Red Dot; Silver Screen: SGIFF showcases Singapore films
Glimpse the future of local film with the festival’s Singapore Panorama program
By Jedd Jong
The Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is an annual event that takes pride of place on the calendars of local cinephiles. Now in its 28th year, the festival and its associated mentorship programs have served as a platform and incubator for homegrown filmmakers. In addition to showcasing cinematic hidden gems from around the region and in-competition films that are judged by an international jury panel, SGIFF shines a spotlight on homegrown talent.
The Singapore Panorama section of the festival is home to a varied selection of feature-length and short films created by Singaporean and Singapore-based filmmakers. The festival has served as a launching pad, helping to boost the careers of notable Singapore filmmakers including Eric Khoo, Kelvin Tong, Kirsten Tan, Royston Tan, Boo Junfeng, and K. Rajagopal, whose films have gone on to garner acclaim at home and abroad.
At the Objectifs gallery, inSing heard from several filmmakers whose works are being included in this year’s line-up. The festival’s Executive Director Wahyuni A. Hadi and Programme Director Pimpaka Towira moderated the panel, as the filmmakers discussed their influences and experiences in creating their works. Hadi is a film producer, author and curator who has been SGIFF’s Festival Director since 2009, while it is Thai writer-director Towira’s first year as a member of the SGIFF team.
Some of the films that audiences can take in at 28th SGIFF include Diamond Dogs, a gritty revenge action thriller in which a deaf-mute man is forced to do battle in an underground fight club; I Want to Go Home, a moving documentary about a Japanese man who lost his wife in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami; Areola Borealis, a light-hearted comedy-drama short in which the uptight mother of the bride frets over an inconvenience-turned-crisis at her daughter’s wedding; hUSh, a documentary about an aspiring singer who moves ventures from Bali to Jakarta to find success and live out her wildest dreams, and Angel, a coming-of-age short of a young man struggling to fulfil his grandmother’s last wish as he and his family grapple with the grief of losing her.
There will also be screenings of two landmark Singaporean films, which are both celebrating their 15th anniversary this year: Jack Neo’s comedy-drama I Not Stupid, and Woo Yen Yen and Colin Goh’s satirical anthology satirical comedy TalkingCock the Movie. I Not Stupid portrayed the struggles faced by schoolchildren who must endure Singapore’s unforgiving education system, while TalkingCock the Movie was an expansion of the satire website TalkingCock.com, founded by lawyer-turned humourist and illustrator Goh.
As is SGIFF tradition, the winner of the previous year’s Best Singapore Short Film award is commissioned to make a new film to screen at the current year’s festival. Chiang Wei Liang, who helmed the award-winning Anchorage Prohibited last year, directed Nyi Ma Lay (Little Sister). The dialogue-free 20-minute-long film is about a troubled young Burmese domestic worker. Chiang wanted to bring attention to the plight of Burmese domestic workers in Singapore, many of whom under-report their age to get work here. In June 2017, a Burmese domestic worker leapt to her death from a condominium in Singapore.
Gavin Lim, who has directed television shows and short films, makes his feature debut with Diamond Dogs. The gritty, violent action thriller stars actor/stunt performer Sunny Pang as a cancer-stricken deaf-mute man who is coerced into competing in an underground fight club for the entertainment the sadistic uber-rich. “For me, it’s to make the hero suffer, then we make the villain to be someone you love to hate,” Lim said. “It’s a fight show, there are 12-14 fights,” Lim said, adding that there were no injuries on set. The film also stars MediaCorp artiste Andie Chen and Japanese adult film starlet Anri Okita.
Wesley Leon Aroozoo’s documentary I Want to Go Home is about Yasuo Takamatsu, a bus driver who learned how to dive so he could search for the remains of his wife, whose body was lost after she was killed in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake/tsunami. After hearing about Takamatsu’s heart-rending quest, Aroozoo reached out to the Japanese man. Over a year’s worth of communication, Aroozoo decided to tell Takamatsu’s story in the twin forms of a novel and a documentary film. “It took a few months to track him down,” Aroozoo said, saying it was only after seven months of translated email exchanges that he raised the subject of Takamatsu’s search for his wife. Twin animators Harry and Henry Zhuang contributed animation to the film. Aroozoo hopes to raise awareness about emergency evacuation measures and how similar tragedies can be prevented. I Want to Go Home had its world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in October 2017.
Having helmed films like Gone Shopping and Forever, Wee Li Lin is no stranger to the local film scene. For her cheekily-titled short film Areola Borealis, she turned to real events for inspiration. Wee was attending a friend’s wedding, and the bride’s bra broke right before the ceremony. Wee was called on to save the day: “I had to loan her my bra, and we weren’t even the same size!” Wee recalled. Wee ended up sitting out the wedding, eating room service and watching TV in a bathrobe upstairs. “It was so female, and so odd in a hilarious, sad way,” she observed. Wee embellished the story for the short film, centring the story on the mother of the bride. While the film is light-hearted, it addresses the theme of inter-generational attitudes towards race in Singapore. “Interracial marriages still strikes an ugly chord in people and can manifest a lot of deep-seated discrimination,” Wee said.
Hamzah Fansuri’s short film Rotan is a drama in which a school’s Discipline Master faces his reckoning when his own son, a student at the school, goes astray. Fansuri wanted to depict the “unbridled lack of power and control that a parent has towards a child during the stages of youth,” illustrating how even despite a parent’s best efforts, their children might wander down the wrong path. The title refers to the long piece rattan stem used for caning, which is still enacted as corporal punishment in some Singaporean schools.
These films and many more await audiences at SGIFF. The festival runs from 23 November to 2 December 2017. Please visit www.sgiff.com for more information on the films, including screening schedules and ticket bookings.