Singapore hosts a film festival. The Singapore International Film Festival was launched in 1987. The festival is an annual film event, held around April/May each year, and screens about 300 films from over 45 countries. Besides screening award-winning and critically acclaimed films, the festival also features workshops, seminars and exhibitions on film-making for film students and the film industry. [Source: Wikipedia]

The festival accepts formats in 16mm, 35mm, VHS, U-matic (PAL). Up to 2007, SIFF was led by its 3 Festival Directors: Philip Cheah, Lesley Ho and Teo Swee Leng, who also acted as Board Members, together with the festival founder Geoffrey Malone. In 2007 after the 20th edition, Jasmine Ng was appointed the new Board Member and Wahyuni A. Hadi joined as Festival Manager. In 2008, Wahyuni A. Hadi and Zhang Wenjie were appointed Festival Directors. The current Festival Board Members are Philip Cheah, Geoffrey Malone and Jasmine Ng.

Singapore has poured millions of dollars into developing a film industry and nurturing local talent. “Twelve Stories”, a film by Singapore director Eric Khoo, was screened at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. It was the first Singaporean film to be shown at the festival. It is targic comedy about residenst in Singaporean aprtment blikc that include a bureaucrat precoccupied with hsi sister’s sex ife; a ahwkers who wonders why his Chinese why doesn’t sleep with after getting permanent residnet status; and women who misses her overbearing dead mother,

The Asian Festival of First Films is an annual festival that celebrates first-time film- and documentary-makers and provides a platform for budding film talent. It was first launched in November 2005 by Teamwork Productions (organiser) with Singapore's Media Development Authority, as part of the Asia Media Festival. The festival culminates in a grand, star-studded gala Awards Night at Raffles Hotel Ballroom during which the results of the competition are announced.

Call for a Ban Babies in Singaporean Cinemas

In 2000, AFP reported: “A baby's cries inside a cinema have kicked up a storm in Singapore after a man wrote to the Straits Times suggesting babies be banned from movies. "Is the cinema any place to take baby?" the paper asked in a front-page teaser Friday to an interactive poll of what Singaporeans thought of the idea. Most who responded to the online poll favoured a baby ban. Reader Jacky Tai sparked the furore in a letter published in the Times on Tuesday where he complained that he and his wife were unable to enjoy the movie X-Men because of a mother pacing the cinema aisle to soothe her crying baby. He proposed that children under three years of age be banned from cinemas and mothers who take them be thrown out. Many Singaporeans polled agreed. Some suggested parents be "educated" not to take babies to the movies, while others said it was just plain common sense.[Source: Agence France Presse, August 4, 2000 ^]

“According to housewife Patricia Ng: "Parents shouldn't bring their children under three years old to places like the cinemas. Unless the show is a children's cartoon, it is not appropriate." Isaac Ng, a council member of the Singapore Kindness Movement and father of four, said: "When a mother goes to the movie, she wants to enjoy it. Why stress herself and stress her baby. Poor baby." But Michelle Lee disagreed, saying a mother nursing her baby inside a cinema was better than "inconsiderate people who put up their feet against the back of your seat or throw popcorn all over the place."^

"First of all, there are bigger things to worry about in life," she wrote in the Times. Mohamad Azni Abdul Ghani said Tai's letter "smacks of hooliganism" and reminded him "at least to learn to live and let live in this less perfect world." Christina Tan said she once took her eight-month-old daughter to the movies and "she did not give me any problems, and I just used a blanket to cover her ears." Marcus Khaw, operations director of film distributor Golden Village Pictures Pte Ltd, said despite the uproar he did not think babies would ever be banned from cinemas.

"It's not necessary," he told AFP. But he said parents should be considerate of others. "People can bring their babies as long as they are mindful that their children won't make noise, that they should behave in consideration of others." Mark Shaw of film distributor Shaw Organisation said when a baby starts crying "the decent thing to do is to leave the hall and not disturb others' viewing pleasure."

Singapore Says Politically Motivated Movies 'Undesirable'

Under an amendment to the Films Act in 1998 the use of political films or videos is banned. Anyone who makes, imports, reproduces or distributes a film, “made by any person and directed toward any political end in Singapore” can be fined or jailed up to two years.

