It’s about time we take a rest from epic blockbusters and do the more refined thing where we ponder about life and humanity with the the help of talented auteurs. You know, as one does. Unlike last year’s hybrid format, the 32nd edition of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) will only be shown in theatres, as all good films should.
Running from 25 November to 5 December, the festival will be presenting more than 100 films from over 40 countries, screened across 6 cinemas. You read that right. SGIFF is also presenting the inaugural Outstanding Contribution to Southeast Asian Cinema Award to Southeast Asia Fiction Film Lab (SEAFIC), a pioneering script-lab established in 2016 that offers first to third-timer script writers a safe space to refine and improve their works-in-progress.
The festival’s opening film, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, is an Indonesia-Singapore-Germany co-production by Indonesian filmmaker Edwin. In essence, an action-packed response to contemporary society’s rejection of machismo culture that won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival in August.
From the diversity of carefully considered films to choose from, some works to look out for include Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, which recently premiered at Cannes Film Festival; Iranian film-maker Asghar Farhadi's A Hero, whose story about a debt-ridden man navigating through a moral maze brought home the Grand Prix at Cannes this year; and Memoria, a film by Thai film-maestro Apichapong Weerasethakul featuring the iconic Tilda Swinton.
On gathering the hearts of the film community
The past two years have been challenging for everyone, but it has been exceptionally tough for the film community. From delayed film production to postponed releases, projects saw hurdle after hurdle even before final cuts could come to fruition. So in the process of working towards this year’s festival, new programme director Thong Kay Wee only had one word in mind that also sums up our one hope for the near future—‘gathering’.
“There is every reason to feel festive when we gather,” he said. This feels extra viscerally in light of whatever the current rendition of Singapore’s recovery phase is called. “Every film brings us closer to the people who have painstakingly created it, and that means getting closer to the kind of gathering we hope to eventually organise for everyone.”
In the same spirit, this year replaces the traditional categories of Asian Vision (films from the region) and Cinema Today (a collation of festival favourites) with five new sections that ‘gather’ films by their content natures instead. These sections are Foreground, for the critically-acclaimed; Milestone, for films that represent breakthroughs in a film-maker’s career; Standpoint, for works with personal, social and political ideas; Domain, for films about the sphere of activity and knowledge in the cinema; and Undercurrent, for works that challenge ways of expression and the limits of our imagination.
Spotlighting talents of the region
This doesn't glaze over the dynamism and distinct local flavours of the new generation of Asian talent. Besides hosting the Asian Feature Film Competition and the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition, local productions that reflect what having Singapore as a home is like will be shown in the dedicated section titled Singapore Panorama.
Special mentions from this section includes Scene UnSeen, an honest and heartfelt documentary of Singapore's underground music scene that was stitched together by the late independent musician and film-maker Abdul Nizam and his friends. We are also excited for Reaction, a meta-narrative about the truths of familial collaborations. It is directed by Jonathan Choo and features real-life father-son actor duo Choo Hou Ren and Joel Choo.
SGIFF 2021 happens from 25 November to 5 December 2021. Tickets go on sale from 9 November.