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Singapore Hot Shots in Berlin

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For Singapore’s largest contingent ever participating at an overseas festival, and also the largest representative for the Asian Hot Shots Berlin, it was nearly a week of overdosing on Asian films, rain, beer and currywurst.

hotshots1.JPGFourteen filmmakers and programmers including myself were in Berlin from 16 to 22 January this year for the inaugural AHSB, a first of its kind focusing on Asian short and feature films.

An impressively packed programme of 200 films and video art, the AHSB garnered much support from other festival bodies like Pocket Films Festival in Japan, Q! Film Festival, Florence Indian Film Festival, The Short Circuit, 1 Minute Animation Festival, and others. The Substation Moving Images and Sinema.sg are proud to be AHSB’s Singapore partners for 2008. The festival was held at the Kino Babylon Berlin: Mitte on Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse, a building not unlike our own Capitol, with one main hall catering to feature films and two smaller theaterettes for the shorts.

Celebrating the many talents of Asia, the AHSB’s spotlight was on the Philippines this year. The Philippine cinema has certainly brought innovation and vigor to storytelling in this digital age, and is touted to have taken “the lead in Southeast Asian filmmaking, always speaking a new language and communicating a new vision”. Of the films, many have been screened in Singapore, such as Kidlat Tahimik’s “The Perfumed Nightmare” at the National Museum Cinematheque, John Torres’ “Todo, Todo, Teros” at the Singapore International Film Festival, as well as shorts at The Substation’s Asian Film Symposium like “Tag-along” by Antoinette Jadaone. In many ways, the AHSB is a new platform not without familiar faces and images, and it positions itself as a rightful international partner championing Asian independent cinema.

The AHSB was not just about film screenings and after parties every night (the Berlin version of the whiskey sour was something…). We were invited to attend a public workshop to explore the notions of communication and perception, “Cliché or Touché? Rethinking German and Asian Stereotypes” by Kean Wong and Nick Deocampo. Wong is a journalist from Malaysia now based in Berlin and Deocampo is an award-winning filmmaker and celebrated personality in Philippine cinema, a scholar, film festival organizer and film historian, presently the director of the Mowelfund Film Institute in Manila. Both are very familiar with Singapore and posited various ideas about the Singapore culture and cinema, and spoke passionately about communicating using images and why a huge interest in Asian fare within the festival circuit. The Singapore filmmakers also shared greatly about their views on the Singapore film scene. However hearty and inspiring the general discussion was, we struggled to draw conclusions. Nevertheless, one takeaway was for us to consider stereotyping in film as something that can have a positive effect, and that our minds should be open to read images in a more informed way. The workshop was held at the magnificent Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb) where the Film Museum is housed. Victric Thng’s “Locust” was a case study at the workshop and became a much talked about subject throughout the festival.

So warmly received were our Singapore films that eighteen of them were featured in several programmes: Alien Minds was a programme on the quirky and out of this world with Rich Ho’s special effects extravaganza “Alien Invasion”; DisOrientation, on identity, featured Anthony Chen’s “G-23”; Asian Flavour, a collection of moving films curated by Indonesian John Badalu of the Q! Film Festival with Victric Thng’s “Locust” and “Twogether”, Sherman One’s “Exodus”, Boo Junfeng’s “A Family Portrait” and “Katong Fugue”; feature film screenings of Nicholas Chee’s “Becoming Royston” paired with Daphne Tan’s docu-short “Man with Camera”, Joshua Lim’s “The Olive Depression”, Grace Phan’s “Where the Sun Rises”; and finally what most of us were there for, the Singapore Hot Shots playing to a full audience. The films were Lo Hwee Shan and Jocelyn Khoo’s “Singapore Standard Time”, Benjamin Tan’s “Remember Me”, Kirsten Tan’s “Fonzi”, Craig Rosenthal’s “The Trainee”, Jac Kee’s “Blink”, Jacen Tan’s “Zo Gang”, and Victric Thng’s “The Mole”. “Fonzi” and “The Olive Depression” were in competition for the Best Short Film Award and Best Feature Film awards respectively.

Indeed, these eighteen films represent a fragment of Singapore and the movement of Singapore’s independent cinema today, and that is precisely why our recommended list matched that of the Berlin programmers. The writer of the catalogue foreword puts it very articulately: “Inevitably questions of identity have since come to the fore, pressing many a young filmmaker to explore what this can mean for contemporary Singaporeans. Accordingly it is the getting into the image of a nation, which has taken centre stage and puzzles those concerned no less than us, the interested Western audience… It is a mutually formative process, involving and affecting in turn both, the one who makes the picture and their object in question… the resulting films are dialogical in nature. Thus, the national endeavour to form and establish an identity in becoming a nation ultimately turns into an inherently personal soul-searching. Coming out of Singapore these days is a quality-conscious, a self-adventurous cinema, which is urban, cosmopolitan and utterly contemporary.” Given our varied cinematic styles, themes, and subjects, it is heartening to note that the Western audience is instep with us as we continue to discover ourselves.

A simple awards ceremony was held in the main “kino” with the “Green Chilies Award” trophies (a metallic silhouette with a monitor head) designed by German sculptor Sergej Dott proudly awarded to the first recipients of the four key awards. The film in the Best Feature Film category was “Dead Time / Kala” by Joko Anwar of Indonesia, a dark social commentary. The Best Animation Award went to “Legs” by South Korean Lee Hye-young, a hilarious and surreal story of two severed legs having their own lease of life. “The Anonymous Man”, a lonely man’s journey in a big city by another South Korean Ryu Hying-ki won The Best Short Film Award. The Best Documentary was an interesting portrait of bestselling novelist, “Dinner with Murakami” by Maasja Ooms of the Netherlands.

The AHSB in essence was a casual and intimate affair, a well-attended first-time effort by young and enterprising organizers, and an atmosphere suited for the mingling of international filmmakers and programmers. The crammed programming meant that talkback sessions had to be abbreviated, but there was no doubt that the audience had much interest in Singapore and our films. Suffice to say there were no diva moments; all our Singapore filmmakers were humbled by the experience, and lunch with the Singapore Ambassador for Berlin proved that more opportunities for Singapore film to be shared with our Berlin friends are on the way. From Berlin Bear hunting, bunk-beds-for-eight room sharing at CityStay, to discovering the benefits of traveling in a party of five (group day-pass transport discounts!), it was a fulfilling trip and a meaningful learning experience for us all.

Special thanks to the AHSB team for making us feel welcomed and privileged to be a part of the inaugural event, the Singapore Film Commission for sponsoring our flights, and our fellow travellers without whom this journey cannot be made possible. Finally, a big hello to our new friends: Laura Gerber, Mathias Ortmann, Maria Romer, Tina Lange, Su-Jin Song, John Torres, John Badalu, Kean Wong, Nick Decampo, and the Ampelmann!

Kristin Saw is the Programme Manager for The Substation’s Moving Images.

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