Female-directed films are few and far between. In fact, with every international film festival held, the question gets more pressing: Where are the female directors?
Kirsten Tan is making her cinematic presence felt with her first full-length feature, Pop Aye, which has become the only Singapore film to win the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival 2017.
“It’s a huge honour. Just being at Sundance, the experience of being there, and seeing people queuing up to watch my movie earlier this year in January, I felt like that, in itself, was enough,” the writer-director recalls. “As a first time filmmaker, to see people who actually want to watch your work, I was very, very moved.”
“The screening went well and the response was better than I could’ve imagined. So I flew back to Singapore and resumed life as normal,” she recalls. “Then I got a message from Trevor Groth, Director of Programming at Sundance, asking me to call him back and I kind of had an inkling that maybe I had won something.”
Humble as ever, Kirsten didn’t want to get her hopes up just in case the call was about something that she left behind in Utah, where the Sundance Festival is help but what came next was the highlight of her career so far.
“I tried to make myself not expect anything during the call so when he told me about the win, I was just trying to maintain my calm during our conversation but as soon as I put down the phone, I really celebrated. I was so happy,” says Kirsten.
Her labour of love, which took a total of three-and-a-half years to create, is proof that there has never been a better time for women to make their mark with local films.
“If you look at the size of representation that female directors have, you’ll quickly realise that there is quite a serious gender imbalance in the filmmaking industry, not just in Singapore,” says Kirsten. “So everytime there’s a smash-hit of a movie that comes out that’s directed by a woman people go crazy. Just look at Wonder Woman and the reaction to Patty Jenkins’ role as the director of that as proof.”
While Kirsten is overjoyed that people are finally recognising the imbalance as a problem, she herself would rather the public focused on the quality of work produced rather than gender. “In my everyday life as a filmmaker, I try not to think so much about it, because it isn’t productive,” she explains.
“Yes, that are structural inequalities we have to address, but at the end of the day I’m actually more focused on the details of the film rather than my own gender.”
She hopes that society as a whole can change their mindset about women so that the problem of gender imbalances can be corrected. “It’s not just about film, it’s how society and our culture think about women and we still have a long way to go in educating people about gender norms and the role of women in the world.”
Words to live by: “Always challenge the status quo.”
Next up: “I’m working on a couple of short projects: A commercial and a commissioned short film. Just short-form stuff so I can relax and take it slightly easy for now.”
The Great Women Of Our Time 2017 is proudly presented by Lancôme.