Queer pride stands unafraid in Singapore as IndigNation returns for its 13th season. In the wake of controversial restrictions imposed on Pink Dot earlier this year, the annual celebration of culture seeks to remind the nation that LGBTQIA+ people ‘are as much a part of Singapore as anyone else.’ CINEMQ caught up with the festival's main organiser, Ng Yi-sheng, to talk film, representation and the right to assemble.
How has IndigNation responded to the restrictions on Pink Dot 2017, how has it shaped your goals for the festival this year?
We were pretty shocked by how public assembly laws were used against Pink Dot. This is why we chose "Unafraid to Assemble" as our theme—we want to encourage people to consider how laws and bigotry make it difficult for us to gather together, and how queer people do manage to gather nonetheless.
I do want to point out that the simple act of gathering is empowering for us queer people, even if it's in private for a party. Many of us grew up feeling alone and excluded. It's through meeting like-minded people, making friends and forming partnerships, that we learn to affirm ourselves.
How does IndigNation Queer Film Festival fit in with and contribute to the wider program?
Singaporeans of all genders and sexualities love watching films. They've always been a way to cater to a wider audience—people who don't necessarily see themselves as activists. Although, honestly, since Singapore has so many policies restricting queer films, you could argue that watching a queer film is in itself a political act!
Did your team have a specific goal or theme when programming the film festival?
A lot of media related to LGBTIQ culture still has its roots in the West. So we're trying to highlight queer Asian films, such as Front Cover (Hong Kong/US), Fathers (Thailand) and Short Circuit 6 (featuring short films from Singapore). They're more relatable to us as Singaporeans, and they show us how queer topics are being handled with openness and sophistication across the region.
We're also trying to explore the diverse challenges that the LGBTIQ community faces. This is why we're featuring two documentaries about queer women: SHe (Taiwan), which looks at a marriage between a transwoman and a lesbian, and The Revival: Women and the Word, which looks at how African American lesbians use poetry to fight back against prejudice.
Front Cover also deals with internalised racism, while Fathers discusses queer parenting. These films aren't just about entertainment—they're eye-opening as well.
What is the queer film community like in Singapore at the moment?
I'd say that in general, Singaporeans are getting more used to queer representation in film, whether it's in art-house movies like Moonlight, Carol and The Danish Girl, or even references in mainstream movies like Star Trek Beyond, Beauty and the Beast and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. If anything, people see queer films as less political than ever, because Hollywood has made them less taboo. So right now, I think the top criterion is artistic quality.
However, there's another element at play. I think a lot of queer people and their friends simply enjoy watching films together. This is why there's actually another high-profile queer film festival in Singapore, GV's Love and Pride Film Festival, which had its 8th edition last year. This is why the Glory Hoes can attract queer people to watch monthly screenings of cult classics like Thelma and Louise or The Wizard of Oz—even though these films weren't created with a queer audience in mind, the act of gathering queer people together to enjoy them makes them special.
How has the film festival developed over the past few years? Can audience's expect anything new in 2017?
This is actually the first year we're focusing on feature films! In previous years we've only dabbled with short films, because they're cheaper to get the rights for and more plentiful. However, with a great venue like The Projector, technology that allows films to be transferred online, and new contacts made at regional film festivals, we're finally able to treat audiences to fully developed 90-minute stories of LGBTIQ Asians!
How is LGBTQ well represented in film and television in Singapore in general?
We're not well represented at all! We almost never have openly LGBTIQ characters on screen in Singapore, let alone happy, well-adjusted ones—except in indie short films. It's almost impossible to make a feature film with a queer characters, because you'll need a grant from the government for that. And of course there's a fear of getting public complaints if we show them on TV.
This kind of conservatism is exactly why most Singaporeans aren't interested in local TV and film. If we dared to show people how diverse and sexy this island actually was, maybe that would change.
I am glad that this year, the Channel 5 show Faculty had the character of Bryan Cordeiro come out as gay. This isn't the first gay representation on Mediacorp, mind you: that would be Channel 8's show A Bright Future (锦绣前程) in 1992. But the fact that we've made almost no progress for 25 years is pretty revealing.
IndigNation runs from 4th-28th August 2017. Details of their events can be found at indignationsg.wordpress.com
Images are from the internet.
Interview: Matthew Baren
Translation: Annabel Lee
CINEMQ is a queer short film screening + party series. It is run by a group of queers with too much on their mind to sit still for long. We’re publishing articles on queer cinema and screen culture every week. Want to contribute? Message our account.