Anniversary, a short film directed by Royston Tan and written by Alfian Sa’at, has been rated R21 without cuts by the censors and will have its premiere at the Love fundraising dinner organised by Action for AIDS (AFA) on Dec 4. 2009.
The 20-min film delves into the lives of Wai Kit, a 23-year-old undergrad who lives with his 27-year-old insurance agent boyfriend, Justin, as they approach their first anniversary with differing expectations and values shaped by their earlier relationship experiences. While Justin is described as being “remarkably idealistic, believing in the virtues of monogamy,” Wai Kit has been “in and out of relationships”. To complicate matters, Justin’s participation at a ‘party-and-play’ session just months before meeting Justin comes back to haunt him.
Commissioned by AFA, the film touches on the issue of ‘chemsex’ where 'sex-enhancing' drugs are used by a certain segment of the gay community.
Alfian, an acclaimed poet and playwright who is best known for his Asian Boys Trilogy, says the film hopes to “address a certain problem within the gay community.”
“You can go to a local IRC channel, and you'll see how many nicknames have the words 'chem' or 'wild' appended to them. So we thought it's time to bring this into the open, and have a real discussion about it. Because the more you pretend it doesn't exist, the more you grant it an underground status, and then people go into denial mode.
“And the minute you go into denial, then you start to forget how these things you do in the shadows, in secret, can have such profound consequences on the life that you lead in broad daylight,” he added.
A public screening of the film is being planned for mid-December. To book a seat or receive updates, sign up at anniversary.sg.
Resident Playwright with W!ld Rice, and the writer of the Asian Boys Trilogy Alfian Sa’at explains why the potentially controversial themes of the film are needed and how the Singapore censors’ practice of rating homosexual content on the basis that it will ‘promote’ homosexuality is just “idiotic.”
æ: Anniversary has been passed uncut with a R21 rating. Is this what you’d expected and do you think this is the best case scenario given the subject matter?
Alfian: I think this whole policy of rating homosexual content on the basis that it will 'promote' homosexuality is idiotic. There's no other word for it. It frames every film that's either got gay characters, or deals with gay issues, as a recruitment video. I don't know where's the evidence for this – that watching gay people depicted in media will turn you gay! And of course what's been happening is that any form of representation is, in their books, already considered 'promotion'. That you're advocating for people to adopt the 'homosexual lifestyle'. That's like saying that if I'm wearing a T-shirt in public I'm telling everyone to go and buy it.
The other thing is this whole notion of having a multi-tiered ratings system. The Media Development Authority (MDA) loves to promote this using a classic capitalist argument – more options means more choice for the consumer. So we have a bewildering total of five ratings – R21 (no patrons under 21), M18 (no patrons under 18), NC16 (no children under 16), PG (parental guidance) and G (for general audiences). But the truth is the consumer doesn't really have more choice – the censors ultimately choose what he or she gets to watch. When you have this kind of multi-tiered system, decisions actually become very arbitrary – what separates an R21 from an M18 film, for example? How do you operationalise this? I wouldn't be surprised if distinctions are made based on how long a sex scene is, for example: less than 30 seconds – M18, more than that, R21. As if duration defines the magnitude of the 'sexual.'
In a way, I'd expected the rating from MDA. And this isn't because I know exactly what the lines of transgression are. I expected an R21 rating simply because we're dealing with gay content here – and they're stricter on gay content within a Singaporean context, because this might suggest that homosexuality might be an indigenous phenomenon, and not something copied and imported from the West.
My stand on censorship is quite simple: protect minors. And what they need to be protected from is excessive and gratuitous sexual and violent content. This is because there might be some correlation between prolonged exposure to such content and potentially sociopathic behavior – even though the jury's still out and the whole discourse is contaminated by all the supposed controversies surrounding media effects and moral panic.
They should also get rid of all that bureaucratic multi-tiering. It's easier to decide on which side a film lies on if you just have a single threshold. And the maximum age should be lowered from 21 to 18 – the male population is mandatorily conscripted at 18, and if you're old enough to be trained to kill people using government-issued weapons, then you're old enough to see breasts or cocks on screen. Because otherwise then MDA is saying that the state is recruiting child soldiers, right?
I think film censorship in Singapore is in need of urgent reform. Because it's not just about protecting minors any more, but has extended to censors arrogating themselves the duty of supposedly purging the media landscape of 'spiritual pollution'. Censorship has become this thing where people are occupying seats of influence and see themselves as God's servants instead of civil servants. And civil servants should be people who, first and foremost, serve the interests of the public and a secular state.
