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Bumper crop of Singapore films make their mark at international festivals

Bumper crop of Singapore films make their mark at international festivals

SINGAPORE - After a period of quiet, Singapore film-makers are making their presence felt on the film festival circuit.

From Busan to San Sebastian to Cannes, major film festivals are screening more made-with-Singapore films - works which have Singapore participation in funding, creative direction or other areas of production.

According to figures provided by the Singapore Film Commission (SFC), 2023 has, to date, seen at least 10 made-with-Singapore films being invited to screen at career-making international festivals.

This is the highest number to date in the history of the Singapore film industry.

In 2022, five films with Singapore participation were invited to screen at major festivals.

Some of this year’s films are supported with funding from the SFC, a division under Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

Mr Justin Ang, IMDA’s assistant chief executive of media, innovation, communications and marketing, says that with the SFC commemorating 25 years of nurturing the film industry, “we are incredibly proud of our home-grown talent finding recognition on the world stage”.

With a strong slate of made-with-Singapore content coming on stream, we hope that our local talent continue to find success in the remaining film festivals for 2023 and beyond.

Mr Justin Ang

IMDA’s assistant chief executive of media, innovation, communications and marketing

Singaporean Nelson Yeo’s (third from right) debut feature, Dreaming & Dying, which screened at the Locarno International Film Festival in August, won two awards.
Nelson Yeo and the Dreaming & Dying team at the Locarno International Film Festival.

Among the 10 films showing at major festivals in 2023 were Singaporean Nelson Yeo’s debut feature Dreaming & Dying, screened in August at the Locarno International Film Festival, where it won two awards.

It is the first South-east Asian production to win the prestigious Golden Leopard for Concorso Cineasti del presente, awarded to first- or second-time feature films. It also took home the Swatch First Feature Award for Best First Feature.

In May, Singaporean film-maker Anthony Chen’s The Breaking Ice premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival.

The drama about three young adults seeking answers to tough questions in the snowy landscape of northern China has been selected by the SFC as Singapore’s Best International Feature entry at the Academy Awards, to be held in March 2024.

The Breaking Ice team on stage at the 76th Cannes International Film Festival.
The Breaking Ice team on stage at the 76th Cannes International Film Festival.

Tomorrow Is A Long Time, the debut feature of Singaporean film-maker Jow Zhi Wei, made its world premiere in February at the Berlin International Film Festival.

The story, set in Singapore, details the turbulent relationship between a working-class widower and his sensitive son.

A key reason for the increase in film festival participation is maturation.

Projects developed over the pandemic are being released, while budding film-makers who have spent time refining their skills at overseas film labs – often with support from the IMDA through the Overseas Development Grant – are now ready to present their work.

Also, in recent years, cross-border productions have become popular, increasing the chances that made-with-Singapore films will be invited to a major festival.

Snow In Midsummer, a historical drama directed by Malaysian film-maker Chong Keat Aun, is one example.

The film, which had its world premiere in September at the Venice International Film Festival, is a Malaysia-Singapore-Taiwanese co-production. Set in Kuala Lumpur, it follows a Chinese family dealing with the aftermath of the May 13 race riots in 1969.

Snow In Midsummer has bagged the most nominations in the 60th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan. It has nominations in nine categories, including for Best Feature, Best Director and Best Supporting Actress for Wan Fang. The event will be held in November.

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell is a 2023 Vietnamese-language drama film, produced by Singapore-based producer Fran Borgia
A scene from the film, Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell. PHOTO: PŌTOCOL

In May, the drama Inside The Yellow Cocoon Shell won the Camera d’Or at Cannes.

Film-maker Pham Thien An is Vietnamese, but the film is co-produced with Singapore independent art-house label Pōtocol, and features sound design and other post-production work by Singapore-based Mocha Chai Laboratories.

Another example of a cross-border production is Singaporean Nicole Midori Woodford’s first feature film, Last Shadow At First Light, which made its world premiere at the San Sebastian International Film Festival on Sept 24.

The film received support from the SFC and had funding partners from Japan, Slovenia, the Philippines and Indonesia.

It is executive-produced by Pōtocol. Company founder and managing director Jeremy Chua, 35, says that having access to overseas funding lets Singapore film-makers become more ambitious.

