SGIFF 2017: Getting to Know the Youth Jury and Critics

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At the 28th Singapore International Film Festival, the Youth Jury and Critics Programme makes a welcome return, with the aim of nurturing a new generation of young critics from the region. Since October, the thirteen participants have been meeting every Saturday to attend lectures from various personalities in the industry, ranging from TV presenters like Genevieve Loh to Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung. The participants will be personally mentored by filmmaker Kevin B. Lee, whose award-winning Transformers: The Premake was named one of the best documentaries of 2014 by Sight & Sound Magazine, and their articles will be published in the festival’s film journal, Youth Meets Film before they award a special Youth Jury Prize to one of the films competing in the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition during the Silver Screen Awards.
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Said festival Executive Director Yuni Hadi: “The Youth Jury was first started after we learnt that there was one at the Berlin International Film Festival. What’s even more interesting is that these jury members could be as young as primary school kids sometimes. We use the Youth Jury alumni all year round with the skills they’ve picked up from their mentorship, and we hope that this programme encourages a new generation of critics who can better learn to appreciate film even from a young age.”
Wanting to find out a little more about these young writers and how they’ve been finding the programme so far, we spoke to three of the panel members – NTU Wee Kim Wee student Andrea Flavia William, who is currently shooting a film for her final year project, Annette Wu, a Yale-NUS graduate working back at the university, and Daryl Cheong, a Victoria Junior College student who has just completed his A-Levels.
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From left to right: Daryl Cheong, Andrea Flavia William and Annette Wu

 Bakchormeeboy: What do you hope to achieve after completing the programme?

Daryl: I really got a deeper understanding of film, from the diverse range of views our lecturers have shown us. They all come from such diverse backgrounds, and I think I’ve learnt a lot about how to appreciate film.

Annette: This was my first formal introduction to film. I came in hoping to gain a formal vocabulary, and I liked how all the speakers were so objective. One thing they told us was to write a lot, but before you write, you can read up on film theory, but don’t let it colour the way you see things and how it ‘should’ be done, in order to continue developing one’s own ideas about film. 

Andrea: As a filmmaker, I wanted to see things from the other side, hopefully helping me with my own filmmaking process by learning what people look out for or how to approach a film. So far it’s been working, and we’ve already been exposed to films all across Southeast Asia. Even within the context of a certain country’s film, directors have so many different forms that it’s helped me see outside the box of just what film can be.

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Still from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives

Bakchormeeboy: What films do you personally enjoy? And has that changed after the programme? 

Andrea: I used to really love purely narrative driven film, but after being exposed to films that sometimes push beyond that, I’ve taken on a very different film philosophy. There’s so many films where the directors break convention and really make it their own. That’s the beauty of the art form, and if you never try to push the boundaries, you’ll never know how it might turn out.

Annette: I think I started to watch more arthouse films maybe a few years ago, and I think that was my introduction to cinema outside of the mainstream, and I decided to watch more alternative films.  with new images and vocabulary coming out of other places. I really like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s films ,they’re just so different and challenged my perception of what film should or shouldn’t be.

Daryl: Before this I had this weird mixture of exposure to alternative film, like the more Hollywood type David Fincher films, or the more arthouse style ones like Xavier Dolan. I’m still young, and I don’t think I’ve really had the exposure to the more character driven, arthouse ones. Coming to SGIFF was definitely a form of exposure for me, discovering new directors and independent film, not just knowing them by name but also how to approach and understand what these films are about. 

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Still from Tan Wan Xin’s White Carnations

Bakchormeeboy: How can we cultivate growing an audience willing to watch more alternative and independent cinema? 

Andrea: I love to watch blockbuster trash  as much as anyone else, but I also like to watch film that challenges me. It’s really all about the access. For SGIFF itself, I only knew about it because of my professors and before that I didn’t know it existed. It’s interesting how it’s been around longer than even the Busan Film Festival, but it’s always been seen as an exclusive event, as opposed to Busan which is much more audience centric. Here, it’s held at Marina Bay Sands, it feels a bit exclusive, while other film festivals bring film screenings to either schools or the heartland, making it a city-wide event.

