I submitted Tanjong Rhu to the Film Appeals Committee (FAC) for the film’s rating to be lowered from R21 to M18, so that I can finally publish my complete collection of shorts. According to the guidelines, only films rated up to M18 can be allowed for video distribution. Under the guidelines for M18 rating, “Homosexual theme/content as a sub-plot may be permitted, if discreet in treatment and not gratuitous.”
I figured I stood a good chance with the FAC because, if you see the anthology of shorts (which I intend to place in chronological order on the DVD) as a narrative of how my career has developed, the “homosexual theme/content” in Tanjong Rhu is really only a very small part of it. People are not going to buy the DVD just to watch Tanjong Rhu – it is likely that they will watch everything, including titles like Stranger and The Changi Murals, which haven’t been screened as frequently at festivals. My distributor, Objectifs Films and I were also planning to include bonus materials such as critical analyses and commentaries to guide the viewer and present the works as milestones in the development of my career.
These short films mean a lot to me because they were how I began as a filmmaker. Because of their successes at film festivals, I was accorded the Young Artist Award by the National Arts Council in 2009 and the Singapore Youth Award by the National Youth Council this year.
Within Tanjong Rhu itself, there is also no nudity, no sex and hardly a kiss between two men. It is certainly as tame and as non-gratuitous as any gay film would get.
I wouldn’t leave out Tanjong Rhu from the collection because it is in many ways the ‘crowning work’ of my short films. It premiered at Berlin Film Festival – the first time a film of mine was selected at an ‘A-list’ festival – and got me the attention of industry veterans like Eric Khoo, Michael J Werner and the late Wouter Barendrecht (Fortissimo Films), who then became the executive producers of my debut feature film, Sandcastle. It was also because of Tanjong Rhu, which was made as my thesis film at Lasalle College of The Arts, that I graduated as the college valedictorian that year.
I was prepared to make some concessions. I proposed making only 1000 copies of the DVD and selling them only within the premises of Objectifs Films – the distributor of most of my short films which also runs a photography and filmmaking centre. This would enable a more controlled and targeted distribution of the DVD.
The staff members at MDA were very helpful in facilitating the session with the FAC. After my presentation, the FAC members said that they were sympathetic and felt compelled to allow the publication of my DVD. However, as one member put it, they had to follow the guidelines and it was beyond the jurisdiction of the FAC to make exceptions.
Last week, I received an email from the FAC Secretariat informing me that “the Committee has decided to dismiss the appeal and affirm the BFC’s R21 classification of Tanjong Rhu: The Casuarina Cove.”
I am disappointed, but I can’t say it came unexpected. It still baffles me to know that there are films out there that are graphically violent and way more sexually explicit and have been allowed mass distribution in video stores, yet an anthology of my short films – so tame and niche in appeal – is effectively banned from video distribution. I really fail to see the logic.
That all said, I must say the MDA handled the process very professionally. The upside of the whole episode was that I was able to engage in dialogue with them very candidly. I hope that such conversations will continue, so that in the near future, the guidelines can be suitably revised and something as harmless as my anthology of short films will no longer fall through the cracks.