Women role models in film

Film-maker Kirsten Tan.
Film-maker Kirsten Tan.
Georgian film-maker Ana Urushadze.
Georgian film-maker Ana Urushadze.

Film-maker Kirsten Tan says that when she was younger and had ambitions to be a film-maker, role models who looked like her were in short supply in Singapore.

"Everyone was above 30 years old. They had a certain stature in society. They were big and people listened to them. I was just this not-that-tall, young woman," she says.

To learn more about film-making and find self-confidence, she went abroad and has been based overseas for 15 years, says the 35-year-old, who is based in New York.

But things are different now and she cites local film-makers such as Tan Pin Pin (In Time To Come, 2017) and Wee Li Lin (Forever, 2011) as examples of how a new generation has more role models.

Kirsten Tan was a guest speaker at a panel discussion yesterday at the National Museum of Singapore, held to mark the inaugural Inspiring Woman In Film Award.

Presented by Swarovski, the award honours "an outstanding female in film who promotes women's empowerment in her work", according to a statement from organisers.

Georgian film-maker Ana Urushadze, 27, has been chosen for the award, given for her "original storytelling and her bold approach to dealing with harsh and sensitive subjects", according to the statement.

The award will be presented to Urushadze at the Silver Screen Awards tonight during the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).

Her debut feature, the drama, Scary Mother (2017), is in competition at the SGIFF and is Georgia's entry to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film next year.

Also in the panel was Scary Mother lead actress Nato Murvanidze, who plays a housewife whose desire to express herself as a writer comes into conflict with the duties of a wife and mother.

Urushadze says the film's protagonist was a man at first, but as the writing developed, she changed it to a woman - "oppression of women is a universal thing", she says.

"And then, the part became more interesting and more complex and more serious."

Tan's lead character in her feature debut, Pop Aye (2017), is a middle-aged Thai man who heads cross-country with an elephant. That gender choice gave her pause when she was writing the screenplay.

"Strangely, I felt some guilt. Why did I not write a female character? Sometimes, as a minority, there is a burden to represent," she says of the film that would win a screenwriting award at the Sundance Film Festival and become Singapore's Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film next year.

She stuck to her original plan because she believes that when making art, the great film-makers would place universal values above gender.

"They would write about our shared humanity, morality and what they think of the world. Gender comes into the life of the character, but it should not be the centre."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2017, with the headline 'Women role models in film'. Print Edition | Subscribe