Taking a Turn for the Letter

Published on 7 July 2015

An omnibus of seven films by seven celebrated Singaporean directors promises to be a special treat.

TEXT BY PAMELA HO

How do I tell you how I feel? What you mean to me? What memories I still hold of you, of the stuff that made us laugh and cry, the daydreams we shared, and what I secretly hope in my heart we will become?

In the not-too-distant past, our deepest heartfelt feelings were penned in letters, pen to paper, heart to heart. It was an intimate endeavour that has fast been replaced by WhatsApp text messages, Emojis and Facebook status declarations.

But for seven acclaimed Singaporean film directors — Eric Khoo, Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, Jack Neo, K Rajagopal, Tan Pin Pin and Kelvin Tong — telling Singapore what she means to them felt like penning love letters. The result? 7 Letters — an emotive showcase of seven short films for Singapore for SG50.

“Working on our individual short films called for an intimate reflection on our unique stories and connections with Singapore, and this reminded us of writing personal letters,” says Young Artist Award recipient Royston Tan, who helms the project. “It’s really a ‘ground-up’ initiative. An idea was sparked and we each took it and ran with it. What’s exciting is seeing seven directors with very different styles come on board the same project.”

VISIONS OF LOVE

Our ‘letters’ differ in terms of time periods, relationships and settings; and they stem from various aspects of our own memories of Singapore, but what threads them all together is a common sense of home,” Boo reflects. “7 Letters is a genuine portrait of what it means to us to be Singaporean.”

Boo, another Young Artist Award recipient, describes his film, Parting, as a bittersweet love letter to Singapore. It tells the story of a man who returns to Singapore from Malaysia in search of a woman he used to love. “Society wasn’t ready for their relationship back then. Now that it is, so much has been lost,” he shares. “I hope the film inspires some introspection,” Boo says. “It’s especially meaningful this year to think about who we are as a people and what we want to become.”

For Royston Tan, his short film, Bunga Sayang, catches precious memories from childhood. Set in the 1980s, it revolves around neighbours who don’t speak the same language, but communicate through their love of music. “I wanted to capture the sounds and music of my childhood — one of it being Chinese opera,” he reveals, adding that he shot the film in an abandoned block of flats.

Khoo’s Cinema is a tribute to the pioneer generation of film-makers in the Golden Era of Singapore cinema. From 1947 to 1965, over 250 local films were made by Shaw Brothers and Cathay-Keris production studios. The ’70s to ’80s saw Singapore cinema almost grind to a halt before Khoo’s Mee Pok Man revived hopes in 1995.

“Cinema is about working towards something you believe in, regardless of difficulties and circumstances. Ultimately, it’s about passion,” states Cultural Medallion recipient Khoo, adding that he started out making short films, and this was a timely revisiting of his roots.

THE WAY LOVE GOES

Was it this passion that inspired other bigwigs in the Singapore creative community to jump on the bandwagon? Among those throwing their weight behind 7 Letters are Golden Horse-winning music composer Ricky Ho, President’s Design Award recipient, Larry Peh, Singapore’s first lady of song, Rahimah Rahim, and award-winning author and playwright, Alfian Sa’at.

“I feel honoured to be part of this project, to art-direct, craft and tell the seven stories through graphic design,” says Peh, founder and director of &Larry, an award-winning design studio. “To conceptualise a unique theme for each ‘letter’, we gathered inspirations, artefacts and handwritten notes from each director. We then strung the works of the diverse directors together seamlessly.” Peh also invited Singaporean artist and illustrator, Koh Hong Teng, and calligrapher Clarence Valerius Wee on board to add their own unique touch to the project.

Composer Ho also stepped in to score for the opening and end credits of 7 Letters. “I watched all seven short films to get an idea of the stories, then chose to have the music played by the Bulgarian National Radio Symphony Orchestra. It’s my first time collaborating with them and they’re excellent!”

RAIL TO REEL Parting, a short film by Boo Junfeng, was shot at the now-defunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (above and right).

THE GIFT

7 Letters, made with the support of the Singapore Film Commission, is the first-of-its-kind and will be the first film to grace the big screen at the newly-refurbished Capitol Theatre, marking the cinema’s much-awaited return after a 17-year hiatus.

“This is a heartfelt gift to Singapore by its creative arts community. We only got to where we are today because of the generous support of the people around us,” acknowledges project leader Tan. “All seven of us know, too, of many people among us who need our support to overcome their adversities.”

The seven directors have unanimously agreed to donate all proceeds of the screenings to causes they support. Among the seven beneficiaries are the Alzheimer’s Disease Association, Children-At-Risk Empowerment Association and Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore.

All tickets for 7 Letters will not be priced. If you’re planning to catch the showcase of seven short films, it’s up to you to make a donation — and make it your own love letter.

THE WAY WE WERE Eric Khoo’s Cinema is a tribute to the pioneer generation of film-makers in the Golden Era of Singapore cinema.

The gala screening of 7 Letters is on at the Capitol Theatre, 24-26 July. For more information, visit www.7letters.sg.

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