æ: What inspired the gay orgy & drugs story idea? The first thought some people might have would be that this film would reinforce the gay-sex-drugs stereotype about gay relationships / people, so why choose to portray this part of life?
Alfian: I think this is something we're always grappling with when it comes to gay representation, especially in a place like Singapore where there are so few 'positive' images of gay people. I think every gay community in every country goes through this phase. There's always some kind of pressure to portray all these model characters, who are saintly to a fault, in all kinds of sanitised situations.
But I think the ground has shifted. In the mid-90s you had New Queer Cinema – with people like Tom Kalin, Todd Haynes, Gregg Araki being very unapologetic with a warts-and-all depiction of gay people. And of course by the turn of the millennium you had Queer As Folk – which brought gay subculture into the mainstream, without capitulating to 'mainstream values'.
I see this happening in Singapore too. As early as 2003 Haresh Sharma was writing a play like Mardi Gras – where some of the gay characters weren't begging to be loved by the audience. And then Johann Lee's series of novels also evolved from the almost sex-negative milieu in Peculiar Chris (1992) to a frank exploration of an open relationship in Quiet Time (2008). Cyril Wong was writing poems where gay characters had AIDS. Loo Zihan's films, like his short 'untitled' (2005) and feature Solos (2007) had gay characters engaged in furtive, mechanical sexual encounters. I think there's this realisation that we shouldn't be seeking for acceptance by showing that gay people are better (especially morally) than straight people, but that we're also equally flawed human beings.
What we're trying to do in Anniversary is address a certain problem within the gay community, and that is the use of supposedly 'sex-enhancing' drugs. You can go to a local IRC channel, and you'll see how many nicknames have the words 'chem' or 'wild' appended to them. So we thought it's time to bring this into the open, and have a real discussion about it. Because the more you pretend it doesn't exist, the more you grant it an underground status, and then people go into denial mode. And the minute you go into denial, then you start to forget how these things you do in the shadows, in secret, can have such profound consequences on the life that you lead in broad daylight.
That said, the 'drug orgy' thread is only one facet of the film. There is also a depiction of a stable, monogamous gay relationship. We're not a homogenous community, and even though Anniversary is a short film, I hope it's managed to touch on the spectrum that's out there.
æ: What do you hope for viewers to take home?
Alfian: We're telling the story of a relationship, and the kinds of trials the people in it undergo. Royston's a wonderful visual storyteller, whereas as a playwright I'm much more verbal (you can tell from this interview!), and he's managed to strip down some of my bad habits. There's a lot of things you can take from the film – anything from the aesthetic aspects like the cinematography to the sensitive performances by the actors. I don't believe in messages, but I think the film's more than something that explores what it means to be in a gay relationship. I hope one of the questions it provokes is that very universal one: do we trust someone because we love him, or do we love someone because we trust him?
A public screening of the film is being planned for mid-December. To book a seat or receive updates, sign up at anniversary.sg.
You think so? Come to Malaysia and you will find Singaporean scissors way too liberal :-)
But if the target audience is the general public, I'd be quite disgruntled. Do we need another film to portray a dark image of the gay community to the society? Haven't we seen enough of such gay-bashing dogma in local productions already?
Instead of vindicating the majority of the gay community's communal yearning for love, respect and tolerance, this film seems to concede a stigma.
although, i have done a lot of crazy things in my life, no way would i want kids to see this movie until they are at least 21... i am sure its a beautiful story and moving tale, the promo looks beautifully filmed, great moving music and lots of attention to detail in every frame... i can tell there is quality in thought in every shot, but the drugs and the orgy scenes are not something that deserves prime time and if i want to see the seedy side of life its everywhere
censorship is not about condemning something or thinking its bad, its just rating system for kids by arrogant and well meaning parents
anyway so glad my kids have loving grandparents and will know the happy successful, funny side of gay life and to be honest we don't dwell on the gay stuff at home at all cause they have homework, swimming classes, equestrian and riding classes and learning about the beauty in art and life
anyway, now i know why lots of guys want to get off that island and meet some hot, happy, successful, strong american men
in the meantime Obama is coming to Asia and my very hot and smart lesbian friend who is really high up at the New York Times is looking for some video submissions, here's the link:
We look forward to hearing from your friends and highlighting their thoughts about Obama's trip on NYTimes.com.
