Screen Time

Published on 26 October 2017

Since the Singapore International Film Festival made its comeback in 2014, it has become much more than an event that just screens and awards films. By any yardstick, it is now also an incubator and catalyst for the regional film industry.

By MELANIE LEE

The Singapore International Film Festival is this country’s largest and longest-running film event.

Its nearly 30-year run of showing international films to an appreciative Singaporean audience was interrupted briefly when, in 2012, it went on a two-year hiatus and relaunched with a new management team in 2014. As the Festival’s Executive Director Yuni Hadi recalls, the timing was perfect as young talents like Boo Junfeng and Anthony Chen were then making waves on the international front with their films. “In the region, it was a challenging time sustaining film festivals, so the relaunch was a chance for us to reconnect and find our place. There was a sense of excitement about what was ahead.”

NURTURING SOUTHEAST ASIAN FILMMAKERS

Actress Zhang Ziyi walking the red carpet on the opening night of the 25th SGIFF in 2014. (Photo: Fiorenzo Nizi)

Over the years, the Festival has – especially through the Silver Screen Awards, which were introduced in 1991 – created an important space for local and Asian films to play in, alongside international films. In 2014, it expanded its Singapore Short Film category to include a Southeast Asian Short Film Category to recognise more filmmaking talents in the region. That same year, it also launched a developmental programme called Southeast Asian Film Lab, a story development workshop for emerging filmmakers from Southeast Asia working on feature-length films. Through this programme, two Vietnamese films – Pham Ngoc Lan’s Cu Li Never Cries and Le Bao’s Taste – have gone on to be selected by the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation film development initiative, the Atelier, while Malaysian filmmaker Bradley Liew’s 2016 Singing In Graveyards has been screened at over 20 film festivals worldwide.

“When a festival grows, it is easy to be distracted by high profile events,” says Hadi. “It is thus important to remember the core of what we stand for – inspiring the discovery of independent cinema, championing the voices of regional filmmakers, and grooming the next generation of cinematic talents through developmental initiatives.”

GROWING A COMMUNITY OF FILM LOVERS

Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky at the screening of Pi at the 27th SGIFF in 2016.

While the Singapore International Film Festival has managed to foster a local cinema-going culture that goes beyond the typical Hollywood or Hong Kong films, Hadi says more should be done.

“The cinema audience has changed so much. It is exposed to a lot of things with the development of internet. With online film platforms and even airlines reflecting diverse programming, our challenge is really to create a dialogue between the audience and the filmmaker, to provide insight into new culture and create a thirst for something more,” she says. “At the Festival, we see audiences come alive when the discussions with the filmmaker are in-depth and interesting.” In fact, last year, besides a growth in the number of festival-attendees, there was a 50 per cent increase from the previous year in attendance for masterclasses and talks.

In light of this trend, the Festival organises a monthly public dialogue series called New Waves with emerging Southeast Asian filmmakers. It also has the Audience Choice Award that allows attendees to nominate their favourite film to be re-screened on the last day of the festival.

Beneath these ambitious and innovative initiatives lies the challenge of ensuring the Festival stays sustainable. Says Hadi, “We are actively looking for like-minded partners as sponsors. For example, this year, we expanded our partnership with Marina Bay Sands and co-launched a Youth Film Project with them. We really want to continue to champion the film talent and cinema of Southeast Asia.”

The 28th Singapore International Film Festival will take place from 23 November – 3 December 2017. Visit sgiff.com for more information.

THE DIRECTOR’S CUT

Photo: Singapore International Film Festival
Photo: Singapore International Film Festival

Executive Director of the 28th Singapore International Film Festival, YUNI HADI, on how her love for film drives her to push the Festival to new heights.

“Film uniquely combines the many different art forms I love – writing, acting, fashion, music, photography. I grew up surrounded by VHS tapes of John Wayne and martial arts movies, and, at 14, I dragged my family to watch La Femme Nikita and Cyrano de Bergerac with me. When I was 16, I discovered the Singapore International Film Festival as an audience member and there was no looking back after that. In my early 20s, I worked with the Festival on presenting projects when I was at the Singapore Film Commission and later, The Substation. I was the Festival Manager for its 21st and 22nd editions in 2008 and 2009, and came back in 2014 for its 25th edition as Executive Director.

I work closely with a great team and we are very much like family. We all believe that our Southeast Asian and Singaporean creators should become our heroes, people whom our youths and audiences celebrate by saying, ‘I want to be like them when I grow up’. With this year’s 28th Festival, we hope to deliver a rich and immersive festival experience, by bringing together filmmakers from the region and expanding the conversation of filmmaking and its future.”

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