Daryl: Interestingly, before they started, the Busan Film Festival actually looked to us for lessons. But what differentiates the two is that Busan receives huge government spending and there had audiences who were more receptive to those films. Ultimately, it’s all about exposure, and making these films more accessible and friendly to the public for mainstream to consider watching. 

Andrea: When K. Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird and Boo Junfeng’s Apprentice were onscreen, I dragged my friends to watch it and they were like ‘OMG Singapore films are good!’ I believe that our audience has changed since 10 years ago, like how more people are coming forward to volunteer at film fests. It’s more about pushing forward and ensuring that audiences feel they have a stake in the festivals themselves. There’s maybe 30 film festivals in a year in Singapore, and these are maintained year after year. It’s a positive step forward, and we have to keep at it and continue to be hopeful.

 

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Still from Kevin B. Lee’s Transformers: The Premake

Bakchormeeboy: Your mentor Kevin B. Lee is primarily a critic through his video essays. Based on changing readerships, should critics be tending towards the video format as opposed to a traditional one?

Andrea: The video essay format gives a succinct review in a bite sized form. We’re supposed to do a one minute video essay, which Kevin says is short. But we live in an age of information overload and we have to craft something short and sweet for the audience. Video essays require a whole new level of skills instead of just an 800 word article. It’s challenging but I think it really gives the critics a greater sense of creative freedom of both visuals and audio.

Daryl: What the video essay does isn’t just to replace print, but rather to support it. I think it actually helps raise interest in academia and books. What we see often in reviews is simply people writing about what they feel or just a synopsis with no freshness, the critique aspect simply isn’t enough, and maybe the video essay form can make it more accessible. 

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Every Frame A Painting

Bakchormeeboy: Any particular critics you guys enjoy reading or watching?

Daryl: Roger Ebert without a doubt is the first person who comes to mind, and I really enjoy watching Lessons From The Screenplay 

Annette: I love Every Frame A Painting and how he talks about topics I’ve never thought about before. They’re not easy topics, but he makes them understandable and accessible.

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Still from Kamila Andini’s The Seen and Unseen

Bakchormeeboy: Finally, which film are you guys most looking forward to at SGIFF this year?

Annette: I like horror films. While browsing through the selection, I noticed there was quite a unique selection, and a lot of them are about supernatural elements and folklore while also touching on critical societal commentary. 

Darryl: I was looking forward to call me by your name but 2 weeks later they rated it r21 and i had to sell my ticket away

Andrea: The Seen and Unseen. I’ve actually watched it already at Busan this year and I was quite blown away by Kamila Andini’s style and form. I really hope she wins the Silver Screen Awards at SGIFF. 

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Still from Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name

 

Bakchormeeboy: Why should people come and join the youth jury next year?

Andrea: Where else would you find a free programme where you get to watch films each Saturday, meet some really interesting people, and get a condensed formal film education in the matter of a few weeks? I’ve met so many like minded people here, and it’s nice to just really be able to hear so many different views each time.

Annette: What I’ve really learnt is the importance of seeing, appreciating and learning to watch film, especially films we may not choose to watch. There’s a lot to appreciate about the range of film out there and challenge our own viewing habits.

Daryl: There was this one short film we viewed, and when it was over we all looked at each other and just went ‘what just happened?’ We didn’t understand it at first, but when we discussed it, it was nice to hear what everyone thought about it, and it kind of started to make sense and it’s just a really interesting experience to engage in such discussion.

Andrea: Putting aside film appreciation though, I think one thing the youth jury also does is critique from a curator perspective. Beyond critiquing, we’ve also learn about the planning that goes into a film festival, and how films are curate for competition, which is something really interesting and not just any something any youth gets access to unless you’re working for a film festival. Learning all these, especially as a film student, it gave me a sense of direction or an idea of what the festival thinks is important and worth watching. 

SGIFF 2017 runs from 23rd November to 3rd December across various cinemas and venues. More information and ticket sales available from their website

 

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