3 films on local-foreigner relations to premiere next week; 4th film based on zombies dropped

3 films on local-foreigner relations to premiere next week; 4th film based on zombies dropped
The works of budding film makers (from left) Sean Loo, Thomas Goh, and Alvona Loh have been selected for the Project Lapis Sagu anthology film 'Together Apart' on April 4, 2017. Photo: Project Lapis Sagu
Published: 7:12 PM, March 31, 2017
Updated: 7:13 PM, March 31, 2017

SINGAPORE — Three short films on local-foreigner relations will be released next week, though a fourth effort directed by Eric Khoo has been dropped on concerns among early viewers that the film's depiction of foreigners as zombies could cause offence.

The Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) said the first three films, developed as part of Project Lapis Sagu, Singapore’s first crowdsourced short film initiative, will premiere at Shaw Lido next Tuesday (April 4).     

Three local directors, Kelvin Tong, K Rajagopal and Sanif Olek, developed the films based on winning ideas submitted by the public. The initiative drew 1,209 entries, according to the ministry, noting that the three films sought to "explore relationships between Singaporeans and foreigners from different angles and settings".

The anthology would open with Rajagopal’s Sanjay, a story about a young couple who has just migrated from India to Singapore. The second film, Olek’s The Manifest, is a science fiction story that portrays the tensions between a Singaporean space engineer and a naturalised citizen while on a critical space mission.

The third film is Tong's B.M.T, short for Beijing.Mumbai.Tampines, which explores the shared experiences of National Service among Singaporeans and naturalised citizens.

“Making the Lapis Sagu short film has been eye-opening," said Tong. "There are many sensitivities surrounding the issue of social integration. Exploring the issue inevitably made us venture into unknown territory that was uncomfortable but ultimately rewarding.”

In a separate statement, however, MCI said participants at focus group discussions raised concerns about the fourth film, which was done in a "musical theatre style" by Khoo. It featured a Singaporean protagonist and foreigners depicted as zombies.

The story idea came from Ms Tan Zi Hui, 23, a laboratory executive working at Cancer Science Institute Singapore. She submitted one of the four winning entries for Project Lapis Sagu.

The ministry said the film was "done in a creative and light-hearted manner", but decided to drop it from the anthology after focus group participants who viewed the film "raised concerns that it might cause offence unintentionally if some of the scenes were interpreted out of context".

Khoo was quoted saying in the second MCI statement: "The prejudices that locals may have against foreigners are derived largely from irrational fears and phobias. I wanted to express the message that this ‘fear of the other’ could be overcome with understanding and acceptance, not in a preachy heavy-handed way but in a light-hearted, entertaining fashion.

"Thus, I chose to represent foreigners through the classic horror trope of zombies and to communicate the message via the popular musical theatre format. Considering the contemporary wide appeal of zombies (e.g. Train to Busan) and musicals (e.g La La Land), I felt that audiences would be open to the sonic and visual entertainment, while being exposed to the underlying message of social integration embedded within the short film.”

Ms Tan added: "This film, although meant to promote social integration, can also be misinterpreted in a drastically different way. I think this is enough reason to not release the film, as it may be used as a vehicle by viewers with ill intentions to propagate a divide between locals and foreigners in Singapore."