Staff Picks: What We’re Catching at the 30th Singapore International Film Festival9 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
Time flies and the end of 2019 is upon us! So is one of the biggest film festivals in Singapore—the 30th edition of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF)! From international heavyweights to local indie underdogs, this year’s run promises an exciting lineup that will have something for everyone.
If you’ve had a really tiresome year, good job for surviving – treat yourself to some films! If you’ve had an awesome and smooth-sailing year, celebrate that – dive into films too! Everyone watches films for different reasons: whether for leisure, to gain new insights about certain topics, or even for a cute Adam Driver.
But if you’re not sure where to start after looking at the festival’s comprehensive programme list, here are some films that we here at Sinema.SG are personally anticipating. We’ve got curious cats interested in the buzz that the films have garnered and some belonging to acclaimed directors’ cult followings. Check out some of the films that we’re looking forward to:
Film: The Truth
Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
The Truth tells the story of prima donna actress Fabienne, whose newly published memoirs are challenged by her daughter, Lumir.
This has been much anticipated, considering the success of director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s oeuvre. The Truth comes after Kore-eda’s 2018 Palme d’Or winner The Shoplifters and is the first film that the director worked on outside of Japan. Having premiered as the Opening Film at the Venice International Film Festival back in August, the film has lived up to the expectations of many film critics and is said to deliver just as well as Kore-eda’s previous films. And well, we have a soft spot for Kore-eda.
Check out The Truth here.
Directed by: Yong Shu Ling
Ng Meixi returns to Singapore having spent time in Mexico working with low-performing students. She joins a local school as a relief teacher but takes on a mammoth task: to pilot a new pedagogy to help students in the Normal (Technical) stream learn better. She reconfigures the classroom from a teacher-directed one to a community that aims to empower students as learners and tutors to each other. Will this work in Singapore’s result-oriented education system?
The documentary film details the journey of a teacher trying out a new programme for her Normal (Technical) stream students. In Singapore, there seems to be a certain stigma towards these students, about how they’re all hooligans and good-for-nothing. What the film is trying to do—which is to break this stigma—is something that is sorely needed. The Singapore education system, in all its flaws and benefits, continues to be a topic of discussion for many Singaporeans who are going through or had undergone it. The documentary also took 7 years to complete and would have seen how the education system has changed over the years.
Check out Unteachable here.
Film: The Lighthouse
Directed by: Robert Eggers
A foghorn score underlines the first meeting between Ephraim Winslow and Thomas Wake. Both men are confined to an island as lighthouse keepers. Apprentice Winslow is enthralled by the lantern, but his weathered partner distrustingly keeps the logs and keys. As Winslow fantasises about what lies behind the shining beacon, the lines between mythology and reality begin to blur. With spilled beans and battered seabirds, an ominous storm approaches, and tensions between the two become inevitable.
Director Robert Eggers’ haunting style shines in the trailer of The Lighthouse and almost guarantees a ride as harrowing as his debut film The Witch (2015). Having won the Fipresci Critics’ Award at the Cannes Film Festival this year, The Lighthouse is said to make deft use of sound design to create a suspenseful and horrific tale. Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson side-by-side in a creepy black-and-white film, driving each other to insanity? Must catch!
Check out The Lighthouse here.
Film: The Missing Picture
Directed by: Rithy Panh
In 1975, 13-year-old Rithy Panh and his family were taken away from their home, and sent to “re-education” camps along with the rest of Cambodia. There, the hostages found themselves either compelled to do hard labour or tortured and killed. All this to destroy social divisions and bring a professedly triumphant revolution.
There aren’t many opportunities to catch Cambodian films in Singapore. Touching on the difficult period during the notorious Khmer Rouge regime, The Missing Picture promises a personal and less-heard voice about the experience from a survivor’s perspective. Director Rithy Panh was displaced multiple times, moving from Thailand and finally settling in France, and this documentary promises an insider look into how his own life has been personally affected by Pol Pot’s rule. The sculpted figures in the trailer also appear to be an intriguing choice for the director to not only mediate the horrors of the regime, but to immortalise what has gone and been forgotten.
Check out The Missing Picture here.
Film: Nina Wu
Directed by: Midi Z
Playing the title role of a screenplay that she co-wrote, Wu Ke-xi plays Nina Wu, a struggling young actress who is desperate for that career-defining breakout role. After eight years of toiling and playing bit-parts in small films, Nina is finally offered a meaty lead role in an espionage spy thriller that requires for her to perform in explicit sex scenes involving full frontal nudity. Obsessed with fame and grasping the role with everything she has, Nina’s psychological resolve begins to crack as a result of the challenges brought on by the role, and the abuse and trauma she has to put up with on set and off.
The synopsis sounds fascinating and the trailer looks intense! Not only have many critics referred to the film as a psychological thriller that tells a story belonging to the #MeToo movement, it also feels like it’ll be a meta-commentary about the film industry. Nina Wu debuted at the Cannes Film Festival this year under the Un Certain Regard selection and has been nominated in 8 categories at the upcoming Taiwan Golden Horse Awards. Director Midi Z is also an established figure in the Taiwan film industry and is known for his works in independent cinema, including Ice Poison (2014) and The Road to Mandalay (2016).
Check out Nina Wu here.
Directed by: Kris Ong
A young woman with a full body rash is driven to violence during a forbidden encounter with her sister’s boyfriend.
Sunday is part of the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition taking place during this year’s SGIFF. We actually had the chance to speak to director Kris Ong about her winning entry at the Singapore National Youth Film Awards 2018, You Idiot (2018), that had gone on to be in competition at many other international festivals.
The whole Southeast Asian Short Film Competition (all three programmes that will be screened in SGIFF) is just really exciting because of the rare opportunity to get glimpses of Southeast Asian stories in one seating. You don’t need much brain power as compared to sitting through multiple features but you’ll still get a tasting platter of all the different issues, themes, and styles that are happening across the region.
There’s something about Programme #2 that catches our attention in particular, but check out all the films in competition here.
Film: Still Standing
Directed by: Tan Wei Ting
When uniformed high-rise housing began sprouting in post-independence Singapore, a local architect to bring the “kampong spirit” back into the city sky by coming up with the Pearl Bank Apartment.
Apart from international films, SGIFF has a segment called “Singapore Panorama” that features local productions ranging from shorts to feature films. And Still Standing (2019) is one of the short films that will be premiering! Director Tan Wei Ting’s previous short, CA$H (2018), is both intimate and humorous (Check out our full review here!) and Still Standing hints at being another relatable film that will be close to the hearts of many Singaporeans.
Check out Still Standing here.
Any of these films caught your eye too? Find out more about the other films that will be screened and other film-related panels happenings on the SGIFF website. We have a few features and reviews lined up for the festival, so do keep a lookout for them. See you there!