Singapore Film Festival: 4 Takeaways

Singapore Film Festival: 4 Takeaways

Welcoming nearly 200 international guests from film delegations and juries, the 33rd Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) marked an exuberant return to the hustle and bustle of its pre-pandemic editions. Running from Nov. 24 to Dec. 4, the festival offered 101 films and a first-ever VR short film program, with Singaporean films comprising over a quarter of the lineup.

The tides of change have been stirring since the festival brought in new program director Thong Kay Wee for the 2021 edition, which saw a significant revamp of its program sections. The festival’s first real test ground was the fully-physical format this year.

Here are four takeaways from the 2022 edition of the festival.

Expanded geographical ambitions

The festival’s programming and industry laboratories are expanding significantly. For example, the festival’s Producers Network has expanded to include producers across Asia, compared to just Southeast Asia in previous editions. Emily J., executive director of SGIFF, said that while the opportunities for networking in Southeast Asia are great it was important to expand the network for producers. Hoe shares. Fran Borgia — producer of Apprentice (Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes 2016) and A Land Imagined (Golden Leopard winner at Locarno 2018) — served as the program specialist for the new Asian Producers Network.

Emily J. Hoe

SGIFF’s executive director, Emily J. Hoe

SGIFF

Hoe points out the festival’s opening film, Assault by Kazakh filmmaker Adilkhan Yerzhanov, as another example of how SGIFF is casting the net wider. Hoe states, “We were thrilled that we had a Central Asian movie for the first time.” This is all about diversity and expanding people’s knowledge of the amazing films from regions that aren’t as well-known .”

Since last year, the festival has shifted away from curating purely by region and towards curating by theme, with sections like Foreground (genre films, including Iranian thriller drama World War III), Altitude (films by established filmmakers, such as Hong Sang-soo’s The Novelist’s Film and Lav Diaz’s A Tale of Filipino Violence) and Undercurrent (experimental films like Australia’s The Plains). Hoe explains that this approach will encourage audiences to see more films as regionally-focused programming often doesn’t tell the whole story of the work.

Hoe believes that the festival will continue to work with other film festivals all over the world and connect its Southeast Asian Film Lab to overseas film development incubators.

Triumphant homecoming for two alumni titles

Two stalwart films, which have seen outstanding runs on the global festival circuit this year — Autobiography and Leonor Will Never Die — celebrated their homecoming at SGIFF as alumni of the festival’s Southeast Asian Film Lab. These films are all directed by Martika Ramirez Escobar and Makbul Mubarak, respectively.

“Projects don’t happen overnight. They don’t have very quick timelines,” Hoe says about how she evaluates whether Film Academy’s programs achieve their goals. “We believe success is measured over time. It’s not something we can force, especially when we push for more collaborations and coproductions. These can become more complicated and take more time to develop .”

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An alumnus of the Southeast Asian Film Lab, Mubarak’s Autobiography celebrated a jubilant homecoming as it clinched the top prize at SGIFF’s Silver Screen Awards. The festival’s jury, which includes Ritu Sarin, Lav Diaz and Dennis Lim, as well as New York Film Festival artistic Director Dennis Lim, bestowed the Best Asian Film award on the Indonesian feature.

Filipina filmmaker Escobar won the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival for Innovative Spirit with Leonor will Never Die ,. It was screened at SGIFF’s Asian Feature Film Competition.

Hoe says, “It’s all about that network of contacts, and then whether it inspires collaboration, coproduction, or even an offer to help.” It comes in many forms and ways. All these conversations may have occurred in secret and may only be revealed later.

Tech-driven filmmaking in independent cinema

The festival also addressed top-of-the mind issues in tech-driven filmmaking. SGIFF’s first ever VR film program was launched with two short films from Singapore. SGIFF also hosted a forum titled “Future of Cinema” that addressed questions such as the role of visual effects and CGI in an independent filmmaking environment. The forum also discussed the increasing use of virtual production, extended realities (XR), and game engines in Asian filmmaking.

These topics were very timely for the festival, and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority announced on Dec. 7 that they will launch a $5 Million Virtual Production Innovation Fund. This fund will be used by the local media industry to improve its capabilities in virtual production technology. It will also partner with the UK’s National Film and Television School to provide training.

Audience development remains a priority for next year

Hoe says that audience development is an area where the festival plans to increase its efforts next year. Hoe admits that while the festival organizes community screenings as well as film education programs in schools and colleges, it is still a challenge to grow an appetite for independent films in Singapore.

Hoe states that the strategy was to put local films in front of a wider audience, to show them the amazing talent. “We need to continue to grow the audience and hopefully people will see a little more independent cinema.”

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