When local filmmaker Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined won the Golden Leopard Award, the top prize at the Lucarno Film Festival, it became clear that there is more to Singapore cinema than Jack Neo’s grassroots comedy and CGIs in Ah Boys to Men. The leap forward is in no small part thanks to the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), which has been the platform for establishing local, and Southeast Asian, filmmakers to present their work for the last 30 years.
Other than the headline-grabbing Wet Season — the opening film of 30th SGIFF by local writer-director Anthony Chen — cinephiles can look forward to films across in number of categories. These are: Special Presentations, Southeast Asian Short Films and Asian Feature Films (both under SGIFF’s Films in Competition), Singapore Panorama, Asian Vision, Cinema Today, Midnight Mayhem, and Classics.
For this episode, we dive into the films from the first four categories.
To celebrate strong female characters as films’ protagonists, SGIFF presents three films — Not A Time to Celebrate, Downtown Abbey, and Nina Wu. And we look forward to Burmese filmmaker Midi Z’s Nina Wu, a film featured in the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
Inspired by the events of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Nina Wu is a struggling young actress who is desperate for the career-defining breakout role. After years of mediocre acting roles, she was offered the lead role of a film that comes with a catch: perform explicit sex scenes with nudity. The film provides Nina the fame she craves, but her shot to fame eventually haunts her psychological well-being and her personal life.
Nina Wu premieres on 24 November, 8 pm, at the Capitol Theatre. Ticket information here.
films in competition
In SGIFF, there are two ways to spend the given 90 to 120 minutes. One, of course, is to catch a film by itself. Another is to catch a series of four to five short films in one seating. Depending on which you prefer, the Asian Feature Films and the Southeast Asian Short Films cater to that respectively. And personally, I prefer the latter.
Southeast Asian Short Films
Some films featured in this sub-category are international premiere status Gallery (Vietnam) by Vo Anh Vu, Asian premiere status Adam (Singapore) by Shoki Lin, and a banned film from Thailand’s art event Biennale Krabi 2018, Birth of Golden Snail (Thailand) by Chulayarnnon Siriphol. And these offerings are split throughout four programmes, each comprising four to five short films.
Our pick is Programme 2, and specifically, Kris Ong’s Sunday (Singapore), which includes Pham Thien An’s Stay Awake, Be Ready (Vietnam), Chuah Jie Xie’s Lanny (Malaysia), Lidia Afrilita and David Darmadi’s Diary of Cattle (Indonesia), and Duong Dieu Linh’s Sweet, Salty (Vietnam).
Prior to Sunday, Ong, a script consultant for HBO Asia, has written and directed short films like You Idiot in 2018, which was screened at the Norwegian Short Film Festival (Kortfilmfestivalen). Unlike You Idiot, which talks about a gentle relationship between two straight men, Sunday, her third film, broaches heavier issues. It is about a young woman with a full-body rash, driven to violence during a forbidden encounter with her sister’s boyfriend.
Sunday, part of the Southeast Asian Short Films (Programme 2), premieres on 29 November, 7 pm, at the National Gallery Singapore. Ticket information here.
Asian Feature Films
If you still prefer the old-fashioned movie experience, the Asian Feature Films’ list is packed with choices like the fear of retirement in Oren Gerner’s Africa (Israel), the abusive marriage in Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s Verdict (Philippines), and the conspiracy within a prison in Serhat Karaaslan’s Passed By Censor (Turkey). But our pick goes to Shahad Ameen’s Scales (UAE).
With the recent incident of India’s Nusrat Jahan Rafi, Hayat’s desire, in Scales, to be heard and to be relevant in her community is a fitting narrative for recent times. This makes Ameen’s film, which won the Verona Film Club Award in the 76th Venice Film Festival, relatable and one to look out for at SGIFF.
Scales presents a religious fishing community that believes in sacrificing a daughter from every family during an annual ritual to appease the “sea creatures” for a good harvest. Hayat, however, was spared from it. This made her live in “shame” in the village as they believed that her being spared has cursed them. But Hayat is determined to prove them wrong.
Scales premieres on 28 November, 7 pm, at the National Museum of Singapore; 29 November, 4.30 pm, at the Oldham Theatre. Ticket information here.
What’s SGIFF like in Singapore without a local touch? Films in this category tell the stories closest to home, and reflecting the realities of her contemporary society. For instance, her marginalised families, her migrant workers, and her education system.
Similar to the Southeast Asian Short Films, cinephiles can choose either a series of five short films, or an individual film, to watch. For this, our pick is Lei Yuan Bin’s I Dream of Singapore (Singapore), an individual film.
On one hand, this film documents the human rights being violated in a first-world country. On the other, it could act as a reminder of how our sense of xenophobia might hinder us from empathising with the migrant workers. I Dream of Singapore, Lei’s fourth film, latches on the journey of a migrant worker in Singapore, Feroz, who got injured and got denied treatment by his employer. Through his own eyes, Lei captures snippets of the daily lives of Feroz and the other migrant workers, from listening to music in their dorm rooms, to being policed aggressively in crowded areas.
I Dream of Singapore premieres on 24 November, 930 pm, at the Oldham Theatre. Ticket information here.
The 30th Singapore Film Festival (SGIFF) happens from 21 November to 1 December.