“They can be more imaginative when they are thinking of how to tell stories,” he adds in an e-mail interview.

Last Shadow At First Light follows a young Singaporean-Japanese girl who goes on a road trip in search of a mother who left the family to return to Japan.

Woodford, 36, says in an e-mail interview that the story was born of her personal experiences asa person of mixed Japanese parentage. “I sought to capture my own journey through the making of this film.”

Top film festivals

While anyone can organise a series of screenings and call it a “film festival”, there is an industry standard as to which are the top ones.

The Brussels-based International Federation of Film Producers Associations (FIAPF), a body comprising producers’ national associations from 29 countries, operates an accreditation scheme viewed by many as the industry standard.

The federation has placed the San Sebastian event, along with other well-known festivals in Tokyo, Berlin, Shanghai and Locarno, on its list of accredited festivals, grouped under the Competitive Feature Film category.

Other major festivals held in Toronto, Sydney, Busan and Rome are accredited under other FIAPF categories.

Pōtocol’s Mr Chua says his team “strives to be in the top festivals” not just for bragging rights, but also because it pays off in ticket sales.

“They usually have the audience, the press and the market. The more relevant the selection, the higher chance you get buzz from press coverage, which results in interest from distributors,” he adds.

Once a film has earned a prestigious festival credit, its producers can use it to win over those who rarely watch art-house films.

Audiences, who may never have heard of directors such as Japanese Hirokazu Kore-eda or South Korean Bong Joon-ho, are more likely to have heard of Cannes, Berlin or San Sebastian.

“A major festival selection is like an endorsement or accreditation from a trusted opinion. It makes audiences curious and maybe more interested in a different kind of cinema experience,” says Mr Chua.

Later in October, Singaporean M. Raihan Halim’s Malay-language comedy La Luna, a Singapore-Malaysia co-production, will have its world premiere at the FIAPF-accredited Tokyo International Film Festival on Oct 24.

The film - a comedy about a woman who opens a lingerie shop in a conservative Malaysian village – was made with funding support from IMDA’s Media Talent Progression Programme.

Mr Lim Teck, 48, managing director of production company Clover Films, is a producer on LaLuna and is justifiably proud.

Singapore films that make it into a big festival should be a source of national pride, he says, adding that local media and the public should be just as proud of its commercial film-makers, such as writer-director Jack Neo.

Neo launched the highly popular Ah Boys To Men series of military comedies in 2012.

The second movie, Ah Boys To Men 2 (2013), took in $7.9 million at the domestic box office, making it the top-grossing made-in-Singapore film of all time. Mr Lim is a co-producer of the comedy.

“We should celebrate any commercial film-maker’s success just as we celebrate a director’s win at an international film festival. We can do both,” he tells The Straits Times.

“We have enough film-makers on the two ends of the spectrum. We just need to believe in them more, give them more support and learn to be smarter in handling Singapore movies.”

London-based Singaporean film-maker Aditya Thayi, 43, says that while film festivals are important for giving films visibility, the only festival his documentary King Of Clones entered was the Tribeca Film Festival in June.

“It was the only film festival that was between our fi nish date and release date,” he says in an e-mail interview.

The documentary he directed about Dr Hwang Woo-suk, a controversial South Korean stem cell and human cloning researcher, was commissioned by Netflix UK and produced by Peddling Pictures, a company based in Singapore and London.

King Of Clones charted on the streaming service’s Global Top 10 across 20 countries after making its premiere on June 23, thanks to it being dubbed in eight languages and subtitled in 30languages.

It takes a player with deep global resources to engineer this level of accessibility.

“The dubbing and subtitling really widen the audience more than we could ever dream of,” he says.

The film features interviews with the reclusive and media-shy doctor, who, after leaving South Korea in the wake of a scandal, had set up a laboratory in Abu Dhabi.

Coaxing the scientist to appear on camera took months of correspondence.

“When we pitched the film to Netflix, we were talking to Dr Hwang, but we didn’t have 100 percent access at that point. But once we knew what we wanted to do with the film, everyone began to come on board,” he says.

“Coming from Singapore, we are used to making films not just for Singaporeans, but also for a regional audience. We have to make them with big universal themes in order to get that breakthrough.”


Source: The Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.


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