Singapore fest unbowed in face of budget halving

200-plus titles on hand for 21st edition

Despite facing a significant cut in its annual budget, the Singapore International Film Festival that kicks off Friday will welcome more than 200 films from 40 countries.

Now in its 21st year, SIFF saw its budget drop from S$850,000 in 2007 to S$400,000 ($288,000) this year, though it remains free for interested attendees.

The program opens with a Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective and a collection of human rights shorts, while the main 10-day festival will open a week later on April 4 with Wayne Wang's "The Princess of Nebraska," a story of a pregnant Chinese girl living in the U.S. Other films include the critically acclaimed Golden Bear winner "Tuya's Marriage," by director Wang Quan'An, and "I'm Not There," Todd Haynes' unorthodox Bob Dylan biopic, in which several actors play the singer.

The festival also includes an Australian Focus segment, a tribute to the late Indonesian film director Sjuman Djaya (1934-85) and a retrospective of 55 years of Vietnam cinema, ranging from such classics as "Little Girl of Hanoi" and "Mrs. Tu Hai" to the recent "The Life" by Dao Duy Phuc, in competition with 11 other films for the fest's Screen Awards for best Asian feature.

For the first time, the SIFF is introducing a Singapore Panorama segment that will feature 14 new homegrown feature-length and short films. They include "The Olive Depression" by Joshua Lim and Kan Lume's "Dreams From the Third World."

Festival manager Yuni Hadi said she hopes that whatever preconceptions people may have about a "Singapore film," they should be left at the door "and instead be challenged, twisted, questioned and discussed."