In 2005, Associated Press reported: “The Singapore government said politically motivated films were "an undesirable medium" to debate issues, as a documentary filmmaker faces possible charges over a movie about an opposition politician. Martyn See is under investigation for Singapore Rebel, a 26-minute movie about Chee Soon Juan, a frequent critic of the government. Police said See may have violated the Films Act for knowingly distributing or exhibiting a "party political film." He could be fined up to S$100,000 (US$60,606; €46,200) or imprisoned as long as two years if he's tried and convicted. [Source: Associated Press, May 14, 2005 /*/]

"Party political films are disallowed because they are an undesirable medium for political debate in Singapore," the Ministry of Information's communications director K. Bhavani said in an open letter published in the local Straits Times newspaper Saturday. "They can present political issues in a sensational manner, evoking emotional rather than rational reactions," Bhavani said. "There remains ample opportunity for political parties and their supporters to express their opinions." Bhavani's letter was an apparent reaction to See's yet-unscreened movie, and a letter from a group of Singapore filmmakers who castigated the country's laws, which appear to ban any movie criticizing government policy. See made his maiden film independently and said he wanted to "chronicle the civil disobedience acts of Chee Soon Juan." Chee currently faces bankruptcy after he was ordered to pay S$500,000 (US$303,000) to Singapore's former prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, for defaming them during an election campaign in 2001. /*/

“Singapore Rebel was earlier yanked from the Singapore International Film Festival - one of the country's showcase events to promote itself as an arts hub. But See said his movie will be screened at other venues later this month - the New Zealand Human Rights Film Festival and the Amnesty International Film Festival in Hollywood. Singapore, a wealthy Southeast Asian city-state, is widely criticized for its tight controls on political activity and the media.” /*/

Singapore Eases Law on Political Films

In 2009, Reuters reported: “Singapore passed an amended law on Monday to ease an 11-year-old ban on films that promote a politician or political party, but the amendments also introduce restrictions on dramatized political videos. The relaxation of rules on political films was meant to keep up with the spread of video and other news content on the Internet, but these had to be "held in accordance with the law," Lui Tuck Yew, a junior minister at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts, told parliament. [Source: Reuters, March 23, 2009 /]

“The amended Films Act allows films that are factual and objective, and do not dramatize or present a distorted picture of politics in Singapore, Lui said. "Films with animation and dramatization and distort what is real or factual will be disallowed, as the intent of the amendments is to ensure that these films do not undermine the seriousness of political debate," he said. The southeast Asian city-state, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party for more than 40 years, had banned the production and screening of all political films, imposing a maximum fine of S$100,000 ($73,000) or a two-year jail term on offenders. /

“The ban came into effect in 1998, two years after the opposition Singapore Democratic Party applied for a license to sell a videotape about the party. Public gatherings of more than four people without permits are also banned, making it difficult for opposition politicians to reach out to voters. The amended bill won overwhelming support in a parliament that has been dominated by the PAP since Singapore's independence in 1965. /

“Nominated member of parliament Siew Kum Hong, who opposed the bill, said the amendments did not go far enough as it would still allow the prosecution of people who film political rallies without realizing whether the event was lawful or not. "Singaporeans are today far more sophisticated and media savvy than before and should be trusted for the merit and demerit of films for themselves," he told parliament. Martyn See, a Singaporean film-maker who had two films banned by authorities because of their political content, called the law "regressive." "It shows off a government that is incapable of trusting its own citizens to watch political films." /

Film Censorship in Singapore

Jake Lloyd-Smith of Associated Press wrote: “Such movies as The English Patient and Titanic have been censored, and Nicole Kidman's lesbian kissing scene in The Hours was cut. The government says its conservative citizens want censorship — and other restraints — to preserve order and family values in a multicultural society. But officials also insist they have been easing up to suit the demands of a younger, more open generation exposed to overseas influences. They point to dropping a ban on bungee jumping and bar-top dancing as evidence of the softer line. A ban on the sale of chewing gum also was eased this year. [Source: Jake Lloyd-Smith, Associated Press, July 24, 2004]

