Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) announces its shortlist of eight documentaries and short films from Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore which will be the recipients of the SGIFF Film Fund this year.
Each year, eight promising stories and thought-provoking films are selected under the SGIFF Film Fund which comprises the Tan Ean Kiam Foundation-SGIFF Southeast Asian Documentary Grant (SEA-DOC) and SGIFF Southeast Asian Short Film Grant (SEA-SHORTS) in the hopes that they will contribute to the growth of the Southeast Asian film landscape with their unique stories and viewpoints. This year, the SGIFF Film Fund continues to champion Southeast Asian works, supporting independent cinema and propelling independent filmmakers forward.
The Tan Ean Kiam Foundation – SGIFF Southeast Asian Documentary Grant (SEA-DOC) is awarded to four mid-length or feature documentaries annually across projects in the production and post-production phases. For the first time this year, the grant is awarded to three production projects, with special consideration to add an additional project to this category, with each recipient receiving S$30,000 in cash.
One post-production project will also be awarded with a cash amount of S$20,000 per recipient. With the SEA-DOC grant, the Tan Ean Kiam Foundation hopes to support Southeast Asian documentary filmmakers to continue capturing the stories unique to the region.
Documentary films help us to see and feel a world we otherwise would not. They allow us to engage with a world outside of our own and give us a new perspective. We hope that the grant allows these filmmakers to continue giving a voice to the important issues of today and progress our world,” said Tan Keng Leck, Vice-Chairman of the Tan Ean Kiam Foundation.
Ranging from an ambitious and at times audacious exploration of a people’s complex ties to a sacred mountain, to the intimate journey into the heart of an oftentimes misunderstood community, to the harrowing account of life on the frontlines of one of the region’s deadliest conflicts, to a delicate balancing act involving art, memory and poetry, this year’s winners are a reflection of the depth of talent here in Southeast Asia.
The selection committee commended the four projects for handling their stories with nuance and craft, and said that each of the filmmakers selected demonstrated a deep connection with their stories and a dedication to their craft, and praised those who took risks in their work.
This year, the grants are awarded to:
A Distant Call by Andrea Suwtio from Indonesia
As Indonesia increasingly persecutes LGTBQ+ people, an ancient way of life that celebrates five different genders survives on the island of Sulawesi, their last remaining leaders must make a critical decision: conform and risk their culture’s extinction, or refuse and be ostracised by society. The selection committee cited, “We picked “A Distant Call” for its sensitive portrait of two members of a marginalised community, and for its nuanced exploration of issues of identity, belonging, and faith.”
Monisme by Riar Rizaldi from Indonesia
A hybrid docufiction that observes the human-nature relationship in Mount Merapi, Java, Indonesia, from the perspective of mystic, volcanologist, and sand miner. The selection committee cited, “We were very impressed by the way this project creates a multilayered universe. Through a story and an artistic vision that brings together landscape, labour, state violence, and mythological narrative, it dares to look at the world from a point of complexity, trusting cinema as a form for deeper seeing and thinking. The film proposes a method that draws from its roots in local reality, and gives it a very promising uniqueness.”
On Memories of Countless Days Away by Liao Jiekai and Elysa Wendi from Singapore
Through intertwined tales of the last Javan Rhino and a young man’s journey to his family ancestral grave, the essay film investigates themes of wandering and displacement through a personal lens. The selection committee cited, “Poetry, dance, performance, are all difficult materials for cinema. This project takes them as plastic, spiritual and political dimensions of our relation to the world. We want to support the way it conjugates arts without reducing them to utility, but rather transforming film through them. This is a project that takes artistic exploration and research in its core, bringing together the poetic and political aspects of memory and place.”
Untitled Myanmar Documentary from Myanmar (director anonymous)
The Burmese filmmaker captures their experience of the Myanmar military coup, and the revolution against the dictatorship. Throughout the revolution, they encounter people from different walks of life who are fighting for justice, freedom and democracy. They observe their struggle toward a common goal. The selection committee cited, “The project reflects the on-going situation in Myanmar as it happens and the danger the filmmaker has to endure by making this documentary. As what is happening in Myanmar is not accessible, the committee recognises the importance and urgency of making “Untitled Myanmar Documentary”, as well as supporting the filmmaker’s freedom to voice their point of view on the political situation in their country. We also want to acknowledge the careful way their project reflects aesthetic and political aspects of “filming revolution.
