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A Sneak Peek of What’s To Come From the Singapore Film Society in 2021

13 January 2021

A Sneak Peek of What’s To Come From the Singapore Film Society in 2021

The Singapore Film Society (SFS) has been the second home for many film fanatics in the country since its beginnings in 1958. Throughout the decades, Singapore’s longest-established nonprofit organisation on film appreciation has organised countless programmes, events and films screenings of otherwise overlooked works. These have been made possible by funding support solely by members and sponsors, as well as the tireless work of its volunteers. 

Despite being an immensely difficult year for everyone, including Singapore’s film ecosystem, the SFS has adapted throughout 2020 to forge ahead. The society had a running start early on in the year with the success of the MINDS Film Festival in January. The COVID-19 pandemic would soon throw a wrench in any prior plans for subsequent events. Even before the mandated closure of cinemas in March, decisions to postpone festivals and screenings were made as early as February. 

MINDS Film Festival 2020 was held from 15 to 19 January / Photo credit: Singapore Film Society Facebook Page

During the Circuit Breaker, SFS looked to return a sense of community synonymous with its offline screenings and events through online watch parties and discussions. The society capped off the year by pushing on and successfully realising a string of film festivals, including the Singapore Chinese Film Festival and the Japanese Film Festival. 

Announced last November, there are now even more benefits and options for film lovers looking to be part of the society through its new membership plans. On top of discounts to its screenings, the SFS’s first tier of membership, SFS KOPI & MOVI, will grant access to meet-ups, chats, masterclasses and workshops — all for free. 

A snapshot of SFS’s new membership plans

For $29 more, the SFS Friend tier will include film festival discounts for a year and three months of CATCHPLAY+ Subscription. The SFS Fam tier, priced at $149 a year, will open up exclusive access to SFS events, a year-long subscription of CATCHPLAY+ and $5 off selected Golden Village movies. The full details of the society’s revamped membership plans can be found on its website.

To find out more about the new membership plans and of SFS’s 2021 plans, Sinema.SG caught up with Eternality Tan, the society’s Vice-Chair and Programming Director. Eternality is also the Managing Director of film education initiative The Filmic Eye, an Adjunct Lecturer, and one of Singapore’s most hardworking film critics with new reviews on his blog almost every day. 

Eternality Tan, Singapore Film Society’s Vice-Chair and Programming Director / Photo credit: Eternality Tan

2020 has been a tough year for everyone, including for film lovers here in Singapore. How has the Singapore Film Society navigated through 2020 to continue towards its goals?

2020 was indeed a challenging year for everybody. The most significant impact was, of course, during the Circuit Breaker period when we couldn’t hold any screenings as cinemas were mandated to be closed. We had to postpone several film festivals and put on hold our regular programming for members. We turned our focus to engaging with members and the community online through Netflix and CATCHPLAY+ parties where we watched and discussed films and various topics.

At the same time, SFS was preparing and looking ahead to when cinemas would reopen so that we can seamlessly reactivate and continue with some of the film festivals that were postponed. The management committee also sat down to reflect and ‘vision’ SFS’ short-term and long-term future, putting in place a series of milestone goals that we hope to hit by the end of 2021 and 2025.

What are some of the highlights from the Singapore Film Society in 2020?

We are very happy to have pushed on with the Singapore Chinese Film Festival and Japanese Film Festival, two flagship festivals that we were proud to co-organise with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (Centre for Chinese Studies) and Japan Creative Centre respectively. We experimented with a hybrid style that included both physical and online screenings, with all Q&As with filmmakers held on Zoom or Facebook Live. Despite safe distancing measures and restricted seating capacity in cinema halls, many of our screenings were sold out which was very encouraging at a time when most might still think twice to see a movie in the cinema.

Japanese Film Festival saw several sold-out screenings in its 2020 edition / Image credit: Japanese Film Festival Facebook page

What were the main reasons behind the revamp of the Society’s membership plans?

We considered feedback from members who preferred more flexibility with their membership. The changing film viewing landscape towards online platforms that had been accelerated by the pandemic was another factor. But most of all, we wanted to focus more on building communities.

We now have a free membership tier called SFS KOPI & MOVI where the general public can sign up to connect with like-minded interest groups in the near future and enjoy discounts to our screenings. For those who are into festival discounts and a range of other benefits including exclusive access to our upcoming thematic showcases, and subscription to our online platform partners like CATCHPLAY+ and MUBI (coming soon), we have SFS FRIEND and the premium SFS FAM memberships to offer.

Could you share with us some of your picks from CATCHPLAY+ that film lovers have to check out?

If you like to try really good world cinema by established masters, look no further than The Wild Pear Tree from Nuri Bilge Ceylan, A Separation from Asghar Farhadi, and Happy End from Michael Haneke. CATCHPLAY+ is also a great way to catch up on movies you missed in the cinemas that are not currently playing on Netflix or other platforms, such as Jackie starring Natalie Portman, The Killing of a Sacred Deer with Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman, and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight.  There’s also a really good Taiwanese series called The World Between Us if you are into journalism, crime and mystery. 

Natalie Portman was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 2016’s “Jackie” / Image credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

What are some of the exclusive events, screenings, masterclasses and workshops that we can look forward to from the Singapore Film Society in 2021?

We will be tweaking our programming direction to focus more on original programming, where we will curate titles that you can only watch with SFS or are making their Singapore premieres. Many of these exclusive titles will be presented as part of a series of thematic showcases so that broad or specific topics related to the films can create meaningful conversations. We hope to mount a thematic showcase once every two to three months, starting in March.

Festivals that we have been co-organising over the decades will be back in 2021, including the European Union Film Festival. Other flagship festivals such as the Singapore Chinese Film Festival will also continue. We will begin our festival calendar with the previously-postponed Middle East Film Festival in late February on Shaw Kinolounge. Where opportunities arise, we hope to also organise a few early preview screenings for members of titles that are going to be released theatrically.

For those looking to volunteer with the SFS, how can they do so?

We are mainly split into three departments – Programming, Marketing, and Community; if you like to volunteer, please write to us at: I started out as a programming volunteer back in 2013 and am still a volunteer today. Everyone’s a volunteer here, so whether you are working full-time, part-time, a student or retiree, we welcome anyone who is passionate about engaging and building more film communities in Singapore through the year-round activities that we do together, be it film festivals, exclusive screenings, online parties, workshops or masterclasses, or even content creation and editorial for our website and social media.

What does the SFS hope to achieve in 2021?

Our vision has always been to be the ‘one-stop’ for everything that is related to film for anybody in Singapore.  We hope to continue engaging our current and prospective members, expand our film communities and increase our membership, scale-up our activities to pre-COVID levels where feasible, partner with embassies and cultural institutions to co-organise and promote more film festivals, etc.  We are a close-knit and grounds-up organisation fully run by volunteers.  We hope to welcome you and your valuable contribution to SFS in 2021!

Follow the Singapore Film Society on both Facebook and Instagram and visit its website for the latest news and content from the society!

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