Kirsten Tan's Pop Aye first Singaporean feature to compete at Sundance Film Festival

Local film-maker Kirsten Tan, whose debut feature, Pop Aye, will premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival next year.
Local film-maker Kirsten Tan, whose debut feature, Pop Aye, will premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival next year.PHOTO: NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL

SINGAPORE - Pop Aye, the debut feature from local film-maker Kirsten Tan, is set to premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival next year. It will be the first time a Singaporean movie will compete at the largest indie film festival in the United States.

Pop Aye follows a middle-aged architect and his elephant as they travel across Thailand in search of the farm they grew up on. It was shot entirely on location in Thailand with Thai actors and crew.

It makes its world premiere at the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, which takes place from Jan 19 to 29 in Park City, Utah.

The film is up for several awards, including the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema Directing Award and the Audience Prize.

Writer-director Tan, 35, says she was "over the moon" when she first heard the news. "Having lived in New York for close to a decade, it feels truly special to have my first film play at such a prestigious American film festival like Sundance," she says.

She 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.

Sundance Film Festival is closely associated with veteran Hollywood star Robert Redford's effort to champion film-makers. Some of the acclaimed and beloved titles that have emerged from the festival over the years include Oscar-winners Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Boyhood (2014), and the Oscar-nominated Beasts Of The Southern Wild (2012).

The last time a Singaporean film was selected for Sundance was Meng Ong's Miss Wonton, about a Chinese immigrant in New York City, in 2000.

The accolades for Tan's short films had marked her as a film-maker to watch.

Dahdi (Granny), in which an elderly widow living on Pulau Ubin comes across a young asylum-seeking girl, was named Best South-east Asian Short Film at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2014. She was hailed as Best Director at the same festival in 2007 for Fonzi, about a character who realises she is not real.

In 2006, her short film about causality, 10 Minutes Later, won silver at the Czech Republic's Brno Sixteen film festival.

The feature Pop Aye has already been feted - it won Torino Film Lab's top production prize of €60,000 (S$90,950) in 2014.

Its executive producer Anthony Chen, himself a winner at Cannes Film Festival and the Golden Horse Awards for the family drama Ilo Ilo (2013), says: "We hope to continue the wave of recent successes that Singapore films have achieved with Pop Aye. This empowers us even more in the work that we do at Giraffe Pictures, supporting and nurturing emerging Singaporean and Asian film-makers."