Supported by C47 Investment and White Light Post, the SGIFF Southeast Asian Short Film Grant (SEA-SHORTS) is awarded to four short films this year. Each recipient will receive a cash amount of S$4,000 from C47 Investment, and post-production support worth S$4,000 from White Light Post.
The selection committee saw almost 170 entries from the region’s most promising filmmakers, and chose the 4 films that captured their hearts and minds, and that imparted varying notions of the contemporary Asian experience, just waiting to be seen and heard on the big screen – especially in this post-pandemic era. The films stretch a wide spectrum of concepts, themes and styles, from an ironic comedy about what it is to be childless, set in an Indonesian carnival; an unlikely May-December encounter culminating in an abandoned Ho Chi Minh complex; a transgender teen going through the toxic screening process of a military draft in a Thai Muslim town; and a Burmese girl fantasizing about an 80s diva and astronauts admist political strife. This year’s winners are a showcase of the diversity and creativity of Southeast Asian filmmakers.
The grants are awarded to:
Basri and Salma in a never-ending comedy by Khozy Rizal from Indonesia
A husband and wife married for 5 years, own an Odong-Odong at the carnival together, spending their days entertaining and taking care of other people’s children without any of their own. Between meddling relatives, self-doubt and an explosive confrontation, they uncover why they have not been blessed with a child. The selection committee cited, “With a strong and compelling screenplay replete with striking and charming visuals, Basri and Salma in a Never-Ending Comedy is an endearing project with bold humour providing sharp relief to the underlying drama. While Khozy Rizal’s film speaks to the specificities of the cultural expectations of a section of Indonesian society it provides an experience for which audiences across the world can relate.”
Sad Diva Lands On the Moon by Moe Myat May Zarchi from Myanmar
Sad Diva Lands on the Moon follows the escapism of a young girl under the turmoil of the country. When she stays at home doing the laundry or browsing the internet, her repressed emotions take on an imaginative run to absurd scenarios such as roleplaying as a female astronaut landing on the moon fighting for her space and a brainwashed sad diva stuck in a vintage propaganda TV show. The selection committee cited,“The trauma of Myanmar’s past and current troubled present and how it affects those who have lived through it are filtered through Moe Myat May Zarchi’s dream-like story. With imagination as one of the film’s central themes, Sad Diva Lands On The Moon examines and reflects the bravery of individuals of the past on the face of the regressive and how many young people are finding that they may have to fight new battles. With a unique point of view and aesthetic style, the project promises to be both provocative and moving.”
Mulberry Fields by Nguyen Trung Nghia from Vietnam
An old woman tangled in a Pyramid Scheme; and a young man, security in the day, personal masseuse at night; are the only two people living in an abandoned apartment complex. Their lives intertwine, and suddenly in the midst of a song, their hidden desires begin to spark. The selection committee cited, “Through the story of an older woman, whose outward life is very different from the one she actually leads, her complex relationship with a younger security guard and the abandoned building in which they both live, director Nguyen Trung Nghia explores themes that portray social and economical struggles in Vietnam while also examining the human cost of being isolated and alone. With a strong and clear screenplay, the project promises to be both a beautiful character study and an impassioned cry against the illusory happiness that society demands.”
Ponay (or You’re Not F***ing Welcome) by Hesome Chemamah from Thailand
After running away from home and staying in Bangkok for many years, Cherry, a non-binary trans person is forced to return to their rural hometown in deep south Thailand for the military draft. The selection committee cited, “A paean for diversity, tolerance and acceptance as Hesome Chemamah’s film follows the plight of our titular and non-binary protagonist as they try and have their status recognised by both the Thai military and their family. With a strong central character, the film is both striking and provocative as well as being achingly human.”
“This year’s submissions across both grants continues to demonstrate a depth and breadth of Southeast Asian talent, and represent the potential of the region’s cinematic landscape and cultural movements. SGIFF is honoured to be a part of the journey of these filmmakers and their stories, and would like to give our sincerest congratulations to our recipients of the SGIFF Film Fund,” said Kay Wee, Programme Director, SGIFF.
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