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Singapore International Film Festival returns for 31st edition with hybrid cinema-online model

Tan Bee Thiam's Tiong Bahru Social Club will open the festival

In the midst of this pandemic, the show, indeed, must go on. And the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is returning in its 31st edition this year, with more than 70 films from 49 countries, all set to excite the cinephile in you from Nov 26 to Dec 6. Tickets go on sale from 6 Nov, 12pm, via the SGIFF website, SISTIC and The Projector.

While COVID-19 measures mean that cinema capacities are limited, the SGIFF is introducing their first-ever hybrid format where you can either get a ticket for physical screenings, or buy a ticket to watch specific shows online. Do note that online films will only be available for a short window, and only in Singapore. The festival will be hosted across multiple venues, including Shaw Lido, Filmgarde Bugis+, Oldham Theatre, The Projector and virtual platform The Projector Plus. 

Discovering Asian Stories

This year’s films at the Festival will celebrate resilience and hope, as the festival renews its purpose to discovering Asian stories, as well as deepen the appreciation of cinema in Singapore, said organisers at an online press conference.

“We are pleased to bring the best, most impactful, moving and thought provoking films to the festival, to engage with audiences and the communities at large, because we believe a film festival can play a revitalising role in this unprecedented time,” said SGIFF Artistic Director Kuo Ming-Jung. 

Tiong Bahru Social Club by Singaporean director Tan Bee Thiam. Image courtesy of 13 Little Pictures. 

To this end, there will be 22 Singapore films at the Festival, including debut feature Tiong Bahru Social Club by director Tan Bee Thiam. The stylised satirical comedy with a soft sci-fi slant will open the Singapore International Film Festival on 26 Nov.

The film stars Thomas Pang as Ah Bee, a worker drone who leaves his dull office job to join the Tiong Bahru Social Club — a data-driven programme that aims to create the world’s happiest residents in the idyllic neighbourhood. The snapshot of a micro-managed housing community delivers an amusing take on the ways we live today and questions the construct of happiness in Singapore.

 “I’m deeply honored that Tiong Bahru Social Club will be opening the festival this year. SGIFF is a key platform for local and regional filmmakers to find new audiences for the work we create, and new collaborators for the works we are going to make. Tiong Bahru Social Club comes at a time where we question the construct and mechanics of happiness in this bustling city-state. I hope the film will strike a chord with the audiences, as we reflect on life’s priorities during this period.” — Tiong Bahru Social Club director Tan Bee Thiam.

In the press conference, director Tan said the film took a long time to come together: It took more than 30 drafts, 3 years of casting, and 5 years of filmmaking, for the self-admitted “slow” filmmaker.

But the results show that it was worth it: Tiong Bahru Social Club was selected at this year’s Busan International Film Festival and is nominated for SGIFF Silver Screen Awards’ Asian Feature Film competition. 

Additionally, four Singaporean shorts are nominated for the Silver Screen Awards’ Southeast Asian Short Film competition, including The Smell of Coffee (2020) by Nishok Nishok. The Singapore Panorama section will world premiere four features and showcase twelve shorts.

Meanwhile, SGIFF’s Asian Feature Competition spotlights a new generation of exciting talent in Asia, including Beginning (2020) by Dea Kulumbegashvili, which won multiple awards at the San Sebastián Film Festival. It also showcases The Wasteland (2020) by Ahmad Bahrami that received Venice’s Best Film in the Orizzonti section and Milestone (2020) by Ivan Ayr that premiered at Venice this year. 

An International Slate

It’s not just about Asian movies, the 31st Singapore International Film Festival will also feature director Chloe Zhao (Mavel’s Eternals) award-winning Nomadland (2020). Starring Frances Mcdormand in a powerhouse performance of a middle-class woman who hits the road in her van, the film won the Venice Film Festival Golden Lion.

Nomadland by Chloe Zhao.

Joining Nomadland is Silver Lion winner Wife of a Spy (2020) by Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Genus Pan (2020) by Fillipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, who took Orizzonti win for Best Director, and debut feature and Cannes selection Gagarine (2020) by French directors Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh. 

“Your staycation plan”

Over the 11 days, fans can also enjoy in online talks and panels. Producer Shozo Ichiyama and critically acclaimed director Ann Hui will share the journey of their distinguished careers in Asian cinema at the Festival. 

Singapore audiences can also connect with filmmakers through online Q&As recorded by SGIFF after film screenings, using questions sent in by audiences.

Despite the difficulties in setting up a hybrid festival, SGIFF Chair Boo Junfeng says they have continued to push to get things going.

“SGIFF is a key platform for filmmakers in Singapore and the region to showcase their work,” he said. “Through cinema, SGIFF offers a space for us to examine the human condition and have conversations on important issues in the world that affect us. … That’s why we’ve pressed on with the 31st edition of SGIFF – to continue to be the place of inspiration for anyone who loves cinema.” 

 “This year is definitely unique, but SGIFF will continue to be a cultural institution that inspires, creates, and shapes the direction of film across the region,” added Executive Director Emily J. Hoe. “It was our priority to ensure that the festival programme and budgets were put together, without compromising on artistic integrity or rigour. The unique hybrid line-up curated for the audiences of today has allowed us to remain socially connected through films despite the physical challenges of time, distance and space.” 

“During these challenging times, many have relied on films as a form of escape and a space for reflection, and we have come to appreciate the power of cinema even more,” said Boo, adding that with online screenings for those in Singapore, many should “make (SGIFF) your staycation plan.”

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The technological backbone of HereBeGeeks.com, Alvin’s machinist-nature also ensures that this blog remains alive when the unpredictable Murphy’s Law comes into effect.

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