“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.
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.
- Ghazi Alqudcy, Filmmaker
– Chai Yee Wei, Filmmaker
– Tania Sng
- Ezzam Rahman, Filmmaker
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.
– Aishah Abu Bakar, Moving Images Programmer 2010 - 2014
Moving Images was arguably a ground-up initiative and the programmers shaped it with their personal tastes, knowledge and flair.
– 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
- Wesley Leon Aroozoo, Filmmaker
- Low Beng Kheng, Moving Images Programmer 2008 - 2010
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.
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.
- Ghazi Alqudcy
- 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
- Ghazi Alqudcy
- Sun Koh
In this repository of memories and personal notes, can you find your own etching on the tree bark?
– Tan Pin Pin, Filmmaker
– Ghazi Alqudcy
– Tania Sng
– 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)
Written by SINdie