2 S'pore films on foreigners' plight bag awards

2 S'pore films on foreigners' plight bag awards
Film still from the short film, Dahdi.

Two short films about the plight of foreigners, made by Singaporeans, won top honours last night at the Silver Screen Awards, organised by the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF).

Dahdi (Granny), which won Best South-east Asian Short Film, was directed by Kirsten Tan, who is based in New York.

This work by Tan, 33, a director and cinematographer, was inspired by a 2012 event, where 40 boat people were picked up by a Vietnamese vessel denied entry into Singapore. They were believed to be Rohingya refugees escaping violence in Myanmar's western Rakhine state.

Another Singaporean, film-maker Shijie Tan, 33, won Best Singapore Short Film for Not Working Today. It is about a foreign worker who decides not to go to work one day, making his way instead to the authorities to ask for redress for the wages owed to him.

It was the first time the Silver Screen Awards had introduced a South-east Asian Short Film competition, which saw 19 short-film entries, including five from Singapore. The jury for this contest was headed by local director Royston Tan. His fellow jury members were Singapore-based, Malaysia-born actress Yeo Yann Yann and Vietnamese film-maker and video artist Nguyen Trinh Thi.

On the two winning Singaporean shorts, Royston Tan said they had "a lot of humanity" and that both were "a unanimous choice" for the judges.

Kirsten Tan said her film is set on Pulau Ubin and involves a Rohingya girl looking for refuge, who drops in on an elderly widow. "I felt like I wanted to do a film where there's a conflict between moral and legal responsibilities."

Her next film, Popeye, will be feature-length and produced by award-winning Singapore film-maker Anthony Chen. Set in Thailand, it is "an existential road movie with an elephant", she said.

Shijie Tan said his film was a statement against the injustices some foreign workers face. "I was angry that something like this could happen, not being paid, sometimes racking up huge medical bills because of injuries. I think this film needed to be made."

The Silver Screen Award's biggest prize, Best Film, was conferred on Court, a debut feature by India's Chaitanya Tamhane, which centres on the justice system in his country.

The first-time director also took home the Best Director award for his film, in which an ageing folk singer is tried for abetting the suicide of a manhole worker with an inflammatory song.

A total of 11 feature films were contenders in this Asian Feature Film Category.

The Singapore International Film Festival, which ends today, presented an Honorary Award to veteran South Korean director Im Kwon Taek, dubbed the father of modern Korean cinema. The festival also paid tribute to the late Sir Run Run Shaw, who founded Shaw Brothers Studio and TVB.

Well-known German actress Natassja Kinski and Taiwanese actors Cheng Pei-pei and Chen Bo-lin were among the celebrities who walked the red carpet before the awards ceremony.

This article was first published on December 14, 2014.
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