MCI to launch 3 short films to promote integration between Singaporeans, foreigners

(From left) Film-makers Sanif Olek, K. Rajapgopal, Kelvin Tong and Eric Khoo. Khoo's film was dropped from the collection because the test audience found that the film, which portrayed foreigners as zombies, might be regarded as offensive.
(From left) Film-makers Sanif Olek, K. Rajapgopal, Kelvin Tong and Eric Khoo. Khoo's film was dropped from the collection because the test audience found that the film, which portrayed foreigners as zombies, might be regarded as offensive. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - 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 Khoo's film with focus groups and the test audience found that the film - which explores irrational phobias - might unintentionally cause offence. To depict the "fear of the other", the film had portrayed foreigners as zombies.

The three films in the collection 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 on Friday (March 31).

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

Project Lapis Sagu, as the film-making contest was called when it was launched last November, attracted more than 1,200 entries.

MCI said that the films explore relationships between Singaporeans and foreigners from different angles and 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 each other's shoes."

Rajagopal's film Sanjay touches on the struggles of a young couple who have just migrated to Singapore 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. It was submitted by national serviceman Thomas Goh.

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

Tong's B.M.T. (Beijing, Mumbai, Tampines) explores the national service experience shared by Singaporeans and naturalised citizens - all of whom have poignantly similar conversations with their mothers. It was submitted by medical student Alvonah Loh.

Khoo, whose film was dropped, said that his film had 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.

The MCI noted that the message was a positive one and the film was made in a "creative and light-hearted manner".

"However, 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," it added.

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

The film may have been dropped, but the 23-year-old still won a cash prize of $5,000, like the 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 Tuesday night (April 4).