Sunday, April 06, 2008

[SIFF08] Women Who Love Women: Conversations in Singapore

Just for the record, Women Who Love Women was the last of the films in the Singapore Panorama section to have its tickets released for sale. I had all the tickets for the other films ready, but of course an In Camp Training stint meant that when the tickets were available, I couldn't get any. And they were sold out in record time too! Then another screening was available, and that was also sold out faster than you can say "Women". Finally, I managed to get a ticket for the last screening, which was tonight, and even then, the film played to a sell out crowd.

Which brings me to wonder, whether the crowd was going to be primarily made up of the GLBT community, and looking at the rate at which tickets have been sold out, there's no denying that the numbers are increasing / coming out of the closet / niche market / etc, but there were of course, the curious souls like me, besides the fact that I'm doggedly persistent in wanting to watch every movie in the Panorama, who want to know and understand more, but having no clue how to, and this documentary allowed for the shedding of some insight. Granted it's rated R21, but no, it's a fairly serious subject, and allowed for the opening of minds.

Of course I would say that it is stupid if anyone were to remotely suggest that after watching this, one would completely change their lifestyle, or be immensely affected by it to want to do so. Good thing it wasn't censored or banned, and was allowed to play during the SIFF in its entirety. It's presentation as a documentary was simple, featuring solely the talking heads of 3 Singaporean lesbians - Amanda Lee, Sabrina Renee Chong and Gea Swee Jean. Shot in 2006, they offer very honest, candid views of their lives, the discovery of self, and of course, the inevitable discrimination and the grappling of issues such as relationships and the defining moment when they chose to come out of the closet.

However when the documentary started, I thought that there could possibly be something that was a little off, as accounts of failed relationships from a very young age, or from a traumatic experience, seemed to have put the community in bad light, or provided a portrayal that relationship matters were treated casually and trivially. Of course it was easy to pass judgement on the attitudes and trivalities placed towards relationships, but as the documentary went on, it set to clear this up, and you get embarassed that you'd have fallen into convention, and have judged, prematurely and incorrectly.

It's not all deadpan serious, as there were enough comical anecdotes to lighten up the mood, despite the discussion on real issues that real people face, and the raising of awareness on things like how labelling and the provision of terms both help and sometimes box mindsets for those who are coming out. Little things become distinguishing factors too, and you're bound to obtain new insights, such as how easy it is to be mistaken in salutations. And I thought it covered good ground with the various age groups covered, and touching on religion and the penal code were inevitable too.

But if I had some minor gripes, it would be the initial presentation style of the interviews. I guess the subjects might not have spoken in complete, fluent sentences, but the cuts employed to join sentences and words together were too fast and furious I would've preferred to have allowed the dialogue to play out as it was, or at least cut sparingly. Later on however it became smoother, especially with the use of fading in/out, but prior to that, the cuts were too excessive.

The other peculiar observation I had made was, and I've to determine this from the filmmakers (if I can!), was why no family members were interviewed on screen. We've seen their friends (though not necessarily their partners, who might make interesting subjects themselves, but probably will dilute the focus on the 3 representatives) talk about their feelings and reactions to discovery, but for the family's reaction, we're only given an account from the interviewees themselves. I guess it could be either the filmmakers were unsuccessful in engaging them, or the families were reluctant to say anything on record in front of the camera because they were still disapproving.

If there was anything that a straight guy like myself could get out of this documentary, that would be to not pass fast judgement on others who are different. We should be celebrating diversity, not discriminating against differences. Everyone has feelings, like it or not, and it's easy to hurt people without sometimes even knowing it, and it's easier to do so when you don't seek to first understand. While we think we know some of the issues they face, nothing beats hearing it from the horse's mouth, so to speak, and if you don't have lesbian friends, then I guess the next best thing to begin with, is through this documentary. Watching it with the correct audience helped too, because if there was any hint of inaccuracies, pretentiousness and the likes, you can be sure you're gonna get an instant reaction from the audience, and probably hear a boo or two. This one passed with flying colours.

The SIFF Singapore Filmmakers Interview Series
Kan Lume, Writer-Director of Dreams From The Third World
HAN Yew Kwang, Writer-Director of 18 Grams of Love
ENG Yee Peng, Director of Diminishing Memories II
Sherman ONG, Screenwriter-Director of Hashi
James LEONG and Lynn LEE, Directors of Homeless FC
Lionel CHOK, Producer of To Speak
Harman HUSSIN, Director of Road to Mecca

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