Here's the direct link:
Asian Readers, Tell Us What Obama Could Do for Your Country - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com
being with a couple of insufferable friends will push u to greater heights as an artist and a man, think about that
we are not all the same and i am sure you appreciate the different mosaics
you are good at what u do, don't out rule making something for kids and gay dads to enjoy too one day. lots of great stories to be told by you
I'm sure the short was well-made, but the organizers need to learn how to throw a fundraiser. Hire a band, a comedian, a stage troupe. People donate money when they have been well-fed and well-watered, not when they hear music that Dracula wakes up to in the evening!!
There will be no progress because i have a pic of my butt on here? Come on...we are talking about a film that is put out for the public.....a pic of my bum ain't going to ruin any progress made lol.... lets be fair here
LOL .....perhaps i'm quick to judge the film without even having watched it...my bad....but really it's just my personal opinion about such films...and it's been done many times over..just the opinion of one.doesn't take away the artistic value of the film....could be an amazing film for all i know...dont mean to offend the writer and makers of the film....it's not easy making a film...writing a script....kudos to them...i know i can't do it.
Youse is right lets just enjoy the film not here to argue with freaks.....
Alfian you're great ....Royston is great... I'm just a moody cow lol I apologize :)
Most of the gay theme film are all about sex, drug and orgy... even tho that's what most of gay life is about = =
That being said, I have seen plenty of films that depict the LGBT community in both attractive and unattractive lights. How anyone feels about this film speaks as much about the individual as it does the film itself. Personally, I say put the film out there. If it is an honest depiction about a particular facet of gay relationships, then I applaud its honesty. If I feel that it is simply an attempt to sensationalize extreme behaviors, then I ask "why bother?"
Personally, I hope the film spurs dialogue about chem use and sexual attitudes. That can never be a bad thing, can it?
However, I agree with @philosophia. I think it's time to make a movie where the gay community is not identified due to the entire "cruise-sex-drugs-party" topic, but more of the seamless integration into society at large, bringing acceptance, positivity and, like the movie "Fame", a mutual realisation that some members are GLBT, but no division or separation is ever introduced.
If we keep speculating the future we want for our community with such movies and prose (Quiet Time), then eventually we won't see the need to do such a film anymore because society has already been "taught" to see the GLBT community in a positive light. Then, we won't most probably see the need to do a film that separates more than congregates.
The rainbow, i understand is made up of seven primary colours formed upon the refraction and reflection of light through raindrops. Well, if you just took red, or even red and orange, and called it a rainbow, it wouldn't be a rainbow, even if seeing red is all some see. Red = stereotype: many in the stereotypical "straight" world in turn see it like that, as do some here. But i have been surprised to learn that so many here, maybe even a majority, who knows, albeit a more silent and less political one, don't really see themselves like that at all. They see a rainbow, but just quietly go about their business and their lives, often with contentment despite any past hurts. Thus, their goals and politics are actually varied, and non-stereotypical, too.
So, are stereotypes, sexual or political, the mainstay of the LGBT community? - that's one big "gay" myth that's increasingly being laid to rest here, it seems. I wonder if the world will catch up anytime soon though... or are we the world too, after all?
and straight community has no whore, no rape-murder, no violent, no trouble with family and employment. Pathetic!!
Director pls have more creative story.
Whether we like the subject matter or not, let's not do an Ayatollah issuing a death fatwah against Salman Rushdie before even reading "The Satanic Verses". Watch first, discuss/bitch later.
As I argued, if this film is meant as a wake-up call for the MSM community, fine, I have no objections. But it isn't. Being rated, it may be distributed to the general public.
"Gay relationships, sex, orgy and drugs. These are the themes, Anniversary, a new short film by acclaimed Singaporean director Royston Tan and playwright-writer Alfian Sa'at explores..... "
While such a theme could serve as a wake-up call if the audience are solely the MSM community, I wonder if it's working for or against AFA's mission if its viewers turn out to be the general public. Those who claim that AFA is facing a challenge in fighting the increasing spread of HIV, and therefore should create and promote a film with this theme, have overlooked what the biggest underlying challenge is. Not "gay relationships, sex, orgy and drugs." But stigma and discrimination.
It's about 30 years since HIV was discovered and fought against. Scientists know how this virus can and cannot be transmitted. They don't pick on those who have "gay relationships, sex, orgy and drugs." HIV is morality- and sexual orientation-blind. The unfortunate thing is due to stigma and discrimination, the government and the society have not been supportive enough to AFA's efforts.