According to Reuters: “Kate Winslet's disrobing scene in the film Titanic was deemed too daring. Scenes of women kissing each other in the award-winning film The Hours were also cut, as was a brief glimpse of nudity in recent Oscar honouree Lost in Translation. The cuts are easily noticeable, giving movie scenes a disjointed feel. [Source: Reuters, March 26, 2004]

In May 2006, censors barred viewers below 16 years of age from watching ‘The Da Vinci Code’ because they were afraid some children might see it as a factual movie. The blockbuster film poses the explosive idea that Jesus Christ married his follower Mary Magdalene and started a bloodline that still exists in secret. AFP

The 1982 film “The Year of Living Dangerously”, with Mel Gibson, was banned until 1999 because it dealt with a failed political coup in Indonesia in 1965. “Zoolander”—the Ben Stiller comedy film about a self-absorbed male model who is brainwashed to kill the prime minister of Malaysia because of his threat to the fashion industry was banned for “controversial elements.”

The name of the film “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” was changed to “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shoiked Me”. "Shoik" means "treat nicely" in Singapore slang. Even though "shagged" means "tired" in Singapore slang, film censors didn’t want confusion with the British definition of "shag" which means sex. Later the ruling was changed and the film was allowed to keep its real name and was shown largely uncut.

“Eyes Wide Shut”—the Stanley Kubrik film with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman—was banned. Scenes cut by censors have included Kate Winslet disrobing in “Titanic”. In 2003, the Singapore government decided that films with homosexual themes could be show in commercial cinemas while movies such as “Gladiator”s could be restricted to audiences over 18 because of violence.

The “Rocky Horror Picture Show” was banned for 28 years and finally shown in 2003. AFP reported: “It has taken 28 years but Singapore authorities have finally succumbed to the charms of alien transvestite Frank-n-Furter and approved the screening of one of the world's most famous cult films, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The film got a one-time screening at the end of a three-day film festival to celebrate Halloween, ticketing agency TicketCharge said. "There is also the exclusive premiere of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, 28 years after it was banned in Singapore," it said. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical sci-fi satire centred on sexually ambiguous Frank-n-Furter, was a cinema flop on its release in 1975 but quickly became a cult with audiences loving the camp humour and addictive soundtrack. Other horror flicks to be screened during at the festival include the acclaimed Japanese production The Ring. [Source: Agence France Presse, October 29, 2003]

Singapore Says Satire on Censorship Not Funny

A 13-minute film satire about censorship released in 2004 called “Cut”, was not seen as so funny by Singaporean censors. A spokesman for the Minister of Information Communications and Arts said “The producer may think it is funny, but I’m afraid that I don’t appreciate such unbecoming attempts to undermine the standards of a public institution.”

Reuters reported: “A cinematic spoof on Singapore's strait-laced film censors could be censored itself. Royston Tan, a young film-maker whose first full-length feature about drugs and delinquency won international plaudits last year, is courting controversy even before his latest film Cut hits the screens. The 13-minute satire, due to open the Singapore International Film Festival in April, is about a film buff who has a chance encounter in a supermarket with a censorship board official and explodes into a rant on films the board has cut.[Source: Reuters, March 26, 2004 ^=^]

“The Government, is not laughing. One minister said in Parliament the film could sap Singapore's institutions. "The producer may think it is funny, but I'm afraid that I don't appreciate such unbecoming attempts to undermine the standing of a public institution," Lee Boon Yang said, Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts. Despite recent steps to loosen some of Singapore's stuffier laws, such as adopting a new film ratings system to give young adults more access to mature content and allowing bars to stay open for 24 hours in some parts of the city of 4 million, state film censorship remains pervasive. Officials say they need more time to ensure citizens are not offended. ^=^

Mr Lee, the Arts Minister, told Parliament that "making fun" of the censorship board would not prompt the Government to change its rules "to suit the agenda of those with vested interests". Industry sources say some state-funded art institutions have started to distance themselves from Tan, a 27-year-old film-maker who was hailed last year as one of the brightest new lights in Singapore's nascent movie industry.

