Arts Film News Singapore

SGIFF 2021: 32nd Singapore International Film Festival Celebrates the Enduring Joy of Cinema with New Perspectives

The 32nd Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is finally here, and brings a new wave of the latest independent films from 25th November to 5th December 2021. Over 100 films will be presented at this year’s festival, by filmmakers from all over the world, aiming to evoke emotions, spark conversation, and build the cinematic community.

“SGIFF is proud to have played a part in supporting independent films even during these trying times,” says Boo Junfeng, SGIFF Chairperson. “The world of cinema offers us so much diversity, and SGIFF will continue to cultivate a deeper appreciation for films by bringing you a selection of the best and most innovative, as well as building on our ever-growing film community.”

Earlier in the year, Thong Kay Wee was announced as the festival’s new Programme Director, and he is poised to make his mark with a line-up of films aiming to introduce fresh perspectives to excite existing and new audiences. “As the largest and longest-running film event in Singapore, SGIFF has the greatest capacity to engage the widest local interest in cinema. We need to use this potential to cultivate a deeper and more diverse appreciation of film culture within our society,” says Thong.

“I wish to foster more curiosities, encourage more audiences to embrace different positionalities, and express a principle that humanity vis-à-vis cinema can always be open-ended when we choose to think beyond the lines of regionality and boundaries. We gather in the theatres again simply to enjoy and understand one another better.”

– SGIFF Programme Director Thong Kay Wee

Based on Thong’s programming, this year’s Festival line-up is split across five new sections, each representing a set of films based on the nature of their content. The first of these is Foreground, which presents films that have received the biggest buzz this year, including award-winners, festival favourites and critically acclaimed new works from established auteurs. These include ‘A Hero’ by Oscar winning writer/director, Asghar Fahadi (receiving the Grand Prix at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival); ‘Petite Maman’ by Celine Sciamma, a French drama film that first premiered at the 71st Berlin International Film Festival in March 2021; and ‘Great Freedom’ by Sebastian Meise, which won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

In Milestone, look out for films representing important event in the development of a filmmaker’s career, national cinema or film history in general that holds resonance and should be celebrated with audiences. Among the highlights is ‘Memoria’, celebrated Thai auteur Apichapong Weerasethakul’s first film foray out of his home country. Starring Tilda Swinton, the film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival 2021, and was selected as the Colombian entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 94th Academy Awards, to be held in 2022.

Other highlights of this segment include ‘Barbarian Invasion’, Malaysian director Tan Chui Mui’s first feature film in more than a decade, with collaborators from the Malaysian New Wave. The piece has won the Jury Grand Prix, one of the two top honours at the Golden Goblet Awards, in conjunction with the 24th Shanghai International Film Festival. Also look out for ‘Those Left Waiting’, a film conceived by Australian director Michael Beets and the first-ever global live documentary co-directed and filmed by refugee filmmakers, edited in real time where each live stream session is unique; and ‘Karmalink’, the first science fiction movie set in Cambodia with Khmer actors and characters, marking the debut feature by American director Jake Wachtel.

In Standpoint, films featured showcase important attitudes of personal, social and political consequences through the cinematic medium and its accompanying discussions. These include ‘Some Women’ by Quen Wong, the debut feature of Singapore’s first transgender film director as she lays bare her vulnerabilities to reclaim her identity. Meanwhile, ‘Mr Bachmann and His Class’ by Maria Speth is a sensitive and compelling portrait of immigrant youths adapting to life in a town with a troubled history, aided by their thoughtful and inspired teacher. Winner of the Silver Bear Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) 2021.

In the Undercurrent section, discover imaginative treatments of the moving image, such as with Theo Anthony’s ‘All Light Everywhere’, which tackles the broad history of photography and cinematic cameras, and the false fantasies that it is an objective machine that captures indexical truth. ‘A Night of Knowing Nothing’ is Payal Kapadia’s debut hybrid feature — a fever dream of impossible love tied to a broader reflection on contemporary India; while ‘The Edge of Daybreak’ is a gothic evocation of a family’s trauma enmeshed in three decades of Thai politics, marking the debut feature by Taiki Sakpisit.

The Domain segment is specially curated by Inge de Leeuw and Julian Ross, and examines the theme of artist and filmmaker collectives — who have come together to resist dominant structures through storytelling and documentary activism. ‘Nightcleaners’ is a documentary made by members of the Berwick Street Collective in 1975, raising awareness of the situation of women cleaning offices overnight for very low pay. Meanwhile, ‘Inside the Red Brick Wall’ is a powerfully immediate account of the November 2019 Pro-Democracy Protest at Hong Kong Polytechnic University by an anonymous collective known as Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers.

