A Filmmaker Replies to his Critics
[Ed: Ellery Ngiam is a Singapore filmmaker whose short film Jia Fu (Family Portrait) was criticized by some commentators on a Singapore film bulletin board. One of them objected to an unnamed filmmaker who referred to himself as an artist in a TV interview. Below is Ellerys response to the critics. He has given me permission to reproduce his reply.]
This is my first time here in this bulletin board (sgfilm.com), and I wouldn't have known about it if a friend of mine hadn't told me. And when I saw a topic on my short film, Jia Fu, I couldn't help checking it out. So here I am. For nillujube [Ed: nickname of a writer], I would like to invite you to watch my film so that you can pass your own judgement, and then you can tell me what you think. I don't mind if you find that it sucks, as did a couple of other people. I am pretty fine with it.
After all, part of being a filmmaker is accepting criticisms, thus allowing growth as an artist. Ooh, it's the 'A' word again. Yes, I do like that word. But the last I checked, the dictionary defines artist as someone who practices an art form. And so long as you pick up a pencil to draw so much as a stick figure, I would think you are an artist. So if people prefer, let's just use the safer term, filmmaker. But all these are just mechanics, terms. What's important is the process, the struggle. The term is just a word. Nothing more.
As for the audiences who disliked my film or found it underwhelming, I am sorry. It was not my intention to make a film you didn't like. I was hoping to make a good film. But oh well, I just have to keep making short films. As for the story sucking or just not being there, I wanted to make a mood piece. And there were a whole lot of factors that contribute to why I wrote this film the way it was, with all the voice overs meandering in and out. It's something I will elaborate at another time.
But it's always interesting to see the contrasting reactions of foreigners and locals to my film, or Singapore films in general as a matter of fact. But I find that foreigners tend to have a very different perspective of Singaporean films, dissecting them more in depth, more willing to listen to the intentions and motivations behind the story. For example, for my film, when it was shown in Europe, the jury really liked the airport scenes as they depicted culture and ethnicity stranded in transit. As for the Thai audiences, what I was told that they really felt the pain of bankruptcy because Thailand was one of the most affected countries during the economic crisis. As for local audiences, they found it more amusing. And they didn't quite get why it is "six years ago..." What happened then? But enough of my film. The point is part of the joy of being a filmmaker is watching your film with a different audience every time, and learning about the cultures through their reactions toward the film. And I find that Singaporeans tend to be more harsh toward local films.
Granted, Singapore films tend to suck in general. I bitch about it all the time. Maybe because we're Singaporeans and we have a tendency to look down on anything local. Just look at our top local Mandarin pop artistes. They all had to go to Taiwan to prove themselves before we Singaporeans would even give them a listen. Or because we just like to complain about our country, period. I think because we, as Singaporeans, think our own culture is crass and boring, devoid of any personality, and that we are not confident that our culture is not artistic enough. However, you'll be surprised that how our culture is viewed outside our country. I have heard many interesting and surprising perspectives. But really, if you removed the burden of preconceived bias, you can find little gems. It doesn't have to be my film. But frankly I have seen very good Singapore films, most of them short films. But yes, they are out there.
So continue supporting Singapore films. And maybe, just maybe, they will stop sucking. And better, make films yourselves if you have not already done so. Because we need more competent film makers, not just filmmakers, but at least competent ones, if not great ones. It takes more than one filmmaker to create an industry. Yes, we got crazy censorship laws. Yes, we don't have the money. Yes, our stories suck. But at the very least, we are making films, striving for something better. Or what the gahment [Ed: Singlish for "government"] likes to call it, "a world class media hub." Shudder...
But that doesn't mean we should stop complaining. After all, we as Singaporeans are born to eat, shop and complain. It's just our culture. So, feel free to contact me if you want to have bitching sessions. Or even to bitch about me as an artist, no I beg your pardon, filmmaker. I do it all the time with my filmmaker friends.
I am a big fan of Holland Village [Ed: a yuppie enclave] and Coffee Bean near Cineleisure [Ed: an entertainment center]. The best bitching spots. By the way, if you have not figured out, I am Ellery Ngiam, writer and director of Jia Fu.
I hope you'll understand that I don't post my phone number on the reply.
In the mean time, cheers.