An Interview with Perspectives Film Festival 2019 Festival Directors Danelia Chim and Vess Chua
Now on its 12th edition, Perspectives Film Festival is an annual student-run festival featuring breakthrough films that are thematically curated by its programming team.
Running from 24 to 27 October, this year’s line-up aims to explore new meanings to the term and its theme Crossroads, where intersections among people, places, and even in the imaginary are no longer as simple as they seem.
The festival will kick off on 24 October with its opening film For Sama (2019), a heart-rending documentary detailing Assad’s regime in Aleppo, Syria in the span of five years through the eyes of a young mother. Directed by Emmy award-winning filmmakers Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts as their first feature documentary, For Sama has already picked up awards and accolades from around the world.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with Prerna Suri, a journalist who has covered major conflicts and political developments in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Subsequently, the festival will be showcasing a slew of international classics across decades – from Jim Jarmusch’s Night On Earth (1991) to the late Agnès Varda’s The Creatures (1966) – before closing with Vai (2019), with director Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki in attendance.
Sinema had the opportunity to ask festival directors Danelia Chim and Vess Chua some questions over an email interview about their experience:
Could you tell us more about your roles as festival directors – what does it entail?
Vess: For me, it’s really about setting a big goal for the festival and facilitating the team to achieve it. We’re in just about as many chat groups as you can imagine so we’re always kept in the loop from the big picture to the nitty-gritty details.
Danelia: As festival directors, we’re there to facilitate communications between the teams and as the ones with a wider view on the whole situation, we’re able to explain why certain decisions are better than others.
Why did you want to be involved with Perspectives?
Vess: I have always been interested in festivals and working in festivals. From attending Perspectives in Year 1 to being part of the programme team at Perspectives last year, I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to do it again this year.
Danelia: I’ve been going to Perspectives Film Festival since I was a freshman. The first time I went, I thought “wow so cool”, so I pretty much decided then that I wanted to be involved. That said, I think I wanted to join as a member because I felt like it was a great learning opportunity, as cheesy as that sounds, and as students, aren’t we all meant to have voracious appetites for learning?
What was the reason for picking Crossroads as your theme?
Vess: Crossroads, to me, is really significant because it’s a theme that is universally understood and recognisable. Everyone has been at a crossroads before and we know what it’s like to think about the choices we have to make and look back on the ones we didn’t make. We hope that our audience will be able to take a bit of every character home with them and put themselves in the shoes of others. After all, not all choices are easy to make. It would be good if we could step into the shoes of others once in awhile.
Danelia: Well, most of our committee members are actually Year 4 students and it’s undeniable that at this junction, we are all at some sort of crossroads in life as we think about what sort of career path or future we want to forge. I think it is extremely relevant to us and to the wider audience as well. I personally voted for Crossroads (during the selection process) because I had thought that this was something relatable and I wanted a theme that the audience could feel closer to and not a faraway concept.
What are some of the significant challenges organising the festival?
Vess: Well, in comparison to my workload last year as a Programmer, it’s definitely A LOT more this year as a Festival Director. I must admit I’m not the most detail oriented so Dan really balances me out there quite a bit. But as with most arts events in our-arts-events-saturated Singapore, it’s very hard to push for our festival to be seen and heard. We are not just showing the latest films with a guaranteed audience, we are showing a curated list of films – new and old, with a message that we have set together as a festival. It’s sometimes difficult to convince your audience that you should be coming to catch a film from the 50s or 60s in 35mm, but these unique experiences are what we are trying to bring to the festival so our audience can be challenged, not just entertained.
Danelia: As someone who hasn’t had any experience with film festivals, be it attending or organising, I often find myself clueless about certain terminologies and how to bring films in. Embarrassingly enough, I never knew what DCP meant till this festival. Vess really saves me in this area, so like she said, I think we balance each other out pretty well with our personal strengths and knowledge. Besides that, another tiring and significant challenge would be to stop at every point and ask ourselves, “Why are we doing this?”. Not in the sense of why-am-I-in-this-film-festival but in the sense of questioning the purpose of every decision we make. I did find that with this method, we have already reduced the number of things we wanted to do and hopefully, made a more purposive festival.
Other than the theme, are there any significant changes from last year’s festival that you decided to pursue?
Vess: We focused on creating more enriching audience experiences this year. Apart from watching the film, we have curated a list of post-screening dialogues – with Prerna Suri (a war journalist) for our opening film, For Sama and Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, director of Vai, to help our audience think about the film beyond its onscreen value. We have also invited the Waka Ama Group to perform a traditional Haka at our closing reception of Vai, to share the New Zealand culture with our primarily Singaporean audience.
Danelia: Yes, what Vess said, and we are bringing back festival merchandise this year! To the committee, we’ll remember our days of planning fondly but for our festival goers, we don’t want Perspectives to just be another film screening with fancy side events. With a physical memento, I hope that festival goers can look back at Perspectives 2019 just as fondly as we do. (Extra information for merchandise: Shirts are sold at $10 each and tote bags are sold at $8 each. They’ll be sold during the festival at the Front of House.)
What’s your favourite film in the lineup, and why?
Vess: I really enjoyed Canoa because I found it particularly relevant in today’s society. It’s extremely provocative, especially in this era where we are surrounded by fake news and the mob mentality. In fact, contrast the film with For Sama, and perhaps you’ll find that we haven’t changed all that much in 50 years.
Danelia: My favourite film in the lineup would have to be our opening film, For Sama. I found that it provided such an intimate insight to Waad al-Kateab’s life and her struggles of being at the ultimate crossroads: her family or her nation? Coupled with her soft poetic narration, it made the documentary such a heart-wrenching and sad one that I’m still thinking about it, days after I watched it.
What do you hope Perspectives’ lasting impact will be?
Vess: I hope that in the years to come, Perspectives can grow beyond “a student-run” festival in the eyes of our audiences. As we continue to curate films according to thought provoking themes, I hope our audience can grow alongside us and continue questioning the world through film as we are doing.
Danelia: I hope that Perspectives can become the gateway to more arthouse films. Personally, I think that non-mainstream films can be a little hard to appreciate, especially if one cannot understand the artistry behind the cinematography, and I felt that films were inaccessible to me. However, I started becoming interested and started watching more non-mainstream films after attending Perspectives so I hope and wish that Perspectives can continue to bring films with themes that are relatable and accessible to the mainstream public. Our festival advisor, Mr Eternality Tan, once said to me, if someone eats something new, their palate widens and they will be more willing to try even more exotic food the next time; it’s the same for film.
Find out more about Perspectives Film Festival 2019 at https://www.perspectivesfilmfestival.com/