5 Films to Catch at This Year's Singapore International Film Festival
If there is one thing that we have learned about the local arts community in the past year, it's that it is a resilient one—full of grit and passion in embracing these unprecedented times. One prime example is the team behind this year's Singapore's International Film Festival (SGIFF), which starts this November in a hybrid format. For one, they remained steadfast in going ahead with the event, adapting and giving cinephiles access to enjoy films from the comfort of their own homes. On top of that, the team worked tirelessly to curate a programme that sought to bring the larger film community together and deepen the appreciation for cinema in Singapore.
"This year is definitely unique, but SGIFF will continue to be a cultural institution that inspires, creates, and shapes the direction of film across the region," shares new executive director Emily J. Hoe. "It was our priority to ensure that the festival programme and budgets were put together, without compromising on artistic integrity or rigour. The unique hybrid line-up curated for the audiences of today has allowed us to remain socially connected through films despite the physical challenges of time, distance and space."
The result is a line-up of over 70 films by auteurs from 49 countries, each that speak for the times that we live in through stories that map our universal search for identity, community, existence and a fundamental desire for change. The in-person screenings will take place across multiple festival venues, including Shaw Lido, Filmgarde Bugis+, Oldham Theatre, The Projector and virtual platform, The Projector Plus. Aside from screenings, both competitions, namely the SGIFF's Asian Feature and Silver Screen Awards' Southeast Asian Short Film competition have received the go-ahead this year. We highlight five works to catch at this year's festival:
1/5 Tiong Bahru Social Club
Part of the 22 Singapore films featured and opening for this year's SGIFF is filmmaker Tan Bee Thiam's first full-length feature, Tiong Bahru Social Club. The satirical comedy has already made its rounds in the international festival circuit and was recently screened at the 57th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival earlier this month. It was also screened at the 25th Busan International Film Festival as the only Singapore selection, and nominated for the SGIFF Silver Screen Awards' Asian Feature Film competition.
The film's narrative traces the character of Ah Bee, who leaves his dull office job to join the Tiong Bahru Social Club: a data-driven programme that aims to create the world's happiest residents. As a whole, it questions the construct of happiness in Singapore.
(Related: Filmmaker Tan Bee Thiam’s Tiong Bahru Social Club Opens the 31st Singapore International Film Festival)
2/5 The Smell of Coffee
One of four Singapore shorts nominated for the Silver Screen Awards' Southeast Asian Short Film competition this year, The Smell of Coffee by filmmaker Nishok Nishok is also in competition at the 26th Palm Springs International Short Film Festival and International Short Film Festival Oberhausen 2020, where it first premiered at the latter festival earlier this year. The 12-minute film is based on young Raga's journey of self-discovery, as he accompanies his grieving grandmother in the wake of his grandfather's passing.
From the Asian Feature Film Competition category in the Silver Screen Awards, the award-winning debut of Georgian director and screenwriter Dea Kulumbegashvili truly took the film industry by storm. Not only did it sweep four principal awards at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in September, it was also picked as Georgia's submission for the International Feature Film Oscar race this year.
The film follows the protagonist, a Jehovah's Witness missionary named Yana, after a horrific attack on her and her husband's church in a remote Georgian town. Her physical and psychological trauma is then shown in the rest of the film, often juxtaposed by the natural scenery against cold, domestic spaces. Kulumbegashvili's still camerawork showcases the mise en scène showcases a stoic front that belies the dark undertows of a woman's suffering.
4/5 Citizen Hustler
Now in his 60s, the documentary that traces the life of evicted hawker Foon Seng after the forced closure of the Sungei Road flea market in 2017. Local director Tan Biyun, whose works often focus on human rights and social justice, wears many hats in this film. Not only does she follow them in their journey of negotiating through the thicket of bureaucracy in getting access to financial aid, she also plays a patient listener and aide to their efforts in securing help.
Making its Southeast Asian debut in SGIFF this year, Gagarine has accumulated a positive buzz from its Cannes Film Festival debut earlier, delving deeper into the exploration of isolation and community—themes that are more relevant than ever today. The debut feature was co-directed by French filmmakers Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh, shot around a real event centred on the August 2019 demolition of Cité Gagarine—a 370-apartment housing project on the outskirts of Paris. It follows protagonist Youri who tries to save the building with his friends, all while holding on to the dream of being an astronaut. Midway through the film in a spectacular turn of events, Yuri creates a spaceship within the complex and floats gently in space.