Local Films the Focus as Singapore Film Festival Celebrates 30 Years

WET SEASON - Publicity Still 2 - H 2019

Cannes winner Anthony Chen returns home and opens the Nov. 21 to Dec. 1 event with his drama ‘Wet Season.’

The 30th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) kicks off on Nov. 21 with more than 90 films across its program and a focus also on just how much impact the event has had on the city over the past three decades.

Filmmaker Anthony Chen believes he’s a living example of the latter, having started out his film “career” working as an SGIFF volunteer, selling t-shirts and helping as a translator for guests, before developing acclaimed short films and then the Camera d’Or winner Ilo Ilo (2013).

Chen returns home this year with the opening film, Wet Season, a richly textured drama starring Yeo Yann Yann as a woman unsure of her place in the world. It has already won awards at China’s Pingyao festival and is on Nov. 23 up for a slew of Golden Horse Awards, the Chinese-language film industry’s equivalent of the Oscars.

“I’ve had a long relationship with the festival,” says Chen. ‘It really was where film all started for me. A lot of people in Singapore would say the same thing. So it be able to bring this film home is a great honor.”

A little digging in to this year’s SGIFF catalogue reveals a lot about what’s being produced across Southeast Asia, what with the showcasing of Singapore films, in particular, and on emerging trends across the regions through the likes of the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition. But it also reflects how the industry is evolving, globally, as shown by the screening of the first two episodes of HBO Asia’s Invisible Stories series.

So does SGIFF’s position as part of the all-encompassing Singapore Media Festival, which also casts its net over the likes of the Asia TV Forum & Market and ScreenSingapore trade events.

“Singapore very much sees itself as a gateway to global and to collaborating with all of Asia,” says Robert Gilby, SMF advisory board chairman. “The Singapore Film Festival has an incredible program but is also a meeting point for filmmakers.” 

Chen recalls how being around films, and filmmakers, from all over the world opened up his eyes to what was possible and SGIFF executive director Yuni Hadi said she was hoping the event would continue to inspire the next generation of filmmakers from the city and beyond.

“Ler Jiyuan, the director of Invisible Stories, also came through from short films, so screening these films, and exploring the new media landscape, made sense and we are doing it not just for the sake of doing it,” says Hadi. “Being the 30th and being able to screen films like this and Wet Season are really lucky for us. The message it is a good time for us to be standing behind our own stories. In terms of the new platforms such HBO Asia and Netflix, if we can help introduce new talent to them that might not be on their radar, then that would be a wonderful contribution we could make.”

There’s a buzz about how Wet Season will play to local audiences, given it was a fan favorite in Pingyao and before that in Toronto and given its star Yeo will be handed the Inspiring Woman in Film Award at SGIFF. And there will no doubt be plenty of interest in the visits of Japanese maverick Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer), in town to collect the festival’s Honorary Award,and Cinema Icon Award winner Yao Chen (All is Well), the Chinese actress and social media phenom.

The rising strength of Southeast Asia cinema is also reflected across the special focus on contemporary Vietnamese shorts, coming out of an industry that is breaking domestic records in terms of both box office and production output. There is also a chance for local audiences to catch current festival favorites in Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s The Truth, Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s Verdict and Ladj Ly’s Les Miserables.

“Our Southeast Asian Producers Network is something we have been working on for quite awhile,” says Hadi. “Bringing independent producers together with investors or sales agents, discussing how we take the next step together with these producers. This is very important to us. But the most important thing is that we have great films to show our audience.”