The 31st Singapore International Film Festival drew to a close on Sunday, 6th December, after an exciting 11 days of film screenings and festival activities that showcased ground-breaking Asian cinema from across the region. For the first time ever, the festival took on a hybrid model, which allowed viewers to enjoy many films either in the cinema or at home, as some films were screened virtually due to tighter capacity limits.
This year’s SGIFF featured an exciting selection of 72 films by directors from 48 countries that explored and reflected the times we live in through bold and imaginative storytelling. The festival opened with Tiong Bahru Social Club, an offbeat satirical comedy by Tan Bee Thiam, that questions the construct of happiness in Singapore. The opening film was one of the most popular amongst local audiences.
The 2020 Audience Choice Award went to Sementara by Chew Chia Shao Min and Joant Úbeda, marking the second time a local film has received this Award. The film features casual interviews with people from different walks of life, each with their own set of values and beliefs.
In a bid to provide a richer experience of local films, the festival also saw a doubling of short films for this year’s Singapore Panorama. The diverse showcase of works presented a cross section of the state of independent filmmaking in Singapore, sparking discussion and reflection on the eclectic side of life in Singapore. Talks and panels such as In Conversations and Panel Discussions took place and they included international speakers such as Ann Hui, Man Lim Chung, Shozo Ichiyama, and Anthony Chen.
SGIFF’s Artistic Director, Kuo Ming-Jung shared: “This year has been a significant milestone for the Festival. During these unprecedented times, we were able to showcase films that celebrate resilience and hope through inspiring Asian stories. I’m grateful for the support of the community and that we were able to share this experience with the audience, whose enthusiasm and dedication to cinema truly represent the purpose of film festivals like SGIFF.”
Despite great challenges and upheaval for filmmakers this year, SGIFF decided to reinforce the spirit of the Silver Screen Awards by pressing ahead with two film competitions – the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition and Asian Feature Film Competition, and programmes from the Film Academy – the Youth Jury and Critics Programme, Southeast Asian Film Lab and Southeast Asian Producers Network, to encourage and keep alive cinematic storytelling, cherishing film as a form of art for better times. During the festival, SGIFF also announced Call for Submissions for two Film Funds – SEA-DOC and SEA-SHORT to show its continued support to regional filmmaking.
The Asian Feature Film Competition saw the award for Best Film going to Milestone (मील पत्थर), directed by Ivan Ayr. The Jury found the film to be “a great humanist story, that is confident and nuanced, with a strong script and engaging direction.” They also praised the film’s strength in “how it draws the audience into its story with scenes that are complex and well executed.” The category saw entries by directors making their first or second features, with five making their directorial debuts, highlighting a new generation of talent in Asia.
Taking home the award for Best Director was Dea Kulumbegashvili for Beginning. The Jury described the film as “a beautifully crafted piece that demonstrates an exceptionally strong voice from a debut director.”
The Best Performance award went to Suvinder Vicky for his role as Ghalib in Milestone. The Jury described his performance as “delicately understated and quiet, yet with a power that carries viewers through the film.”
The Best Southeast Asian Short Film Award went to Riar Rizaldi for his work on Tellurian Drama, while Lin Htet Aung took home the award for the Best Director for his short, Estate.
The Best Singapore Short Film award was presented to Nelson Yeo, whose film, Here is Not There, tells the story of two lovers who reflect on the transitory lives they lead in Singapore. The Jury praised the ambition of the film, describing it as “inspiring and addressing the important issues of migrant workers, exploitation, work-related injury and discrimination against pregnant women at work.”
This year, the Jury decided to give Special Mention to Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing on the Still Trembling Berlin Wall by Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke. The jury felt its unique and outstanding merits could not be ignored.
The 11-day SGIFF saw an exceptional line-up of industry heavyweights participating in the Festival’s Talks and Panels as they interacted with the audiences during virtual gatherings, as well as Q&A sessions that included questions submitted by audience members.
During a series of dialogues and panel discussions by filmmakers and industry experts, audiences were able to hear more about their creative processes. Kicking off the series was acclaimed Hong Kong Director, Ann Hui who joined veteran Hong Kong Art Director, Man Lim Chung, for a discussion on her extraordinary career and cinematic achievements, as well as her inspirational approach to life.
This year proved to be a dramatic and challenging year for cinema, where film exhibitors, filmmakers and film festivals were all hit hard and confronted with dilemmas and decisions about survival. Addressing this was the panel discussion entitled “Future of Cinema: Rethinking the Experience of Film”, which explored new modes of working and what the future might hold for filmmakers everywhere.
As Q&As with filmmakers are a significant component of any festival, SGIFF was determined to allow audiences to hear the filmmakers answering their questions. This year, audiences were able to send in questions after enjoying the films either in the cinema or at home, and later watch recorded Q&As online. There was a total of 27 virtual Q&A sessions with 51 directors participating in the Festival. An astounding achievement was how the accumulative programmes were held during the Festival, bringing over 160 professionals from local and international film industry to partake in this year’s SGIFF.
Executive Director of SGIFF, Emily J. Hoe said: “We were determined to forge ahead with the Festival this year to continue to put the spotlight on the amazing works of filmmakers in Singapore, Asia and the rest of the world. I am immensely proud that despite the new hybrid format, the Festival was held without compromising on the quality of the programmes and films. What’s more, the Festival’s audience is indicative of the passionate interest and support from our community to celebrate the magic of film despite the global pandemic. We are also appreciative of the great support from our partners who have journeyed with us to bring the best of regional cinema to the audience, despite the challenges this year. We hope that the Festival experience will continue to inspire more filmmakers and film lovers for our regional scene to be strengthened year on year.”
Chairperson of SGIFF, Boo Junfeng added: “I am grateful to the SGIFF team and all who have supported this year’s festival, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. We’ve showcased more than 70 films from 48 countries, organise panel discussions and talks with filmmakers, and proceed with the Film Academy programmes. The festival’s success truly shows that the commitment towards growing our community of film lovers remains stronger than ever.”
SGIFF 2020 ran from 26th November to 6th December 2020 both online and across multiple venues. For more information, visit their website here