Lord David Puttnam: Singapore Needs To Place Emphasis on Cultural Policies with a Long-Term Mindset

With 10 Oscars under his belt and a lifetime of accolades from the film industry, Lord David Puttnam is someone who has seen it all and now sits on various academic boards and was a trustee of numerous high profile organizations include the Tate Gallery and BAFTA.

We caught Puttnam before he embarked on his red carpet duties at the 29th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), where he shared his views of shortcomings in Singapore’s current cultural policies, the adverse effects of our education system and his predictions of Apple buying over Netflix. The self-taught film producer candidly quipped “I’m at an age where it’s not important for people to like me, so I say whatever I want to”.

Puttnam speaks fondly of his times in the UK government, where policies were set with long-term targets in mind. During his time, cultural growth by GDP % grew from 2% to 7% in 10 years. This is unlike what he observes of the Singapore cultural scene. He re-emphasized his respect for the current electorate and friends who are currently within the system;  and strongly urges that the current mode of thinking in policy making has to shift to one that is long-term. Perhaps this can be done by designating this function to a more Senior Minister who would have more clout to push policies through and  better oversight of how this fits into the broader scheme of things.

“There’s no shame if Singapore does not want to be a cultural hub. Right now, what it seems is that the government is laying down inconsistent policies that are focused on short-term outcomes. My view is that you either you place an emphasis on cultural policies with solid outcomes and stick with it for the longer term of at least 10 years, or not do it at all.”

He hinted that if we weren’t mindful, the sense of complacency that looms over our nation might result in other SEA countries overtaking us as cultural purveyors. With the levels of creative energy in Vietnam, he cited it as the next hotbed for the arts as it has three important factors for their young filmmakers to succeed. Namely a thirst for knowledge, cheap rent for people to produce at and a platform for young filmmakers to fail safely.

Netflix’s drive to do things differently and innovate is something he feels Singapore should aspire towards. On whether Netflix’s growth would eventually plateau? “I think it’s important financially for it to make sense for them. That’s how they account for shareholder growth.” For it to be continuously profitable though, it all boils down to seeking out the right talent. His take, however, is that they’re all geared up for a buy-over from Apple, and if that doesn’t happen then perhaps it would fall on Huawei’s lap.

To take our film industry to the next level, Puttnam believes we need excellent talent. And what does it take for good talent to transcend to levels of excellence? An educational foundation that builds upon what students love, a question not probed early enough in our local schools. In his earlier years, Puttnam shared his frustrations of being “badly taught” in school and how he began immersing himself in books on copy writing, design and more to create his own version of a Master’s program.

An ever optimist, Puttnam is focused on bettering the lives of those around him. He is currently working on AR projects that helps children to visualize difficult algebra problems since he used to see math as a hurdle. This same growth mindset and problem-solving mentality is what propelled him to success, and what keeps him constantly excited about life.  During his lectures at LASALLE College of the Arts, he frequently espouses how rigour and resilience are key factors in success. His favourite quote? “Creativity it a muscle. You need to constantly flex it.” 

We’ll be taking the New Year’s break to some time to mull on these observations and look forward to SGIFF that’s returning in 2019.

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