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Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures
Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures
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Meet Kirsten Tan, The First Singaporean Director To Compete At Sundance

Picture of Prianka Ghosh
Updated: 10 January 2017
After a banner year for the Singaporean film scene in 2016, the new year is getting off to a promising start. Kirsten Tan’s debut feature, Pop Aye, gets set to hit the festival circuit, starting with a spot in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the Sundance Film Festival, which takes place next week in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Anticipation for the film festival in Singapore is high. Although Meng Ong’s film, Miss Wonton, was selected for the American spectrum section in 2001, Tan will be the first Singaporean director to actually compete at the Sundance Film Festival. Tan is no stranger to international competition, having won the Torino Film Lab award two years ago which in turn helped to fund the production of this film. Previously, she has had success with her short films, including winning Best SE Asian Short Film at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival in the same year that she finished her MFA at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures
Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures

In Pop Aye, Tan tells the story of an architect in Bangkok who is unfulfilled with city life and his career. One day this man stumbles across the long-lost elephant he had as a boy and decides to take it on a road trip across Thailand to bring it, and himself, on a trek to find his roots. Tan juxtaposes the darkness of the architect’s life journey with the comic relief of a man traveling across a country with an elephant with the ultimate goal of creating something that is light but ultimately resounds with her viewers.

Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures
Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures

The inspiration for the film came to Tan while she was living in Thailand. One day she saw a group of boys pulling an elephant towards the ocean in order to clean it. That image combined with her own thoughts of often feeling like she doesn’t properly belong anywhere, inspired the protagonist’s own feelings of disillusionment and restlessness. Tan worked together with Anthony Chen and the rest of the Giraffe Pictures team to make her vision a reality. Chen, something of a luminary among film students in Singapore, has had his own success on the international stage when his film Ilo Ilo won the Camera d’Or prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, making him the first Singaporean director to receive one of film’s highest accolades.

Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures
Courtesy of Giraffe Pictures

During Sundance, Pop Aye is contending for multiple awards including the Audience Prize, the World Cinema Directing Award and the highly coveted World Cinema Grand Jury Prize. As major players in the Singaporean film industry, both Kirsten Tan and Anthony Chen hope that the success of Pop Aye will encourage aspiring directors to follow their creative dreams.