The 2017 Life Power List

An aye for film-making


7 Kirsten Tan, 35, film-maker

Her impressive debut feature, Pop Aye, has collected a string of accolades - including being picked as Singapore's entry to the Academy Awards next year - but the journey began two years ago when writer-director Tan locked eyes on Bong the elephant.

"It was too good-looking," she said in an earlier interview.

Now Bong's serene presence has been felt in cinemas all over.

At the Zurich International Film Festival, the film, which tells the story of a Thai man who goes on a cross-country quest with his watermelon-loving four-footed buddy, picked up the prize for best international feature film.

At the Sundance Film Festival, it won a screenwriting award.

This is the first time the young film-maker, who is based in New York, is on the Life Power List.

After stints living and working in Jeonju in South Korea and Bangkok in Thailand, she did a master's degree in film production at the renowned Tisch School of the Arts in New York University and made several short films that travelled festival circuits.

Pop Aye was produced by Singaporean film-maker Anthony Chen, whose film, Ilo Ilo (2013), won the Camera D'or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

"I never thought my film would be able to reach audiences from Singapore to Mexico to Japan to the United States," she says in an e-mail interview.

The scrutiny has had her feeling "naked and exposed", says Tan, who is not married. But she adds: "Yet I am moved and surprised that with this vulnerability came connection and appreciation from complete strangers, with whom I might not even share a language."

She is looking forward to some time off after a gruelling year of touring and promotion.

"I have been itching to start writing again so, hopefully, come 2018, I get to hibernate a little in the comforts of home and start penning down ideas that have been brewing in my head."

John Lui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 03, 2017, with the headline 'An aye for film-making'. Print Edition | Subscribe