For me, it was a thoroughly and morally uplifting experience on the last Sunday in October in 2012. And an enthralling and refreshing walk in this film fest Eden at The Substation in this Little Red Dot, and, from the films exhibited, it was invigorating to see how many brave people there are worldwide, who are prepared to sacrifice and put their lives on the line for their beliefs; and, to speak out fearlessly for their fallen heroes, and, their dear friends and loved ones, detained and separated for long periods under atrocious conditions; and the shameless and moral outrage perpetrated on the common folks and detainees, by corrupt politicians and religious bigots and zealots, who control the MSM and the security forces in their land; hiding away on what they are doing, while mouthing their form of “democracy” and what the good Lord has ordained; whilst, trespassing on their human rights and stealing the land from those, whose past and livelihood are bonded to their land. In the end there is always hope, as the indomitable human spirits always rises, like the Phoenix from the ashes.
I have not been to a film festival for yonks but the email flyers by Teo Soh Lung, and Ho Choon Hiong, Film Festival Coordinator, of Function 8, the host of the event, were so appealing that I moved everything aside and cleared the deck for the 10 hour Freedom Film Fest 2012 at the Substation on the last Sunday in October 2012, with its various themes:-challenges to democracy, dare to document abuses to human rights, the face of the human spirit in crying out for freedom in the face of political and religious oppression and, civil liberties.
FFF 2012 was also held in conjunction with Singapore Alternative Art and Book Festival.
What follows is a personal narrative of events at FFF 2012, profiles of the films exhibited, and moderators, a recollection of the post-film discussions, and some critical commentary on what transpired and reviews of the films screened.
The Freedom Film Fest (FFF), initiated by Malaysian NGO, Pusat Komunikasi Masyarakat (KOMAS) in 2003, has been the platform for filmmakers to showcase their work and to advocate important issues such as human rights. The festival’s recent circuit, and, in 2012 have included Selangor, Penang, Johor, Sarawak, Sabah, and now Singapore for the final leg.
Function 8 is an initiative and a social enterprise formed by a group of citizens who strongly believe that there is a need to facilitate the sharing of social, political and economic experiences of those who had, or are eager to contribute to society through reflection and civic discussion (https://fn8org.wordpress.com/).
Function 8 is to be congratulated in moving with swiftness to finalize the arrangements for the FFF 2012, since the Singapore’s official censor, Media Development Authority (MDA), only approved on the Thursday 25 October 2012, and, rated all 7 films submitted for screening.
One film, “Call Me Kuchu” was rated R21 for “Homosexual Content and Religious References”. Two films were rated M18, another three NC16 and one film was rated PG.
Choon Hiong in his introduction acknowledged the invaluable support from Komas (www.freedomfilmfest.komas.org/), especially, Arun Prakash, who was in attendance, and also credited James Gomez and Martyn See Tong Min with the foresight for bringing Freedom Film Fest to Singapore two years ago. He also thanked the moderators, Tan Pin Pin and Lynn Lee, both Singaporean filmmakers for acting as Moderators for the Post-Screening discussion sessions, and also The Substation for being the venue sponsor.
Choon Hiong introduced K C Chew, the Chairman of The Substation (http://www.substation.org/) to declare the opening of FFF 2012. KC thanked Choon Hiong for the invitation to open Singapore’s FFF 2012, which is being held in conjunction with Singapore Alternative Art and Book Festival and said that in line with the style of Patron of The Substation, Ambassador Tommy Koh, he will say three things.
First – Although he is not a film buff, KC said that films have had a profound personal effect on his life. In 1977, when he was taking a holiday break from NS, he visited his sister who was studying at Yale, and was very impressed by the quality of films screened by the Yale Film Society. When his sister’s boyfriend, and now his brother-in-law, asked him whether he was applying to Harvard, KC replied that Harvard was too mythical and too full of itself. But then he was told that Harvard screened more films than Yale, which then attracted him to go there.
KC mentioned 3 films as being significant in the way they helped to shape his understanding of politics as a young man, and his view of what politics can mean in society’s civilizational development. (a) Costa-Gavras’ “Z,” a 1969 French language political thriller, with a screenplay by Gavras and Jorge Semprún, based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos (in turn revolving on the 1993 assassination of democratic Greek politician Grigoris Lambrakis); (b) the 1970 French-Italian film The Confession (French: L’Aveu) also directed by Costa-Gavras, and based on the true story of the Czechoslovak communist Artur London, a defendant in the Slánský trial; and, (c) Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, a 1966 war film based on occurrences during the Algerian War (1954–62) against the French Government in North Africa, the most prominent being the titular Battle of Algiers, in which the French counter-terrorist squad hunted the Algerian freedom leaders by triangulating them from the bottom of the pyramid to the top.
Second – KC said that it was no accident that The Substation was chosen as the screening venue. For the past 21 years, it has been the home for the Arts, pushing the boundaries in Singapore for the discourse for the Arts and Social movement. The Singapore Government has been increasing their funding, currently at 25% of the Substation’s annual budget. And there is of course, the continuing debate for them to control 100% the activities of the Substation. The response has been that the Singapore Government should do what it has to do to control, whilst The Substation must remain independent to do what it must. And in the end, the Government will look good for what has been done, so they should learn to back off. The civil society part of The Substation’s activities is a small but nevertheless important segment, which the Board of Trustees sees as an important part to preserve a uniquely Singapore with the Singapore government as a partner.
