Local lit goes on screen

Cinema Still: 2 Mothers, a short film by home-grown film-maker Royston Tan.

SINGAPORE - Five home-grown film-makers - Royston Tan, Kat Goh, Lillian Wang, Ric Aw and Pok Yue Weng - will bring Singapore literature to life on the big screen at this year's edition of Utter.

The annual event is a precursor to the Singapore Writers Festival, which will take place in November.

Last year, literary works were adapted for the stage by playwrights Lee Chee Keng and Jean Tay.

This year, Singapore Writers Festival teamed up with Objectifs Centre for Photography and Filmmaking for a fresh take on Singapore poems, novels and short stories. While the film-makers, who were picked by Objectifs, had free creative rein, the visual arts centre offered guidance where necessary.

The film-makers chose from 33 literary pieces shortlisted by the festival organisers.

Their four short films - Aw and Pok directed a film together - are about 10 to 20 minutes each and will be screened at Objectifs on Aug 24 and 25, then at The Arts House on Sept 14 and 15.

Utter's curator Yuni Hadi, 36, says: "Short films are the short stories and poetry of the film world - they allow us to tell stories that are important but consumed in a different way.

"They are more fluid in plot lines and structure.

They are, in fact, the perfect medium for the younger generation that is used to consuming bite-sized videos online."

Such adaptations do have their challenges, though.

Film-maker Wang, 39, who adapted a chapter of Suratman Markasan's novel Penghulu, says one of the biggest challenges was finding a story which would translate visually to film.

Penghulu is about a fishing village chief who is forced to relocate to a HDB flat. "As a film-maker, you worry about being able to do these works justice," says Wang.

Ultimately, she chose to adapt a story which she could relate to. "I liked the themes that it explored - identity, displacement and loss. The story is set in the 1970s but I set the film in modern times as I felt the themes are relevant to Singaporeans today."

Tan, 36, took a similar tack. He adapted two poems - Arthur Yap's well-known 2 Mothers In A HDB Playground and a poetic response titled Two Mothers Over A Wall In Queen Astrid Park by Foo Chen Loong - for the nostalgia they evoked in him.

But he decided to reflect the displacement he felt when he produced the film adaptation. "The poems were written a long time ago so reading them now, the context is different. I wanted to show that sense of displacement, of living in a different time and of a person feeling imprisoned in a different era because he is unable to adapt to how quickly the environment or the people around him are changing," he says.

For his 10-minute film, titled 2Mothers, he combined both poems into a monologue and set his film in a warehouse that sells old kiddy rides from the 1980s.

Filmed in one continuous shot, which took 18 takes to get right, the film follows a mother as she relives her life in the 1980s in her mind. Determining the breadth of their creative licence with the text was another challenge.

For Goh, 40, who worked with Soup Of The Day by David Leo, a short story about a wife's revenge on an abusive husband, this was her first experience adapting a short story to film.

"I was stuck on the idea that I had to shoot the story as it is, but it's a story which spans a few days, which is hard to turn into a 10-minute film," she says.

She went through six drafts before settling on a final script for her film, Bak Kut Teh, which changed the story's ending, but says it still stays true to the sinister plot.

Ultimately, the process was a rewarding one for Goh, who rarely reads Singaporean literature and has never read any of Leo's works.

" I usually focus on family stories... Choosing this story gave me a chance to expand my creativity."

Raising awareness of Singapore writers and filmmakers is one of the showcase's primary goals, says Ms Yuni.

"We hope that people who love both books and movies will be able to take away something from these films.

We want our audience to discover a writer or a new film-maker they never knew before."

vlydia@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

Purchase this article for republication.

SERVICES