Why are so many people reluctant to get tested when oral screening kits are so accessible nowadays? Because of lack of subsidy, tolerance and government's support to HIV-positive persons. If a person is diagnosed with HIV in Singapore, he has reasons to be very fearful. How is he going to be able to afford the treatments? Insurance companies are not going to reimburse him. The government doesn't cover his treatments. Can he keep his job? Are his friends, colleagues and even family going to accept him?
This film's theme seems to concede the stigma. Therefore, I suggest that this film may be detrimental to AFA's efforts. If the AFA wishes to use this mass medium to convey a positive message to the public, may I suggest a more appropriate theme, which is the gay community's communal yearning for love, tolerance and dignity, and that stigma (like what this film's theme seems to concede) works against the interests of the gay community, their family and the society. Gays are like the majority. They need respect, love and tolerance. They need to love and to be loved, though their preferred partners are persons of the same gender. Only if more in the public can see this point can stigma be reduced, and can AFA's efforts to fight HIV become more fruitful.
The only concern is, if the tabloid Press tries to sell papers by sensationalising things, which is what it often does with just about everything. Getting people from different tribes riled up sells a lot of papers, folks. The tabloid Press is like the stockbroker - it never loses whichever way the marketplace goes.
Whatever the wider implications, AFA is doing its job in being concerned about the "chem-and-wild" sex that does go on, and one chatroom has i think begun to expel the drug pushers. And did you read Comment 21, another first-hand account that is a privilege to learn from here...
(A digression: perhaps AFA should have been equally focussed all these years on the risks of oral sex, too. In just a recent forum, one member here still had to ask another member about it. To be fair, the risks posed by having mouth ulcers or bleeding gums are hard to monitor, i guess, and in the end it's a matter of common sense too, isn't it? As such, the insistence by some on using a condom for oral sex - vis-a-vis the more risky anal sex - is not uncommon either, fortunately for them.)
Concise, accurate, easily-accessed information is needed, AFA. Don't pull your punches where a Merck list is needed... is that right, Mr Wijngaarden?
btw, Sorry for Comment 40, it was just another slip of the finger. Really. But i probably would have gone to bed if it hadn't happened. Then you might have been spared another insufferable comment lah, Alfian sir. :P Can joke or not, fellow Singaporean? Not talking about censorship what... i like movies like Love of Siam leh
ciao for now, and though i'm not a Roman Catholic, i want to say, God bless you RC guys here, one bishop doesn't a Roman summer make... or winter. i'm rambling now, so... Goodnight.
Mr Sa'at lets us know he wants to educate the gay community!! about what? You ever go to a straight movie and see these themes?
You need to start suing your insurance companies in the world court at the Hague. especially if there are foreign owners.
And I see your country is Buddhist i thought Buddhists were tolerant.
By the way, not everyone gets HIV some of us are genetically resistant especially Northern Europeans (about 20%) source Scientific American
Unfortunately, it seems that this film isn't the typical AFA campaign to warn the GAY COMMUNITY, but a film that will be viewed by the PUBLIC. What effects on the PUBLIC's perception of the gay community will it have? And is such a perception going to reduce or reinforce stigma?
Regarding the points made by #44, I think that it's economically and politically unattainable to have the whole world become effectively supportive to HIV-positive people, when even access to water and food is a challenge in most parts of an entire continent. But what is certainly realistic and attainable is for every developed and highly developed developing country, including Singapore, to establish a supportive system for its own people. Start from the national level. With this, the high literacy rate, and high school enrolment rate, it will be very easier to EDUCATE their people about safer sex. If the people become educated, and are no longer as fearful and reluctant to get tested (e.g. for those reasons mentioned), then they would be in a much better position to protect themselves-- at the personal level-- from foreign HIV-carriers. This is akin to a powerful fence protecting the national borders from enemies. While there may still be newly infected cases, the number would be significantly reduced and highly manageable.
So, these countries need a New Deal to fight HIV. The New Deal should consist of, firstly, the repeal of stigma-reinforcing laws and regulations such as 377a. The rest should include: making comprehensive sexuality education compulsory (as the UK and many other countries had) in school; subsidising HIV treatments; removing STD exclusions in Hospital & Surgical insurance policies after a waiting period; increasing job, emotional and family counselling support for HIV-positive people; quarterly island-wide free anonymous screening provided in public places (whereby they may use the oral test kits, a reference number and a free-incoming phone number to call back to check their status an hour later); distribution of free flavoured condoms in strategic locations like Harbour Front Ferry Terminal, Geylang, discos, budget hotels and bathhouses. Comprehensive sexuality education programmes should also be developed for the less educated people who speak dialects.
