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Singapore film shines at AHSB 2009

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Some habits are practical and make for simple sense. There are others which it is simply a luxury to indulge in. But when those two happen to fall into one, then you know you are in the right place at the right time precisely.

So it was when in mid January this year in freezing cold and the dark of winter the second ASIAN HOT SHOTS BERLIN film festival was on in Berlin.

With AHSB, the German capital once again provided a meeting point and showcase for films from the Asian region to the city, and Singapore lived up to high expectations and did well. So, here is an exclusive report for you!

Among the programme of narrative and documentary features, short and experimental films and video works shown at the festival, a special national focus was set on Indonesia and its young and burgeoning independent cinema of the post-Suharto years. Accordingly, films from that country had a large share and gave a representative overview of recent trends, the art and craft of the medium over the past decade and including groundbreaking movies such as “Kuldesak”.

Quite astonishing, one might think – given the relative size of Singapore and its home grown film industry – that it should be anything but marginal in the festival’s line-up. In fact, it came in third strongest by any (unofficial) nation count and just behind Indonesia, obviously, and Japan. With a total of five features and 13 short films, plus Sookoon Ang’s video installation work “Let go Aviary”, the entries had apparently convinced the programmers to include a wide range of stylistic, thematic and genre works. Thus, these nineteen films came to represent a maturing production in exemplary scope as it “happens” in Singapore today. In many ways, entries that had been handled by Sinema and The Substation just like the year before, as well as the ultimate selection coming forth, reflected some of the variety and vigour palpable during the first Singapore Panorama at SIFF 2008 – and what a strong year it had been for local film.

The festival’s selection for its 2nd edition included “Gone Shopping” by Wee Li Lin, the two features in competition, “Invisible Children” by Brian Gothong Tan and “Salawati” by Marc X. Grigoroff, documentaries “Homeless FC” by Lee Lynn and James Leong, “Women Who Love Women: Conversations in Singapore” by Lim Mayling and, as preceding shorts, Royston Tan’s “After The Rain” and “The Library” by Joshua Lim. AHSB trademark Singapore Hot Shots featured “My Blue Heaven” (uncut) by Chai Yee-wei, Leon Cheo’s “4 Dishes”, Jeremy Sing’s “Girl in a Red Sarong”, “Stopdelete” by Shaun Koh, “The Inner City” by Liao Jiekai, “Reflections” by Ho Tzu Nyen, “Bedok Jetty” by Boo Junfeng and “Love Me Yesterday” by Wesley Leon Aroozoo. When the festival’s favourite, John Badalu (Q! Film Festival, Jakarta), presented his selection of the best in contemporary queer short films, he included Boo Junfeng’s “Keluar Baris”, Eva Tang’s “Londres – London” and once again “The Library” to make it fairly complete. While three of the Singapore Hot Shots also had a second screening in their respective Competition Shorts packages, Eddie Wong’s superbly titled “Crows watch the curious stage and vanity” enjoyed its World Premiere in the Experimental Shorts programme – remarkable!

A total of eight feature length films and 22 shorts competed in the two Competition categories for the audience’ votes to decide on the winners and runners-up. The Philippines did well as could be expected, bagging the two top prizes for “Jay” by Francis Xavier Pasion (also in SIFF this year) and for Mark V. Reyes’ short “God Only Knows” respectively. But marcx-bln1.jpgthe Singapore contingent present at the Awards and Closing Ceremony on January 18th had something to celebrate as well: As it turned out, the feature category produced two winners ex aequo and so Marc X. Grigoroff went on stage to collect his 1st prize trophy for “Salawati” – visibly surprised. Next it was Brian Tan’s turn as he was announced 2nd prize winner for Best Feature Film for his debut “Invisible Children” (soon showing at SIFF too).

Apart from the films, there were also complimenting discussion panels, one on Indonesian cinema and a second panel addressing the situation and aspects of censorship in the region that offered additional insights. Then, to round it all off, there was also the festival’s video art exhibition in two associated galleries, which sported a performance lecture by Jeuno JE Kim on the 14th that was filled to capacity. As in 2008, the best part of it all undoubtedly was the presence of so many international guests including a sizeable contingent of some ten Singaporean filmmakers, who were able to attend the festival in person, introduce their films and meet their audience. Welcomed guests at AHSB, they made good use of their time in Berlin, entertained themselves even without making movies exactly – but a zombie short nonetheless (some of them). But all of them courageously braved the snow and low temperatures.brian-bln.jpg

For what it’s been, there can be no doubt that the outlook is clearly and unwaveringly on continuing this exchange as it has now been established into the next year. With hopefully even more entries and guests, AHSB organizers have set the target of providing new meeting grounds for possible collaborations and ways of distribution in 2010. The spirit of exchange and mutual interest will be kept alive and fostered so that it may grow into sustained connections and possibly even lead to common projects. For one, the idea of shared values and hopes has definitely been boosted for all participants and movie-goers who experienced the festival. It is good to know (and comes as a kind of reassurance, perhaps, in times like these) that Singapore and Singaporean artists and filmmakers are part of this larger movement and share in it.

Exchange can take on many forms – a snowman’s; a tourist’s curiosity while sight-seeing; or even the surprise discovery of something suddenly rendered unfamiliar in a foreign context or language – and so it took place once more on this occasion in Germany. And those who visited presumably on their return may have found some new inspiration and energy an unexpected part of their baggage (no excesses reported). Fitting and noble, then, indeed, was the congratulatory dinner hosted by Singapore’s Ambassador for all his filmmaking countrymen and guests. In such form His Excellency, barely two weeks into heading the new mission, honoured the importance of bi-cultural communication as it is provided by the arts. I sense the beginnings of a good tradition here and it looks like promising signs all around!

Be assured that AHSB will retain its spirited blend of dedication and cosiness that made many here feel welcome and well entertained. And should you wish to take part yourself and possibly have your film shown: the festival’s two official partners, Sinema and The Substation, will keep you updated and can be contacted for questions.

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