Take a Bow, Moving Images


“A film venue should not just be a beautiful space to showcase work. It should also be a communal space where people can discuss the film works they have just seen and encourage each other. After all, film is a collaborative medium and how does one form a team, unless through friendships?”
- Tania Sng, Filmmaker

In February this year, the film community awakened to the news that The Substation's Moving Images programme would have its Swan song at February's First Takes. Reacting with a mix of desperation, shock, nostalgia and curiosity, active members of the independent film circle turned up at the final First Takes to soak in the final moments of Moving Images and to find out why this was happening. For many people, Moving Images or even The Substation, as a space, was the starting point of their filmmaking careers and a dozen important friendships. 

In the early 2000s, The Substation started to earn its reputation as a haven for emerging works. If they were snubbed by the established film festivals or commercial screening platforms, many independent filmmakers knew that their works may stand a chance with Moving Images. Never mind the creaky seats or the seeping through of sound from the bar ‘Timbre’. The film community that slowly emerged from this regular affair at The Substation treated it like home. It can almost be said that many names in the Singapore film community’s hall of fame had their roots, or for some, their first films screened at The Substation.

However, while many hold Moving Images in a special place in their hearts, attendance numbers did not reflect the same affection. One look around today reveals a more varied film landscape. Filmmakers today can hope for sharing they works between the two extremes of the glitzy Marina Bay Sands Theatre and the grungey underground Substation Guiness Theatre. Inevitably, the lure of huddling together at The Substation, every first Monday of the month (for First Takes) or other screenings has been diluted. 

Artist-curator Alan Oei took over The Substation as the Artistic director in 2015 and brought to the Substation some new impetus for change. To say the least, it has its eyes on a slightly different audience, a wider, less 'grungey' audience. In his own words, Alan relates that beyond being a place artists care about, he hopes it can be a place the general public cares about as well, and this would guide his efforts to bring change to The Substation. Moving Images was unfortunately on the 'weeding' list and remains so even after the Townhall discussion between Alan and arts practitioners, at The Substation on 31 March 2016. So we guess it’s goodbye, hard as it is to say. But memories can stay and here are some personal parting shots to take home.



Space 

The Substation was born alongside venues like the old Drama Centre at Fort Canning Park. The late Kuo Pao Kun could still be seen walking around in his slippers. He coined the term 'A worthy failure is better than a mediocre success'. The spirit of this phrase is well-channelled into the space we see at The Substation. Random well-executed graffiti surprises visitors at unexpected corners, including the toilets. The gallery space - a humble rectangular 'white box' - has been re-imagined by artists for countless shows, many of which were the edgiest you will ever see in Singapore. Even the first First Takes was held in the small Blue Room, more recently known as the Random Room, next to the Guiness Theatre - sinking its 'underground' roots right at the start.

“It was beyond a screening venue. To me, it was an educational institution without any accredited diploma or degree. We had a chalkboard (the projector) and lesson plan (the films). And some time, professors will come (invited filmmakers) to give a talk about their lesson plan (the film)……..It’s different from any cinema. It felt like a family watching films together.’
- Ghazi Alqudcy, Filmmaker

“First Takes …the way it allows showcases of films where it doesn’t quite have any agenda. The way it allows people to discover not just other people’s new works, but also allow people to discover new approaches to filmmaking through experimentation. There is a spirit of openness that seems to allow artists to take risks, regardless of outcome.” 
– Chai Yee Wei, Filmmaker

Some would argue part of its charm is its immunity from ‘gentrification’. Amidst the emergence of newer screening venues that were ‘gala-friendly’ or offered some ‘lifestyle’ chic, The Substation remained that ‘community centre’ that stayed as unpretentious as Madam Chua who locks up the rooms at the end of each day.

“The atmosphere was relaxed and I felt very at home. Since then, it has been a space for me to experience alternative films - experimental, documentary, even Asian and Israeli films. Many times, the screening venue is so packed that people are seated on the floor. But most of all, because it’s such a relaxed unpretentious space, filmmakers get a chance to meet, share and inspire each other.
– Tania Sng

“To be honest, it is really sad that filmmakers is loosing a primary space and a program that supports local filmmaking. But I think we will still continue this legacy with or without the program. We are stronger then dwelling over 'nostalgia’.”
- Ezzam Rahman, Filmmaker



Agenda

Moving Images had a persona. 

One could argue it was that of a slowly maturing 22 year-old punk rocker who had a ‘make-do’, ‘just come together and jam’ spirit about him. 