Tan, whose film 15 about drugs and delinquency won a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival last year, said he had hoped Cut would spark a constructive dialogue about censorship. He said it was not meant to be malicious. "It's not that I wanted to tear down the system or something like that - I believe in the system, but we can improve on it," Tan said. "I really think it's constructive," he said of his film. He said he was merely voicing an opinion through the medium he knows best.

Film buffs were concerned that an exhibition of Tan's work at the Singapore History Museum would not be shown. A spokeswoman for the museum said the timing of his planned retrospective clashed with the city state's film festival. The fate of Cut also hangs in the balance as the film festival organisers wait to learn how the satire will be rated. "It's a matter of waiting to see what it is," Vinita Ramani said, the festival's publicist. "The policy has always been that if the film is going to be proposed passed with cuts, we don't show it."Mr Lee's ministry played down talk of a backlash against the film-maker. Another of his films, commissioned by the museum, would be shown there until 2006. "We will continue to tap all creative talents to help us make Singapore an interesting and vibrant place," the spokeswoman said.

Singaporean Censors Help Make Royston Tan’s Film Cut a Hit

Jake Lloyd-Smith of Associated Press wrote: “Buttonholding the chief censor, an avid, frizzy-haired filmgoer quizzes the official mercilessly about movie scenes deemed unfit for the people of this Southeast Asian city-state. Then he breaks into song: "Thank you, madam censor, for saving our country." It's a scene from Cut, a 12-minute movie made for $14,500 in 48 hours by Singapore's maverick filmmaker, Royston Tan, to lampoon the Board of Film Censors. "I would rather be punished for telling the truth, than not telling it and being a hypocrite," he says. [Source: Jake Lloyd-Smith, Associated Press, July 24, 2004 ]

“Much like Michael Moore's polemical films in America, Tan draws the wrath of the powerful. And true to the old Hollywood adage, the fresh-faced 27-year-old is finding there is no such thing as bad publicity. Arts Minister Lee Boon Yang took to the floor of Parliament earlier this year to castigate Cut, saying it is "unhealthy" to poke fun at public officials. "I don't appreciate such unbecoming attempts to undermine the standing of a public institution," Lee told lawmakers.

“After the tirade, Tan found he had a minor hit on his hands. "I think that I owe the minister a favor. Ever since he mentioned my name, there's been calls," he said after a recent private screening. Cut has been downloaded at least 50,000 times from a comedy Web site, and it has been booked to screen at more than 50 international film festivals. Tan also hopes to get it into local theaters. He made Cut after his internationally acclaimed movie 15 was chopped up by the censors, who removed 27 scenes. The 2003 movie focused on Singapore's gritty underbelly of drug use, gangs and disaffected teenagers, and provoked a storm of local criticism during a limited showing in Singapore. "My child got disfigured," says Tan, who left the country for a month to recover his poise after the censoring. Before the board considered the movie, he had thought only two scenes would be removed.

“But while Cut may have angered lawmakers, the acerbic spoof escaped the censors by not crossing into taboo areas — primarily nudity, bad language and the depiction of anti-social practices, such as drug-taking, or venturing into the sensitive area of race. "While the film was factually inaccurate and critical ... it did not breach the classification guidelines," the Media Development Authority said. The Board of Film Censors is among the busiest in Asia in clipping movie scenes.

“Still, most of Singapore's fundamental social and political controls remain in place. For Tan, one of the brightest lights in Singapore's modest film industry, the changes in movies and other artistic areas are not coming fast enough. "If we really want to open up, we must give due credit to the arts," he says. But Tan is optimistic about prospects for further change, and says he'll continue tackling tough or offbeat subjects. His next movie will be a full-length feature about insomniacs on the island nation. "I believe only Singaporeans can tell the Singapore story, even though there's a lot of discouragement," he says.”

