Movies en the Blocks: Finding the cinematic city at The Substation's Film Fest Weekend


With The Substation rolling out Cities change. People die. Everything you know goes away, the second phase of its on-going 3-year curatorial project under Artistic Director Alan Oei, where the works of artists and field specialists are enlisted to examine Singapore's urban culture critically, Singapore's art calendar has no doubt received another boost in its third quarter for those hungry to explore more of Singapore’s public memories, and the spaces where they are birthed.

Cinephiles paying attention would likewise get a kick when they realise what is ahead during the upcoming Film Fest Weekend, curated by guest producer Jeremy Chua, who has produced for the likes of the Filipino master Lav Diaz and co-wrote Singapore’s own A Yellow Bird. The lineup, which features award-winning Brazilian drama Aquarius by Kleber Mendonça Filho, the Un Certain Regard nominee Western by Valeska Grisebach, Land and Shade, the Caméra d’Or-winning debut from Colombian director César Augusto Acevedo, and West of the Tracks, the 9-hour long debut of Chinese master documentarian Wang Bing, in a free daylong screening, explores the ever-present tensions between the relentless development and redevelopment of our spaces in pursuit of economic growth and the fissures such acts sow in the lives of the voiceless and disenfranchised.

Sharing some tips on finding the cinematic in the spaces of our every day lives, Jeremy lets us pick his brains for a quick bit:

What was the selection process like?

The programme is a response towards an article written by Amanda Lee Koe called If this is home, truly, it should look like home (The Straits Times, 1 April 2018). The article is an eloquent protest against pro-economic redevelopment on sites of Singapore's iconic brutalist architecture, namely People's Park Complex, Pearl Bank Apartments, Golden Mile Complex and Golden Mile Tower, essentially eradicating our architectural heritage and re-defining our socio-historic landscape. The collection of these four films intends to provide the audience with food-for-thought and another perspective about what happens to people when their everyday living environment - living or non-living - changes as a result of economic progress.

Where and what do you feel are some of Singapore's spatial heritage that can be explored cinematically?

Every nook and cranny. I think that the capsule quality of films mean that they will become artefacts for the future. This relates to how our landscape is a mark and reflection of our way of life. When Rajendra Gour's Sunshine Singapore played at Singapore Shorts '18, the audience had the chance to witness Clifford Pier again. This is priceless.

Is space depicted differently in cinema from different parts of the world?

Yes. As they should be. All filmmakers tell of a different reality from different eyes.

Does cinema have the potential to be hazardous to public memory?

Just like any weapon, cinema has the potential to defend or deface. It depends on who is wielding the weapon.

The films talk about ruralism being encroached by economic redevelopment or values. What makes cinema the best medium to depict this tension?

I think that any form of storytelling, be it cinema, theatre or books, use different vocabulary and grammar to convey ideas and emotions. Cinema just happens to be one of the most exportable mediums to an international audience. There is also something about sound and images communicating in a dark room that remains a special introspective experience. 

What do you feel are some ways to preserve spatial memories, and thus what should be some of the considerations when filmmakers capture a space?

In a time of epidemic demolition and reconstruction, it's quite difficult to answer this question. As a country, we need to set our priorities. How much history and heritage are we willing to sacrifice at the cost of development? If the intention is to maintain authenticity, then perhaps an understanding of the history of the space and how the space relates to it's surroundings and inhabitants are important.

Tickets are available here, and the event runs from 27th to 29th July at The Substation.

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