“I was a film programmer for Moving Images for 4 years, and it was one of the most treasured experiences in my time involved with film. The amount of freedom I had at The Substation, to be able to program and play around with different incarnations of micro-festivals, and other mediums while still incorporating film, was liberating and humbling.”
 – Aishah Abu Bakar, Moving Images Programmer 2010 - 2014

Indeed, there stood a prevailing sense that any film could find a platform with Moving Images, not that it was a home for orphaned works, but that the programmers behind it worked hard to stretch boundaries of genre and style. 
Moving Images was arguably a ground-up initiative and the programmers shaped it with their personal tastes, knowledge and flair. 

“I started working at The Substation in 1999. Those who came for the Moving Images programme then may recall seeing me tearing tickets and giving out photocopied programme flyers at the front-of-house, closing the door, running to the stage to introduce the programme, and then tip-toe-ing in the dark to the control room to play the VHS tapes. Lucky for me the "digital revolution" was around the corner and soon mini-DV tapes were introduced and we soon had "multiple" formats to play around with. Even though I was literally making my own tickets (photocopy and tear) and designing primitive flyers (photocopy and sometimes go to print if we had money), there was great energy and curiousity amongst the filmmakers and the audience. These were the people that made up our film community.

Because I had to be really resourceful, I reached out to many organisations I thought may be interested in other film cultures. I had no idea if they were interested in Singapore film but I offered an exchange programme, and as a cultural institute with a great history, The Substation was the perfect place for me to do not only film screenings but discussions and forums to create a deeper sense of understanding of what we were watching. I really wanted our film community to be connected to other film communities around the world. It doesn't sound like much now but this was a time before Youtube, Vimeo or Facebook was ever around. 
– Yuni Hadi, Moving Images Programmer 1999 - 2005

The Substation was that virtual ‘Black Box’ for many ideas. Owing to its spirit, mission and unique atmosphere, it gave rise to programmes no other venues could hope to develop. The Asian Film Symposium that started at the beginning of the millennium, helped forge some identity for Southeast Asian cinema, while allowing local filmmakers to reposition themselves from the knowledge of the greater neighbourhood out there. The Experimental Film Forum, questioned the boundaries of film and art, bringing some of the most adventurous, genre-bending works to the audience. Then there was that one night during Halloween in 2014, filmmaker Chris Yeo brought ‘Hell’ in its 18 incarnations to a full-house crowd hungry for spooks. Needless to say, no institution embodied the word ‘indie’ more than ‘Moving Images’, and no doubt its programmers over the years, from Yuni Hadi to Vincent Quek, ought to take full credit for feeding this ‘punk rocker’ and keeping it alive.


“One of my fondest memories of Moving Images was co-organising Asian Film Symposium 2015, where towards the end of the 4 day Symposium, 8 countries and their respective programmers and filmmakers enjoyed a hearty dinner and then drank till the wee hours of the morning. We had put our international guests up in a boutique hotel, where there was a common area on the 2nd floor with loads of beanbags and sofas. It was there that we all poked fun at each other, shared swear words in our own languages and generally been a tad obnoxious (but thankfully no one else was there in the wee hours of the night). The laughter, and drinks that we shared that late evening. after an intense 4 days of film screenings, panel discussions and Q&As was truly serendipitous. It reminded me that films are above all, about the relationships that we have and develop from person-to-person."
- Vincent Quek, Moving Images Programmer 2014 - 2016

“I remember the Third Experimental Film Forum fondly…… There was an overflow of audience members at the screening of Singapore experimental shorts, from filmmakers as young as 16. Revisiting 10 years of Lowave, our partner from the first Experimental Film Forum. Collection of short films from FLEXfest (USA), with the curators attending. Showcase of Charles Lim's video works, remixed in presentation. Debbie Ding's exhibition,  The Collection and Exchange of Ethnographic Fragments from Singapore, accompanied the first instance of a collaboration with the talented Kent Chan. Working with Kent Chan for the first time, with Drive.”
– Aishah Abu Bakar 

I hope for the local film community to continue the Experimental Film Forum started by Beng Kheng, then programme manager at the Substation. The Experimental Film Forum was not the festival to draw the biggest crowds, but I feel it was a festival which needed time to grow and be nurtured. To me it is an important festival which is a big loss to filmmakers who wish to attempt going into experimental filmmaking.”
- Wesley Leon Aroozoo, Filmmaker