Police Censor Royston Tan’s Film About Teenage Gang Life

John Aglionby of The Guardian wrote: “With his spiky hair, infectious bonhomie and casual dress sense, the 27-year-old Singaporean film-maker Royston Tan is not obvious as a threat to national security. He has more than two dozen awards and his debut feature film, 15, last year became the first movie from Singapore to compete at the Venice film festival. "15 is the best Singaporean work for the last few years," said Philip Cheah, director of the Singapore international film festival, of the drama about a teenage gang of misfits struggling to survive in the abandoned underbelly of the city state's supposedly squeaky-clean society. But Singapore's police, reflecting the government's obsession with social order and national stability, dubbed the film a threat to national security. [Source: John Aglionby, The Guardian , January 5, 2004 ***]

“Much of 15, which is cast with real teenage gang members, has no discernible plot, due partly to the fact that one of the stars was arrested for stabbing another gang member halfway through filming. It is a no-holds-barred, fly-on-the-wall part-documentary, part-drama of their unconventional lifestyle. One "actor" repeatedly slashes his wrists with a box cutter, another forces a condom packed with drugs down his throat to smuggle overseas, two pierce each others' faces to insert studs and one squirms as he gets a rudimentary tattoo. "The act of inflicting pain on themselves is like a form of rebellion," Tan said. "I think I do have a responsibility [to intervene] but I have a greater responsibility to tell the audience how they lead their lives. "You know that shows a very real side of their lives and there's a growing number of kids like this." Police statistics confirm this. Crimes committed by children aged seven to 15 rose 56 percent in Singapore in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year, while youth crime in 2002 was 55 percent higher than in 2001. ***

“But Singaporeans have no need to learn about this niche of their society in such a graphic way and through a vehicle with no moral message, according to the authorities - even though the Singapore Film Council funded 25 percent of 15's S$200,000 (£68,000) production costs. "The police were concerned about scenes which featured real-life gang chants which had resulted in gang fights when they were sung in public places," said a spokeswoman for the Media Development Authority, which oversees censorship. "The film also named actual secret societies and their operational grounds which the police felt would serve to promote and give prominence to these gangs." The censorship board reportedly wanted only one cut before approving 15's release in Singapore, a brief shot of a 17cm (7in) penis, while the police insisted on 26 further deletions. After four months of deliberations 15 was released with about 10 of its 100 minutes expunged, but with an 18 rating and not in suburban cinemas. ***

“Tan had prepared a version for Singapore with the penis and a few other shots deleted but was not prepared for the scale of the controversy. But he says he is unable to discuss the way his film was treated. "I've been advised not to talk about censorship, that we should move on," he said, admitting only that one of the stars, Shaun Tan (no relation), had told him police had interrogated him. "Shaun [told me he] was threatened to be stripped and have cold water poured over him if he didn't give the answers they wanted," he said. "It's strange I haven't been questioned. I offered myself but they didn't want to speak to me." ***

“Singaporeans' desire to see 15 was unambiguously demonstrated on the only occasion it was shown uncensored, at the Singapore international film festival. "The 1002 tickets sold out in less than a day, breaking the record for the festival," Tan said. But perhaps 15's greatest accolade was not winning the international film critics' award at the festival, but the authorities' response. In December 2003, the national crime prevention council and police released their own 90-minute feature about gang life and the consequences of teenage recidivism, After School. "We were told this film was made to correct the image of Singapore that 15 did not give," Tan said. "They said 15 is an extreme film while their film brings out the right consequences of crime. "That's the biggest compliment that somebody could ever give me." ***

The executive director of the crime prevention council, Lee Chee Chiew, denies this, saying he has never seen 15 and cannot comment on any comparison. A police spokesman, Acting Superintendent Ang Poon Seng, said the decision to make a film was merely "to harness the power of movies and their widespread popularity among teenagers" and had nothing to do with 15. The two films' styles are undoubtedly very different and After School is laced with such moralising soundbites as: "There's nothing to lose, just walk away"; "The police are so powerful they can target anyone"; "How can he survive if he has a criminal record?"; and "The things that come free are actually the most expensive." "The films differ in terms of treatment and messaging," the Media Development Authority spokeswoman said. "After School is about love and the importance of family bonding, and carries a clear anti-crime message. 15 focuses on secret societies and teen gangs, and has no clear moral message.”“ ***

