Educators' Workshop by Dr. Kenneth Paul Tan: Critical Approaches to Understanding Singapore Cinema (05 June 2009)
Listening in on Dr. Kenneth Paul Tan’s workshop on Critical Approaches to Understanding Singapore Cinema, I realized that if I were an educator, Dr. Tan’s workshop would help me in more ways than one.
Through a introduction that detailed many aspects of Singapore Society, Dr. Tan encouraged the participants to develop a heightened awareness of the ways in which different dimensions of the Singaporean psyche were explored in Singaporean films. Thus, throughout the course of the workshop, there was an underlying impetus to absorb the myriad of views and ideas presented by the films. Viewing works from the commercial Jack Neo, art-house Eric Khoo, accessible Royston Tan, and documentarians Tan Pin Pin and Martyn See, participants were tasked with the analysis of how the different filmmakers employed the filmic medium (whether simplistically or with some sophistication) to comment on, jibe or satirize Singapore’s political state and the subsequent impact of her policies upon Singaporeans.
Dr. Tan also encouraged the participants to examine various local films, including I Not Stupid, 12 Storeys, 15, Cut, Singapore GaGa, and Singapore Rebel, from a largely political stance. It soon became clear that political issues were tightly intertwined with other, equally if not more “sensitive” socio-economic issues. The entire exercise may have helped to demystify and break down reservations which educators may have had about discussing Singapore’s politics in their classrooms.
After the workshop, it became apparent to the educators that films could be utilized to effectively spur on debate among students and to promote reflection about socio-political issues their students may not have thought about before. Furthermore, the various film clips selected by Dr Tan illustrated the eloquence of local films, some of which present difficult topics in a sensitive yet powerful manner.
Ultimately, I’m sure many participants (myself included) left the workshop enlightened, motivated, and enthused about how they can enrich and empower their students intellectually through the entertaining and universally accessible medium of film.
Educators' Workshop by Ken Mizusawa: Exploring Fact and Fiction Through Film (04 June 2009)
One knows that one is in for something interesting when a workshop begins with a film which involves one man playing three characters: an effeminate drama teacher, a blonde ditz and a schoolboy with a severe attitude problem. Using this film, or to be more precise, "mockumentary" as a springboard for discussion, Ken delved into how Truth is presented in the variety of moving images that surrounds us today.
Viewing D.W Griffith's pivotal film, Birth of a Nation (1915), participants caught a glimpse of one of Man's first forays into filmmaking. With Ken's insightful commentary as a guide, participants also actively observed how the beliefs and values of an era and a nation could so vividly colour in onscreen portrayals. Ken related how students, viewers shaped by the present, find Birth of a Nation sequences utterly hilarious due to the incongruity between their expectations and the 1915 audience's expectations of how a film should be.
Throughout the workshop, Ken continued to address the significant roles played by the audience, audience's expectations and filmmakers in shaping the final filmic product. He screened a wide range of films that each substantiated the central theme of Truth in Film through their characters, purpose and style.
Through a screening of Peter Jackson's Forgotten Silver (1995), he also established the importance of discerning form from function in the Language Arts classroom.
The workshop was not only packed with film clips, but with dynamic ideas and concepts that were pertinent and usable in the youth classroom. The participants, a majority of them educators, had come away from the workshop knowing more about how to engage students in critically thinking about Truth in media and Truth portrayed by the media.
Educator's Workshop by Alfian Sa'at: Singapore's Culture & Identity through its Films
Alfian Sa’at began his workshop with an outline based on chapters that I can still recall from my Secondary Three Social Studies textbook. Tongue-in cheek outline aside, Alfian’s workshop promoted everything and anything but rote learning.
The outline was followed by a quick but detailed rundown of Singapore’s cinematic history, acquainting the participants with the context in which Singaporean film had emerged from in the last few decades.
Generous in the number of films shown, Alfian did not do this with no reason: each film acted as a doorway to further inquiry about a variety of subject matter, ranging from history to culture and civilization. Despite the films being relatively unknown to a large majority of the audience, the participants took part in each post-film discussion with great zeal and rigor. Most importantly, the films shown often probed at the foundations of Singaporean society, from family to state policies. The films required sincere and sensitive responses from the participants, which consisted mainly of educators. It would be ideal if the educators were able to cultivate such responsive learning attitudes in their students as well. By showing certain films, Alfian also had the participants viewing an issue from the perspective of the characters, implicitly demonstrating the power of the filmic medium as a catalyst for understanding.
The questions that were raised by Alfian during each post-film discussion were thought -provoking. Within this workshop, Alfian had in fact created an ideal classroom – educators became students all over again – where an atmosphere of learning and sharing was omnipresent. There was much to be taken away from this workshop, which highlighted not only the potential usefulness of films in classrooms to refresh perspectives, but also the vital importance of communication between teacher and student.