Third – KC introduced his fund raising appeal by recalling the number of friends that he and his children have on Facebook ( KC has 324 friends, his 21 year daughter has 785 friends with 33 mutual friends, and his 18 year old daughter has 1135 friends with 28 mutual friends, and his son has 528 friends with 28 mutual friends).
He appealed to all at the screening, that if each one of us were to put on our Facebook site, and get 20 friends to visit The Substation website, and, and if each of the 21 were to donate S$100, and assuming, we have an average 50 respondents from the audience, all reacting positively on their Facebook, then the S$105,000 raised would go a long way in significantly addressing The Substation’s annual budget’s shortfall in this their 21st Anniversary Year.
When I rushed in after the registration into the theatre at 11.07am, I was stumped by the pitch black darkness. Fortunately, I was given a helping hand to a seat on the side. And Chen Weijun’s Please Vote for Me was already running for some 5-6 minutes.
Film # 1: Chen Weijun’s Please Vote for Me
54 mins | Chinese with English and Bahasa Malaysia subtitles.
Produced by Don Edkins. Editing by, Jean Tsien. Production Company: Steps International Axeltorv 12Bygning C, DK-1609, Copenhagen V Denmark.
Film & Director’s Profiles
Chen Weijun is an award winning documentary film director and producer living in Wuhan, China. His 2003 “To Live Is Better Than To Die”, won a Peabody and Grierson award, as well at the Rodlf Vrfba Award from the One World Festival. After graduating from the journalism program at Sichuan University in 1992, he joined the documentary production department of the Wuhan regional TV station. His first film, My Life Is My Philosophy, was nominated for the best documentary of the year by the Chinese National Association of Broadcasters.
The film is one of ten selected as part of the Why Democracy? project, which saw interpretations of democracy by 10 film makers from around the world broadcast on 42 television networks in October, 2007, to audiences of more than 300 million people in nearly every country in the world.
The film also received the following accolades: DOCNZ International Documentary Film Festival: Best International Documentary & Screenrights Best Educational Film. Ashland Independent Film Festival: Best Documentary Feature; Silverdocs: Sterling Grand Jury Award for a Feature; Emmy Awards: Nominated for Best Documentary; In November 2007, Please Vote for Me was named by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as one of 15 films on its documentary feature Oscar shortlist. The list was narrowed to five films on January 22, 2008, but Please Vote for Me did not make it to the final five.
Review & Commentary
So those of us who manage to catch this film at FFF 2012 was very privileged indeed to view what 300 million people saw in 2007 in free to air broadcasts.
The tag line to FFF 2012 for this film is Challenges to Democracy. Some of the questions raised in the film are: Is democracy a universal value that suits human nature? Do elections inevitably lead to manipulation? Please Vote for Me is a portrait of a society and a town in the PRC through a school, its children and its families. The purpose of Chen Weijun’s experiment is to determine how democracy would be received if it came to China. And Chen Weijun in making his film has conducted his own experiment in democracy.
The film revolves around three children in the Grade 3 Class at Evergreen Primary School in Wuhan, the joint city that straddles the Yangtzekiang, approximately the size of London. It documents the class’ first encounter with democracy through the electioneering process in the three candidates getting their class mates to vote for them to be their Class Monitor (“CM”), a much coveted position, as the CM is the proxy for the Teacher in ruling the roost.
The film shows the intricacy at how the three are, abetted and egged on by their custodian and doting parents. Elections in China take place only within the Communist Party, and behind closed doors, but recently millions of Chinese voted in their version of Pop Idol.
Chen Weijun’s choice of the three children: Xu Xiaofei (“I am the one who will work hard and make you happy. I will be the right choice”); a somewhat chubby Cheng Cheng (“I want to be the Class Monitor because you can order people around”); and Luo Lei, the eventual winner (“If I am not strict, you kids will never obey me. Just try me!) is interesting.
Early on in the film, Xiaofei was subjected to the class’ taunts; vilified by the rants of the Little Red Guards variety; she broke down in tears, only to be comforted by her guardian back home. It is obvious that she is handicapped in the race, and her family support is not that direct, even though she is musically talented, and shows some inner resilience despite her harrowing experience in class.
Cheng Cheng has a supportive mother who coaches him in the various sessions leading to the final polling day, and the film catches him in interesting dialogues with Luo Lei on how they would each vote and the reasons why if they voted for themselves, and showed his anxieties in his practice sessions on the emphasis of delivery in his final pitch to his class.
Ultimately, it was Luo Lei’s father, who was the security guard on the city’s new train system, who organized a class outing, and also made sure on the day before the polling, all the gift packs for Luo Lei to present to the class for the forthcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday, that made the swing for class members to vote for him in large numbers, thus ensuring his victory.
Chen Weijun’s personal slant in the film may be: – whatever the color of the cat, they would need to eat, and, whatever the political systems, political influence could be bought.
Post Film Discussion
The documentary ran for 55 minutes. And it was a pity that there was no time for a post screening discussion as we had to break for lunch for the next movie which commenced at 1pm.