You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Singapore’s Female Directors Tell Their Unique Stories

Emerging helmers combine different origins and backgrounds to convey their visions

What do an itinerant elephant in Thailand, a time capsule, a teenage girl on a mystic journey in Japan and a civil servant facing eviction have in common? They are the latest creative products of Singapore’s most promising female directors.

The works of Kirsten Tan (“Pop Aye”), Tan Pin Pin (“In Time to Come”), Nicole Midori Woodford (“You Are There”) and Wong Chen-Hsi (“City of Small Blessings”) reflect a fascination with temporality, loneliness, and quest for national identity and personal roots.

“Pop Aye” follows a Bangkok architect taking his elephant back to their native province. The project participated at Atelier Cinefondation and won the script prize at Sundance’s World Dramatic Competition. Dubai-based Cercamon handles world sales and clinched deals in 14 territories including the U.S.

The film was shot all over Thailand using local cast and crew led by veteran producer Soros Sukhum. Before making films, Tan spent two years selling T-shirts at Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market, and backpacked from south to north. Her experience formed the backbone of her story, which deals with the transience of success, love, ownership.

The protagonists of “Pop Aye” are all drifters, some by choice. Homelessness is a motif in Tan’s earlier shorts that portray outsiders such as a young Rohyinga refugee or a man stranded on an island.

“I left Singapore in my early 20s and over the years have lived in Jeonju, Bangkok, Chiang Mai and now New York,” says Tan. She’s studying film at NYU. “I was never sure where and when and how I fit in, so I’ve always felt for cultural misfits and outsiders who don’t sit comfortably within one particular system.” This is a source for her creativity: “For now, my personal anchor is cinema. It’ll always be there for me across space and time.”

Woodford is another filmmaker with the audacity to shoot her first film abroad. “You Are There” tracks the coming-of-age of 14-year-old Ami, who communicates with the dead. Her psychic visions of disaster take her from Singapore to Rikuzentakata near Fukushima to find and warn her estranged Japanese mother.

Descended from a Hiroshima survivor who married an Englishman, Woodford channels her own pluralistic identity to evoke the mysteries of genesis, mortality, love and loss through parallel threads of lives.

The co-founder of boutique production studio GreyXGray, Woodford was invited to join Eric Khoo’s Zhao Wei Films in 2014. Her project is in script development at Seafic Lab in Thailand. The producer is Jeremy Chua, who co-wrote and co-produced K. Rajagopal’s “A Yellow Bird” and co-produced Lav Diaz’s “Lullaby of a Sorrowful Mystery.”

Homelessness and solitude again color another female filmmaker’s work. Wong took the director prize at the Asian New Talents competition at Shanghai Film Festival for her 2012 debut feature “Innocents.” Her latest project, “City of Small Blessings,” based on her producer Fran Borgia’s favorite novel of the same title by Simon Tay, continues the theme of displacement in “Innocents.” Whereas that film depicted two children who feel estranged from the cynical world of adults, Wong’s new protagonist is a retired civil servant battling government eviction. Wong and Borgia are attending Cannes together for the Atelier Cinefondation.

Tan Pin Pin is known internationally for her unique visual poetry and piercing insight into her compatriots’ bright and dark sides. “I am interested in work that expresses feelings, people and ideas that has not been expressed for various reasons, or can’t be expressed because the protagonists don’t have a voice or aren’t allowed to speak,” she says.

“In Time to Come,” her newly minted fourth documentary weaves images and soundscapes of Singaporean life around the ceremonial exhuming of an old state time capsule and the compilation of a new one in 2015. Comparisons could be made with Tan’s debut feature “Singapore Gaga,” which records the sounds of the city. Making more daring moves in cinematography and editing, the film is an equally intriguing take on Singapore’s evolving environmental and cultural mosaic that also serves as an abstract meditation on the passage of time. The documentary was showcased at the Vision du Reel and Hot Docs film festivals, among others.

More Biz

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • Jonathan Lamy RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy Stepping Down From RIAA

    Jonathan Lamy, the Recording Industry Association of America’s longtime executive VP of communications and marketing, is stepping down from his post after 17 years, he announced today. As he put it in an email to Variety, “I started back in 2002, which means it’s been 17+ years, four different RIAA CEOs, three format changes and [...]

  • Fox Layoffs

    Disney-21st Fox Layoffs: TV Divisions Brace for Deep Cuts

    A second day of layoffs has begun on the Fox lot in the wake of Disney completing its acquisition of 21st Century Fox on Wednesday. Longtime 20th Century Fox Television Distribution president Mark Kaner is among the senior executives who were formally notified with severance details on Friday morning. 21st Century Fox’s international TV sales [...]

  • anthony pellicano

    Hollywood Fixer Anthony Pellicano Released From Federal Prison

    Anthony Pellicano, the Hollywood private eye whose wiretapping case riveted the industry a decade ago, was released from a federal prison on Friday, a prison spokeswoman confirmed. Pellicano was sentenced in 2008 to 15 years, following his conviction on 78 charges of wiretapping, racketeering, conspiracy and wire fraud. He had been in custody since 2003, [...]

  • This image taken from the Twitter

    HBO’s Reaction to Trump’s ‘Game of Thrones’ Campaign

    Everyone wants a piece of the “Game of Thrones” lemon cake. From Bud Light to Red Bull the world of Westeros is open to a lot of brand partnerships, unless you’re using that iconic typeface to push a political agenda. In November of 2018 President Donald Trump unveiled a “Thrones” inspired poster with the words [...]

  • Leaving Neverland HBO

    'Leaving Neverland' Lawsuit Proves to Be a Judicial Hot Potato

    The Michael Jackson estate sued HBO last month for airing the documentary “Leaving Neverland,” which accuses the late King of Pop of serial child sexual abuse. Since then, the case has had a difficult time finding a judge to handle it. Three federal judges have recused themselves in the last week, citing potential financial conflicts [...]

  • Members of the public mourn at

    Guy Oseary’s New Zealand Fundraiser Nears $150,000, Continues Raising Money

    In the wake of the horrific shootings at New Zealand mosques last week that killed some 49 people, Maverick chief Guy Oseary launched a GoFundMe campaign to “support those affected by this tragedy at this very difficult time,” and began it with an $18,000 donation. Boosted by donations from many celebrities — including Amy Schumer, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content