It is a landmark, one-of-a-kind project you will not get until Singapore’s centennial celebration of its independence, maybe.
Seven of the nation’s filmmakers are gathering to make a series of short films to mark Singapore’s 50th birthday in 2015.
And like the mix of people of different cultures and languages here, the “magnificent” seven also have disparate styles, approach and perspectives.
One creates documentaries about spaces and people, while another makes films with hard-hitting themes. Yet another is a household name with his family comedies.
But this time, there will be a common thread: Singapore.
On Tuesday 2 December, Boo Jun Feng, Eric Khoo, Jack Neo, K Rajagopal, Tan Pin Pin, Royston Tan and Kelvin Tong revealed more details of their cinematic collaboration.
‘LOVE LETTERS’ TO SINGAPORE
The anthology of seven short films, under the title ‘7 Letters’, will each have a different theme for the filmmaker to express their interpretation of home. Among them are stories of puppy love, identity, traditions, neighbours and change.
Royston Tan, who is leading this #SG50 project, said: “Through this film, we want to embark on a journey to tell personal stories that will inspire all Singaporeans. This is akin to us writing a love letter to Singapore.”
The film is scheduled to be released in July 2015 and will premiere at the new Capitol Theatre, which is still undergoing renovations.
Theirs will be the first film to be screened at the iconic cinema, which screened its last movie in 1998 before closing. The new 900-seater cinema will be Southeast-Asia’s biggest single-screen cinema, an apt setting for this historic project.
This is the first time all seven award-winning directors will be working on a film, which is made with the support of the Media Development Authority of Singapore and the Singapore Film Commission.
Tan continued: “It is rare to see so many directors coming together to work on a project. This is certainly one of its kind in the history of Singapore cinema.
“This film is almost like a time machine as it spans several years from the ’50s to present day.”
Tan Pin Pin is confident that the movie will work well with Singaporeans despite the different takes on the subject matter.
“This film is a celebration of our differences. We all have a common core… we have been making films for many years to tell Singapore stories. It will be exciting for audiences to see Singapore from so many different perspectives,” she said.
The seven directors in a publicity shot. Photo: '7 Letters'
Khoo, who gave us ‘12 Storeys’ and ‘Mee Pok Man’, will be paying tribute to the medium itself and specifically cinema’s Golden Age in Singapore in his short using the theme, ‘Legacy’.
He said: “I came up with this idea of ‘cinema’, and started thinking about the local films that I used to watch as a boy.”
The surprise is that it will be a musical with a horror tinge.
“I am a big fan of horror movies so I want to pay homage to the Malay horror films of the ’50s, which were huge box-office hits. The budgets they had back then were bigger than what we have today,” he quipped.
Royston Tan’s story based on the theme, ‘Songs’, is set in the 1980s. It is about two unlikeliest of neighbours and how they communicate and understand each other through music.
He said: "In the HDB (public housing) environment back in the ’80s, nobody locked their doors, nobody was very guarded. And I just want to remind the audience of the kampung (village) spirit, the Singapore lifestyle that we all used to have, and the human connection.
“I also wanted to capture the sound and music of that era, especially Chinese opera.” He even got together a defunct Chinese opera troupe to perform for his short film.
Primarily a documentary filmmaker, Tan Pin Pin, who chose the theme ‘Roots’, will be working on her first drama in 15 years. Earlier in September, her documentary ‘To Singapore, With Love’, was not allowed for public distribution and viewing.
In this project, hers is a road movie about a family searching for their roots.
“All my films have been love letters to Singapore and that love is manifested by searching, finding and digging out the truth,’ she said.
“‘Roots’ doesn’t necessarily mean which part of the world you come from, it can mean emotional or historical roots as well.”
Box-office darling Jack Neo said he would be paying tribute to the kampung life, which he misses. His short film will centre on puppy-love between two 12-year-olds.
He added that it will be in Hokkien, because it was the Chinse dialect spoken predominantly back in 1965 to 1975.
“This is a story that I have not told before,” Neo said. Although it is not inspired by personal experience, he said he combined all his kampung neighbours’ stories into one.
But the man who created box-office hits such as ‘Ah Boys To Men’ and ‘Home Run’ admitted that doing a 12-minute short film is a challenge for him.
“I am not good at short films, but I will try nevertheless,” he said.
Since the announcement of the project, the fraternity here has expressed support for the filmmakers.
Some have even joined in, including Golden Horse Award-winning composer Ricky Ho, singer-actress Rahimah Rahim, musician Patrick Chng, illustrator Koh Hong Teng and playwright Alfian Sa’at.
Royston said: "We have garnered a lot of interest not just from the film industry, but the arts community as well. Initially, it was to be a collective experience with the seven directors. But now, it's a collective experience with the entire arts community."
Musician and producer Chng is writing the score for Khoo’s film. The guitarist for Singapore band, Typewriter, has been watching old ‘Pontianak’ movies and studying music from that era.
Chng also roped in Famie Suliman from the band, The Pinholes, to write a Malay ballad that actress Nadiah M Din will sing in the film.
He said: “I'm really excited about working on this project and especially with Eric. He shot six music videos for my band, The Oddfellows, in the early 1990s, so it's great to be working with him again.”
‘7 Letters’ is scheduled for release in July 2015