All in all, Alfian’s workshop, liberally peppered with animated conversations, interesting opinions and an excellent array of local films, was nothing short of memorable.
Some quotes from the participants:
“[I enjoyed] The range of films used and the issues/topics for discussion-its very cross-disciplinary.”
- Natasha Ann-Paul, Seng Kang Secondary School
“Presenter was clear, engaging and has wide knowledge of subject matter.”
- Claire Tan, Hwa Chong Institution
“[I liked the] Thought provoking questions ([which]can also be used to generate discussions in class)”
- Daniel Kok, Hwa Chong Institution
“Alfian was knowledgeable, personable and engaging.”
- Denise Martens, St. Joseph’s Institution
Educator's Workshop: Introduction to Film Literacy by Tan Bee Thiamcampaign Earth Hour and Tan Hong Meng, they were given a real-life example of how skilful editing and cutting can create great dramatic impact within the short span of a TV commercial. Sandi Tan’s Gourmet Baby, a short film that can be found in the Asian Film Archive Collection:Singapore Shorts Vol. 2 DVD anthology, was greeted with sensitive ventures into the thought-provoking themes it explored.
The splendid cherry on the cake of this informative session however, had to be Yasmin Ahmad’s gracious appearance as guest speaker. She wowed the crowd with her lovely wit, eloquence and wisdom, cluing them in on the powerful yet elegantly simple philosophies behind her films that never fail to strike a chord with their audience.
Some quotes from the participants:
“[I liked the] Discussion, sharing on how to teach the terms/concepts of films, technical tips for lessons (snapshots, bookmarks)”
- Yang Shu Hung, Anderson Junior College
“The clear and concise explanation by the instructor was enriching. The talk by the special guest [Yasmin Ahmad] was excellent. The use of scenes of different films gave one a better understanding of the terms mentioned during the workshop.”
- Lim Boon Hwee, Chai Chee Secondary School
“Materials provided are relevant.”
- Debbie Wong. Kuo Chuan Presbyterian Secondary School
“Very enlightening. I think I've been given a whole new tool box to talk about films”
- Lee Jake Hooi, Millenia Instituite
Educators' Workshop: Understanding Film Genres conducted by Dr. Nick Mercer
During Monday’s (16th March 2009) Educators’ Workshop on Understanding Film Genres, the definition of the term was discussed broadly as to what cinema has grown to become and being read accordingly: categories of narrative themes; historical and cultural eras; the rise of the auteurs and etc. Dr. Nick Mercer gave a light-hearted and accessible presentation on how genres such as the western, film noir, wuxia has derived, and introduced each their distinctive traits in the narrative structures and cinematic techniques. He also examined the classical and post-classical cinemas of Hollywood, drawing references from films such as High Noon, Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity and in group discussions, helped unfold the close readings of a seemingly commercial film, Die Hard and demonstrated how the film can be used as a good study about Hollywood’s conventional narrative. The topic on the ‘binary opposites’ in the semiotic structure of film characters drew quite a bit of discussion from the teachers, in the understanding of setting up the ‘conflict’ and tension between various characters in a film, and as they all agreed, is similarly essential in helping the students in their analysis of the literature text.
Here are some of the testimonials we gathered from this round of Educators' Workshop:
“The academic, theoretical background, yet general enough for mass consumption.”
-Cheah Lee Huang, Catholic Junior College
“[The workshop was] Clearly presented. Notes were useful. Engaging.”
- Ghazali bin Abdul Wahab, Bedok South Secondary School
" Interesting examples. Very useful worksheets. [I] liked the idea of the semiotic square.”
- Amy Lim, Hwa Chong Instituition
“[I liked the] Very comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the subject.”
- Tan Boon Beng, Hwa Chong Instituition
Review on Educator’s Workshop (17 – 19 November 08)
Held over 17 – 19 Nov 08 with three workshops of different themes, the Educator’s Workshop featured subjects such as Advanced Film Literacy, Film Philosophy as a Pedagogical Tool and Exploring Interdisciplinary Connections in Language Arts, conducted by three outstanding instructors, including Dr. Nick Mercer (Hwa Chong Institution) and Ken Mizusawa (Dunman High School).
Thoughts from a Young Critic by Low Koon Yen
When the chance came to be a part of the Young Critics Programme, I jumped at it. Not least because of my newfound curiosity in film criticism, but it was also an opportunity to meet and talk with other like-minded people. And I got my wish at the first meeting, with the mentors going at each other, sparring in words, while the rest of us sat in humbled silence.
The subsequent meetings were to be hours-long (three-hour, to be specific) sessions of intellectual stimulation as mentors share their experience in writing film reviews and insightful perspectives into films. The sessions were a joy to be at, though the absence of an agenda might have contributed to the lack of focus during the discussions.
Photo of Young Critics and Jurors