SINGAPORE: Singaporean filmmaker Kirsten Tan made history on Sunday (Jan 29 ) when her debut feature film POP AYE won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Screenwriting at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival held in Park City, Utah.
This unprecedented win makes POP AYE the first Singapore film and Tan, the first ever Singaporean to achieve such a feat at the celebrated festival. POP AYE was also the first ever Singapore feature film selected to compete in what is arguably the largest and most star-studded independent film festival in the United States.
The writer-director spoke to Channel NewsAsia directly after Sundance informed her of the win.
“I was literally in the shower when I got a call from Trevor Groth, Director of Programming at Sundance," she said. "I rang him back as soon as I got out of the bathroom. When I heard the news, it was pure emotion. A screenwriting jury award from Sundance is huge! I did a tiny victory dance in my own bedroom. No words, just pure elation and pure feeling."
She added: “I am deeply heartened that a screenplay set in Southeast Asia could move hearts in Sundance, continents away… I vow always to write stories that champion our shared humanity. This is a really huge honour.”
Founded by Hollywood legend Robert Redford, Sundance is well known for being the all-important launching pad for international talent and independent cinema, including award-winners Boyhood, Whiplash, Little Miss Sunshine, Reservoir Dogs and An Inconvenient Truth. It is also an early predictor of the year’s movie trends and a glittery networking hub for the world’s film industry.
The World Cinema competition at the festival is dedicated to the discovery of new films and new voices from around the world.
Currently based in New York, Tan was not in Park City to receive the award in person. She left the festival after POP AYE’s world premiere in preparation to fly to the film’s next destination- the Rotterdam Film Festival- where it’s competing for a public jury award.
The 32 year old confessed that she is still “very much in awe” of this historic win.
“I am beyond honored to be the first ever Singaporean to win a prize at Sundance,” she shared. “More than myself, I am truly so proud that stories from fellow Singaporean filmmakers are being recognised in international arenas. It really heartens me that our stories are heard by a global audience.
“For a tiny country, our films are doing remarkably well. It shows that glass ceilings can be broken as long as we keep trying.”
A Singapore-Thailand production, POP AYE tells the story of a disenchanted man who attempts to take his long-lost elephant on a redemptive journey across the country in search of the farm where they grew up together.
The film is executive-produced by director Anthony Chen under his film company Giraffe Pictures, along with producers Lai Weijie and Huang Wenhong.
"This reaffirms the value of our rigorous script development process with the directors we work with at Giraffe Pictures," said Lai. "We intend to continue supporting and nurturing talented Asian filmmakers."
Chen, a multiple award winner for his Cannes and Golden Horse winning film Ilo Ilo, is happy that Singapore cinema is “on a roll”.
“Kirsten's success at Sundance is another validation of the talents and hard work of our young filmmakers,” he said. “We hope to continue playing our small part in pushing Singapore cinema to the world."
According to Chen, POP AYE’s theatrical release plans for Singapore are currently in the works and they hope to bring the film home in the months ahead.
“We also have confirmed a slew of deals with international distributors at Sundance and will announce more shortly,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
POP AYE has gotten off to a great start in Sundance. The film not only received glowing reviews from film critics, but also got picked up for distribution in North America by Kino Lorber.