“I Not Stupid”: Film About Pampered but Bullied Singapore Kids a Big Hit

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “In Singaporean fashion, several mothers are talking about motivating their pre-teen children in school, drawing one cracking advice from one: “Use the cane. Got cane 90 marks, no cane 40 marks.” Invariably, the subject moves to grades and streaming, boastfully or ruefully whatever the case may be. “Wah, your son only EM3, mine EM1!” EM stands for English-Mother Tongue, with top students rotating to the latter stream. These scenes are from “I Not Stupid”, a local film now playing to packed houses here. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, February 24, 2002 |=|]

“The reason for its popularity is it pokes fun at the way intelligence is measured by exam marks and reflects public disdain for imported foreigners when unemployment is growing. It strikes an emotional chord among Singaporeans who interpret it as an indictment of government policies they dislike and ridiculously over-expectant parents who drive their kids to suicide. The movie speaks up for poor graders, who are suffering the ignominy of being branded as stupid by their own parents and society at large. It has provoked a lot of discussions at Internet chat-rooms. |=|

“Several boys act well as first-timers. One of them plays the role of an overweight pampered son of a crude but rich dialect-speaking businessman, whose wife scolds her children for buttering their bread at breakfast. “Aiyah, how many times I tell you to leave the maid to do it.” Her rationale: the maid is paid to do the work. Symbolising the government, the matronly mother, dressed in white (colour of People’s Action Party) whacks her son into obedience so much that he dares not do anything without his mother. He is in his pre-teens and he allows his mother, strong-minded but well meaning, to make all his decisions. She knows what’s best for them. Some fans say she represents the nanny, interfering state; she keeps telling her children: “You are so lucky to have such a good mother who gives you everything.” The result is a son who hasn’t a thought of his own and a rebelling teenage daughter. Once at a party at their bungalow, he is bullied to tears by some other boys, and later complains: “I'm in my own home, why should I be bullied by outsiders?” This is seen as a criticism of “foreign talent.” |=|

“The fat boy, who is lousy in his studies but is a great artist, angrily shouts “I Not Stupid” when his mother tears into him over his report card. His talent is revealed at the end when he wins a world-class painting award and matures to develop a mind of his own. The message is: “Stop raising children who are hopelessly dependent on parents or government.” The movie’s comment on politics – or so some fans believe – comes in the form of the teenage daughter (the opposition?) who is always demanding more individual freedom. In one scene she resists the efforts by her mother (allegedly the government) coming into her room to replace some “goofy” decorations she had put up with old-fashioned ones. “But this is my room, leave it to me to decide,” she protests to no avail. She is also unhappy because her mother keeps her ang pow money, saying it is hers. When her mother says “I’ll keep it and invest it for you,” she bursts out: “Yeah, you keep my money and you lose it in some of your stupid investments.” |=|

Making “I Not Stupid”

Seah Chiang Nee wrote in The Star, “The movie marks a turning point of sorts.”I Not Stupid”, put together by Channel 8 TV comedian Jack Neo, 42, is the first that criticises – although indirectly – policies in Singapore since independence. Firstly, it ignores the government’s call to stop using Singlish, a patois of Hokkien and English. It shows the extent of Singapore’s opening up, at least in the arts and movies. Ten years ago, it would not have been possible. Another telling point is that the S$900,000 film is produced by Raintree Pictures, the movie arm of government-owned MediaCorp, which operates most of Singapore’s TV and radio stations. It passed the censors without any cut. [Source: Seah Chiang Nee, The Star, February 24, 2002 |=|]

“Neo told an interviewer that he decided to do a movie about children after watching the Iranian film “Children of Heaven” (1997) with his wife three years ago. It was a tale of two impoverished siblings sharing a pair of shoes. “My wife and I were holding hands and crying after seeing the love shared by these Iranian children,” he said. |=|

““I Not Stupid” also reflects another social worry – the declining respect for the Chinese language by the new generation. Raintree CEO Daniel Yun said: “It is bold, but it does not criticise just for the sake of it. So the boldness is defensible. “The film doesn’t intend to provide answers. It encourages people to see things from different perspectives. “For instance, it actually takes a mainland Chinese in the movie to tell us we have one-track minds. Only a foreigner can tell us that.” |=|

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated June 2015

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