The Opening Film for this year’s festival, ‘Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash’ is a riotous, black comedy-drama that explores the prevalence of toxic masculinity. Directed by Indonesian wunderkind Edwin, the film is an adaptation of Man Booker-nominated Eka Kurniawan’s best-selling book of the same name. Edwin and Kurniawan co-wrote the screenplay, and the film won the Golden Leopard for ‘Best Film’ category in the 74th edition of the Locarno Film Festival (2021). It is also a recipient of IMDA and the Singapore Film Commission’s (SFC) Southeast Asia Co-Production Grant.

“I have been following SGIFF since 2004, and showed my first short film ‘A Very Slow Breakfast’. To now be able to open the festival almost two decades later is an amazing, serendipitous feeling,” shares Edwin. “In fact, it was SGIFF that introduced me to Southeast Asian cinema and correspondingly, a network of peers that are now friends.”

“Within our region, we speak different languages and have different cultures, but we are connected by the same feelings, tastes, voices, memories, and dreams. I very much look forward to seeing more Southeast Asian cinema on the world stage.”

– Edwin, director of SGIFF opening film ‘Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash’

Presented alongside the opening film is this year’s festival-commissioned short “Dreaming” by Nelson Yeo, who won Best Singapore Short Film at the 2020 Silver Screen Awards for his work “Here Is Not There”. The 15-minute film looks at the reunion of three old friends that reignites a love triangle.

SGIFF also retains the beloved Singapore Panorama category, highlighting local filmmaking talent, which has strengthened in numbers for SGIFF 2021 with 23 local films being showcased, including ‘Scene UnSeen’ by the late Abdul Nizam and his friends, and ‘Mat Magic’ by Mat Sentol and John Calvert. The latter is a 1971 Cathay-Keris classic, 50th anniversary, newly restored film by the Asian Film Archive. As an affirmation of the festival’s commitment to promoting Asian cinema and forging new relationships in the region, five regional co-production feature films will also be presented: ‘Anatomy of Time’, ‘Yuni’, ‘Whether the Weather is Fine’, ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ as well as this year’s opening film ‘Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash’.

Every year, SGIFF honours and recognises the exceptional contributions of filmmakers, whose iconic works have helped shape Asian cinema, at the Silver Screen Awards. This year’s Asian Feature Film Competition presents 10 new films by directors making their first to third features. With entries such as ‘Rehana Maryam Noor’ by Abdullah Mohammad Saad, the first film from Bangladesh to officially screen at Cannes and co-produced by Singapore producer Jeremy Chua, the dynamism of the region is fully expressed through each film’s distinct localism and diversity of style.

Likewise, the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition presents 23 new films across five programmes, offering a nuanced overview of the region while accentuating the complexities and specificities located within. For the very first time, SGIFF will be awarding the inaugural Outstanding Contribution to Southeast Asian Cinema Award to Southeast Asia Fiction Film Lab (SEAFIC), for their exceptional work in elevating regional cinema. An intensive script and development incubator for Southeast Asian filmmakers, SEAFIC has helped to advance, strengthen and refine the quality of feature-length scripts and projects from the region. Besides filmmaking, the award takes into consideration resource-building, heritage preservation and promotion, among others.

“At SGIFF, we are reminded every day of the passionate individuals in the film community who work so hard together to bring you on a cinematic storytelling journey. For SGIFF 2021, we want to celebrate the necessary persistence of storytelling as a mobius strip that twists, curls and bends, carrying on as an infinite loop — represented through this year’s festival key visual,” shares Emily J. Hoe, Executive Director, SGIFF.

“If 2020 was the year we stepped out of our comfort zones to make SGIFF a hybrid format, I am proud to say we have come full circle, emerging stronger than ever and taking the gathering back to the cinemas, where we experience the true magic of film.”

– Emily J. Hoe, Executive Director, SGIFF

The 32nd SGIFF will be hosted across multiple festival venues, with screenings at Filmgarde Bugis+, Carnival Cinema at Golden Mile Tower, Golden Village Grand, Oldham Theatre, National Museum of Singapore, and Shaw Lido; talks and panels will be held at The Arts House and The Projector; and Film Academy sessions at LASALLE College of the Arts, Nanyang Technological University and WILD RICE. SGIFF is an event of the Singapore Media Festival (SMF), hosted by Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA).

SGIFF 2021 runs from 25th November to 5th December 2021. For more information about the SGIFF, visit their website here

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