Instead of criminalising gay sex, criminalise unprotected oral and anal sex. This means that protected oral and anal sex between men should be legalised. This legislative amendment gives health-conscious gays more reason to negotiate with their partners who may insist on having unprotected sex. While this law can be theoretically difficult to enforce (i.e. who's going to know whether it is protected or not?), the same can be said of the existing 377a. But such an amendment can send a correct signal: gays are tolerated but reckless sex between gays isn't.
With the New Deal described above being implemented, the country would immediately see a rise in new HIV cases. Which is a good thing. If these individuals aren't detected, they may go on to pass the virus to others, unknowingly. If they detect their status, and receive appropriate professional counselling and treatment, they are much less likely to spread the disease. Hence, in the long run, the population will become better protected, and they should be.
The surge in HIV detections can also be used strategically by the politicians to argue for the other components of the New Deal, which include the repeal of 377a and introduction of CSE in schools. By orchestrating this plan strategically, the New Deal is attainable and it is beneficial to Singapore and other countries that implement it in the long run.
Sad to see that self-hatred & self-esteem issues continue to plague glbt Singaporeans, that we must..and should!...potray ourselves as nothing less than sex-crazed,drug-addicted, party monsters...or in the case of lesbians, used or abused by Neanderthal men. This mold's stuffing me stiff...I better get out of here, before I start to think that that is the only correct way...to be same-sex-oriented. *puke*
Merely reinforces the stereotype that irresponsible and decadent sexual behaviour is the source of infection when in fact it's just that one time you didn't rubber up, or that one time it broke... Orgiastic emo queer films do for gay rights and social equality what COPS did for the American civil rights movement - reinforces difference.
"Why, Jim-Bob, of course them'll git HIV. They chem up and fuck without condoms. But we's OK 'cause we's ordinary".
Check out the Indian flick My Brother Nikhil - regular gay guy finds he's got the Bug and embarks on a quest to help his family and his community understand. What Asia needs is a gay Philadelphia, and not another bloody Shortbus.
Apologies to Mr. Tan for seeming to belittle his work - I respect him as a filmmaker and referred to his work in my dissertation on queer Asian cinema. However, as a filmmaker myself I know how easy it is to depict gay men as different, freakish and miserable. I'm still racking my brains for a screenplay that will let straight people see that we're the same as everyone else. Royston, you've got a head start on me in terms of profile, funding and talent - won't you try it?
Hey, that's killing 2 birds with one stone!! Brilliant!!!
Hmmm...a movie want to tell the government pay more attention to PLU, bcos PLU community is more slutty than straight community? If I am a discriminate, homophobia officer, why must I spent time and $$$ to help such scum bag...Let HIV spread among themselves!!!
HIV awareness program $$$ should not just on one community.
Sometimes I am curious would a media will change human's foolishness/ignorance when horny.
I remember no long ago here posted abt a guy expressed his deepest depress and upset when he was tested +, and how he faced discrimination.
But I didn't see how he felt sorry to those who he slept with prior his HIV screening.
Aware!! HIV don't discriminate
//Out of this topic, perhaps a director will show a few gay that are great enough to influence our society, beside the common stereotype gay fields (entertainment, fashion), they are gay in medical, science etc., who revolutionized the society...
Can you show it after dinner so the Frank Mueller table doesn't bolt early?
I will be there in my tie and new Tod's shoes with my gay and straight friends.
At least those of us going can tell the producers of this film when we see it what we think to their face.
Finally, I thought this is about censorship and R21 rating. Its ironic that even Fridae censors comments it doesn't like here. What's that about?
Since this short film is comissioned by AFA, I wonder would part of the proceeds from the ticket sales go to AFA ? If so, I do my bit and buy a ticket to support AFA and local artistes.
Whether the film potrays a sad segment of gay community or reinforces the gay lifestyle stigma is not important in my decision to watch or not. I applaud AFA for doing what it can despite the limited resources and the unrelenting criticism it receives.
A new persona I see before me,
Is it thee?
Our very own Borat,
Apologies to the real poet: sonnet18.
Well, duh, it's not Gossip Girl.
Due to overwhelming response, we are unable to cater for all the request for tickets. We are trying to schedule another screening.
For those that have went for the first screening, do drop us a feedback and constructive suggestion. Thanks !