Source: Eko Pictures


Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) has retained banned film #LookAtMe in its official selection, despite the fact it cannot be screened in the country.

Directed by Singapore filmmaker Ken Kwek, the film was handed a local exhibition ban last week on the grounds that “it denigrates a religious community and has the potential to cause enmity and social division in Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-cultural society”, according to a joint statement by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

The film centres on twin brothers, one gay and one straight, whose lives are upended when one posts an irreverent video lampooning the homophobic pastor of a right-wing church.

“There is something defiant and almost brazen about Ken Kwek’s brand of cinema and #LookAtMe might be his most confrontational yet,” said SGIFF programme director Thong Kay Wee. “This distinction adds to the lexicon of contemporary Singapore cinema and deserves to be witnessed by a local audience for everyone to form an opinion about.”

SGIFF’s printed programme – made available at a press event to launch this year’s line-up – states there is “no screening available” for the film.

Produced by Eko Pictures, the feature received its world premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) in July where it proved one of the buzz titles of the event and received a special mention for the performance of Malaysian-born, US-based actor Yao (aka Thomas Pang) who plays the dual role of twin brothers.

#LookAtMe is at heart a story about a family’s love,” director Kwek told Screen. “Yes, it looks at LGBTQ rights and depicts a fictional religious leader who behaves hypocritically, but it also explores many other themes, such as cancel culture and social media excess.

“The film is ultimately a work of fiction and I think most of the Singapore audience is mature enough to understand this. Of course, I would prefer if people were allowed to watch the film and make their own judgments about it or choose not to see it if they feel it’s not their cup of tea. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen as we’ve decided not to appeal the ban.”

The film’s production team had previously planned to submit an appeal in a bid to overturn the ban. But after learning more about the IMDA appeals process, which includes a $355 (S$500) fee, they chose not to challenge the decision.

Despite the local ban, the film’s festival run continues and it is scheduled to screen at upcoming festivals in the US, Australia and Thailand.

Kwek has previously experienced censorship in Singapore. In 2012, his short film anthology Sex.Violence.FamilyValues was banned for containing racial content. However, the ban was later overturned and given an R21 rating. The 45-minute featurette eventually opened in local cinemas and played for 15 weeks.

Kwek’s debut feature, hostage thriller Unlucky Plaza, premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and opened SGIFF in 2014, marking a first by a local film.