“It was a madness filled with late nights in the office and in the theatre. There was even a time when I was testing the screen in the theatre at 3am and thinking what would I do if I were to see a ghost…..But there was also a lot of joy too….the friends I made, my wonderful colleagues Annabelle, Terence, Wai Chin, Emily, Chun Lai... the filmmakers that have pass through the Moving Images programme and whom I saw climb to greater heights... It really felt that Moving Images was doing something good.”
- Low Beng Kheng, Moving Images Programmer 2008 - 2010



Faces

No one misses the effervescence of filmmakers Ghazi Alqudcy and Ezzam Rahman at the Substation. They would often be seen helping out at the screenings, lending their larger-than-life energy to event. When the lights are turned off, the conversations continue outside the theatre and Ghazi and Ezzam are firmly planted somewhere amidst the tote-bag-sporting students, enthusiasts and other filmmakers. Their relationship with Moving Images is long-standing and deep and the idea of ‘home’ transcends the physical space. Moving Images has been an incubator for their passion for films, a periscope to the larger filmmaking world outside of Singapore and a basecamp for honing their craft. 

“I can’t really remember my first encounter with Moving Images but my close friend, Ezzam Rahman, introduced me to Substation. I remembered that it was Kristin Saw who was the program manager for Moving Images. 
At that period of time, I was still a student. I remember going to film screening events where I met many of my peers and colleagues of the film scene…. As a student, I did not have a lot of personal funds to watch films. Kristin gave me odd jobs like tearing tickets and allowed me to enter the theater for free. It felt good.

I became close to Moving Images and often volunteer to help them run the festivals. One of the best tasks was being the artist liaison. I met many wonderful filmmakers and programmers from other country. One day, I was tasked to pick up a female Hong Kong filmmaker (of which I totally forgotten her name). I was standing at the airport arrival gate, holding a piece of paper with her name written on it. She felt happy to see someone picking her up from the airport. In the taxi, I sat at the front seat to give her more space at the back. We talked a lot and I told her that I am jealous of her, someone picking her up from the airport. I told her that I wish I am at her position. She replied, “one day you will be.” A year later, I was invited to present my film at a small festival in Germany. I arrived in Germany at 5am in the morning carrying a heavy backpack. There stood a man all suit up holding a piece of paper with my name on it. The man insisted to carry my bag and escorted me to the festival limo. At that moment, all I remembered was that HongKong female filmmaker.”
- Ghazi Alqudcy 

“For me personally, back in 2008, I screened my ever first 3minutes short film / experimental video at First Takes. I received best film for that month and that encouragement kicked off a series of other experimental films / videos after and my works were screened in other venues locally and internationally. All thanks to Moving Images…. I will always miss the sense of "home" here where creatives get together to share, critic and encourage each other. A safe haven for us to witness each other's careers blossoms and grow. We supported, collaborated and worked with each other like one big family……On a side note, I remember going for screenings and having momentary crushes with cute good looking filmmakers! And after a screening there will be a question and answer session, I will ask a filmmaker whether he is single or not then flirt with them outside the theatre! Hahaha.”  
- Ezzam Rahman 

‘Basecamp’ can indeed be a word many independent filmmakers in Singapore associate The Substation with. In 2009, when MDA announced changes to its film-funding criteria, The Substation became a natural host to a series of community meetings among the most active independent filmmakers to debate and discuss film funding. At one point or another, Moving Images had been a pivotal part of the careers of many filmmakers, either through providing the first screening platform, the first contact with other filmmakers or that first important award. Conversely, good programmes aside, it was these faces who made Moving Images the ‘home’ it grew to be, that family living room where you could come and put your feet up on the couch. 


“I remember my first screening was a magical little screening that introduced me to this whole community of filmmakers and enthusiasts……In fact, my first memory of Moving Images is of Yuni tearing open the plastic wrap of packet drinks as she was setting up the front desk for my first film screening with the then emerging batch of filmmakers - Wee Li Lin, Han Yew Kwang, Royston Tan et al. Wenjie joined a little later if I remember correctly. It was a very friendly and unguarded atmosphere by the people running it……First screenings shape our outlook on the film scene, and I couldn't have asked for a better programme run by better people to nurture me in that way.”
– Sun Koh (Filmmaker)

