submitted by medical student Alvonah Loh.

Khoo, whose film was dropped, said it sought to show that "fear of the other" could be overcome with understanding and acceptance. "I chose to represent foreigners through the classic horror trope of zombies and to communicate the message via the popular musical theatre format," he said.

MCI said the message was a positive one, and the film was made in a "creative and light-hearted manner". However, it added, "focus group participants who viewed the film raised concerns that it might cause offence unintentionally if some of the scenes were interpreted out of context".

Laboratory executive Tan Zi Hui, who submitted the idea for the film, called it a "pity", but she understood MCI's decision to drop it. "The film, although meant to promote social integration, could also be misinterpreted in a drastically different way," she said.

The film might have been dropped, but the 23-year-old still won a cash prize of $5,000, as did three others who submitted ideas that were made into films. The three films will be available free online at the website www.lapis-sagu.sg from next Tuesday night.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline '3 short films and a message'. Print Edition | Subscribe