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A First-Timer’s Impression of The Singapore International Film Festival4 min read

9 December 2019 3 min read


A First-Timer’s Impression of The Singapore International Film Festival4 min read

Reading Time: 3 minutes

It was my first time attending the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) and I left it all wanting to watch more films. 

It’s not like I wasn’t interested in the SGIFF before. There was just something intimidating about such events; I had this impression that a line-up of non-mainstream – even arthouse – offerings would attract the creme de la creme of film snobs and I would be sorely out of place, completely clueless about the intricacies of the mise en scene or the thematic nuances.

I wouldn’t say that my experience was life-changing but, just like how Boo Junfeng suggests in the pre-screening video, I did leave the theatres having my mind blown. The best part was that I went into my selection of movies completely cold. (Not necessarily because I wanted to plunge into the unknown but because most of the more popular screenings were already sold out.)

(Film still of Les Misérables)

The first film I caught over the festival’s opening weekend was Les Misérables, screened to a theatre packed to the gills. I expected a musical; I definitely didn’t expect French Training Day. The debut of Mali-born director Ladj Ly centres on the first two days of recently-transferred cop, Stéphane (Damien Bonnard), as part of the Anti-Crime Brigade of Montfermeil, Paris. He follows his new team, the cool-headed Gwada (Djibril Zonga) and authoritative squad leader Chris (Alexis Manenti), as they make their rounds in the suburbs. Stéphane soon uncovers the tensions between the diverse communities in the area, and their tense relationship with the police.

Les Misérables is a superb film that, if not for the SGIFF, I would have no idea about. This theme will resonate throughout the rest of the screenings I attended, including my pick of the festival Vivarium and Scales, which won the coveted Best Asian Film Feature Award at the SGIFF.

(Check back on Wednesday for our review of Scales!)

(Photo credit: Chris Wong & Paolo Ty)

Both the screenings of Revolution Launderette and Unteachable made me realise that the SGIFF is far more than a festival for ‘film people’. The screening I attended of Unteachable was filled with recently-graduated students and teachers – including the principal featured in the documentary. Meanwhile, Revolution Launderette saw members of the local independent music scene. This is, perhaps, a testament to the diverse offerings of the SGIFF.

One minor nitpick I had throughout the festival was with how there was a steady stream of audience members during the screenings even after the lights have dimmed. On one hand, this could just show that seats for the screenings were in high demand, and that the festival goers were generally passionate if they were willing to make the trip down to the theatre in hopes of scoring last-minute tickets and empty seats. On the other hand, however, it was quite distracting to have silhouettes moving around the theatre long after the film’s first act is well under way. 

(Photo credit: Chris Wong & Paolo Ty)

Perhaps what fascinated me the most about the festival were the opportunities for attendees to meet and speak with the directors behind the films – be it through Q&A sessions or just speaking to them when they were hanging around. Everyone was there because of their passion for great films and that was all that mattered.

Would I want to attend the next edition of the SGIFF? I’m not sure. But if there are more opportunities to watch films that will probably blow me away and more opportunities to celebrate cinema together with a community, then why not?

Check out our coverage of this year’s SGIFF below:
Review: Wet Season
Review: Revolution Launderette
Review: Unteachable
Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Interview: Yong Shuling and Lisa Teh
Interview: Anucha Boonyawatana and Mouly Surya
Interview: Kuo Ming Jung
A Behind-The-Scenes Look at Wet Season

There's nothing Matt loves more than "so bad, they're good" movies. Except browsing through crates of vinyl records. And Mexican food.
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