“My favourite program from Moving Images was the Asian Film Symposium……So for one week in September, you get to watch amazing short films that you will never otherwise get to see (this was in the pre-Youtube days). And you have this bunch of young filmmakers together for a week. Before the screenings, everyone will meet at the coffee shop across the street for coffee and smokes. The front of house opens and everyone rushes across back to The Substation. These young filmmakers will be sitting in the front row, the first in line to watch each other’s short films. This happens screening after screening. You get this intense one week experience of film watching, talking, criticising and digesting. It is different from the one off screenings that happen elsewhere. No other local institution was doing it. When you see the films from each country consecutively, you appreciate the differences and similarities.”
- Hatta Moktar (Regular audience member at Moving Images)

“Besides the fact that Moving Images was the first programme in Singapore to showcase my films, the programme also ran a Digital Filmmaking workshop where I met Yee Chang Kang and Ho Choon Hiong. We attended the workshop together guided by Graham Streeter from USA. Many years later, Graham and I produced a feature film, CAGES together. Many of the friendships I have made at the Substations are dear friends to this day.”
- Tania Sng 

“It was my first exposure to the local film community. Many friends and important connections began from here.”
- Chai Yee Wei 

“Filmmakers would often go for coffee chitchat session after film screenings at the Moving Images. Often, it will be at the kopitiam nearby. I remember, being new to Moving Images, I walked to kopitiam with my friend Ezzam Rahman after a screening session. At that kopitiam, the same filmmakers from the screening are having their supper. Feeling awkward, me and Ezzam ordered our food and decided to seat at a different table. Victric Thng, stood up and pointed at us. Victric ordered us to join the table.”
- Ghazi Alqudcy 

“At some point there was a very visible line across the projection screen, but still we came to every screening to see our own films and those made by our regional and international friends, and we would stick around and chat about those films a lot.”
- Sun Koh

In this repository of memories and personal notes, can you find your own etching on the tree bark?


Classmates

Writer Ben Slater wrote an article titled ‘Whatever happened to the Class of 2002?’ The Class of 2002 referred to a pioneering batch of independent filmmakers whose films influenced the aesthetics and tonality of more locally-produced short films that were to come after 2002. They included Sun Koh, Han Yew Kwang, Wee Li Lin, Tan Pin Pin and a few others. Not quite a Singapore New Wave, but they certainly demonstrated how Singaporean cinema would look like to Singaporeans fed on Hollywood fare, right in the premises of the Substation. 

“Substation showed Moving House (1997 version), my first film, in 1997. The film was programmed by Audrey Wong and it was screening together with a few other international documentaries, one of which was by a Korean american director about Comfort women. I remember feeling very happy that someone thought that this homemade film was worthy of showing to the public, a documentary at that, given that documentaries weren't always on people's radar. At that time I can't remember if the programme was called Moving Images. The opportunities for screening work is so different now with a plethora of platforms on and off line, but at that time, it was an important landmark for me, in my journey as a filmmaker.” 
– Tan Pin Pin, Filmmaker

Over the last 10 to 15 years, Moving Images remained a cradle for local works and among the alumnus of First Takes, are some rather prominent names in Singapore cinema currently. While not always a first choice for filmmakers choosing where to ‘premiere’ their films, the numbers speak for themselves. Moving Images has arguably showcased the most number of independent works in Singapore and is the largest repository of local works. Premiere or no premiere, everyone’s screened something at Moving Images and faced questions from the audience. We’re all ‘classmates’ from the same school.

“To me, what I have gone thru with Moving Images has been vital to my filmmaking career. I am happy that I had the chance to be part of this family. Everything has its time, and this time its moving images ending. I am just sad that new generation of filmmakers wont be able to experience this.”
– Ghazi Alqudcy

“Moving Images, particularly, was dedicated to showcasing short films, emerging and returning filmmakers. Many venues now show feature films as they are more commercially viable. I certainly hope that there will still be a vibrant space that will showcase short films as it is a medium of its own. A poem, a moment, a feeling.” 
– Tania Sng

“Filmmaking has so many ups and downs, many filmmakers have had help along the way and support and resources are always needed especially independent cinema. Sometimes it's just about knowledge exchange and knowing that Singapore cinema extends beyond us to the next generation. We had a time when there were no Singapore films. We should not take what we have for granted.” 
– Yuni Hadi


Goodbye Moving Images,  but see you soon in another place, time and form.

Article by Dawn Teo, Ivan Choong and Jeremy Sing

Sindie would like to thank all the contributors to this article who kindly and freely shared their memories (and pictures)



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