Ode to the Film Festival

A funny Italian comedy
Bread & Tulips

The Singapore International Film Festival opened its 22nd season this weekend…and I’m missing it for the 2nd year running.  Before you start to think I’m some tragic no-life who (not so) secretly wishes that she’s actually in Singapore during film fest season just so she can watch images unfold on screen in a darkened cinema full of strangers, let me make a feeble attempt to exonerate myself from the charge.

The SIFF holds a funny little place in my heart.  The first SIFF “film” I watched was a trailer back in 2002.  I can’t remember what the trailer was all about anymore of course, but I remember watching it in Archana’s room in our uni student hall, and then posting a review.  I’m not sure what really happened (perhaps a grand total of 1 person, i.e. me, watched it and bothered to submit a review) but a few weeks later, I received an email informing me that I had won two complimentary tickets to the screening of the delightful, life-affirming Italian comedy Pane E Tulipani (Bread & Tulips) at the 15th SIFF.  Since I had watched the trailer with Arch, naturally, she was my date for the screening.  It was my first taste of the wonderful world of film (beyond Hollywood, and beyond a certain self-made short film I shall not name, that a college lecturer and aspiring filmmaker I shall not name, forced my whole Lit class to watch), and I never missed another season, up till last year, that is, when I was in Australia for work all throughout festival season.

My 2nd year missing it makes me reminiscent about the good times, and of course, the amusingly bad as well:

The 16th was where I watched Royston Tan’s soon-to-become iconic Singapore film, 十五 (I know I shouldn’t link to illegally uploaded, low-quality versions, but…) and grew to love a good Singapore film, and was reminded that young people need something to believe in, and someone to believe in them.

The 16th was also where I discovered that I had been loving Yasmin Ahmad all along.  At a free screening at the Goethe-Institut, a sparsely-filled, tiny room of strangers watched a little screening of the amazingly heartwarming Rabun.  And then I discovered that Yasmin was the same storyteller behind the beloved Petronas public service messages – the same ones I had viewed in the company of family year after year, always leaving us with a warm and fuzzy feeling, so much so that the new Petronas ad for the season had become one of the things to look forward to when back in Kuching for Chinese New Year.  I was hooked, and would go back for more, and more: Sepet, Gubra, Mukhsin and Muallaf.  Last year, while waiting for Wall-E to start, though usually fidgety during trailers/commercials, I sat transfixed by a story, and was convinced that only Yasmin could have told it.  Sure enough, it was a TVC Yasmin was commissioned to create by the National Family Council.  May we all tell stories with such heart!

The SIFF was where hoardes of seemingly unrelated friends, colleagues (past and present) and acquaintences would bump into each other, brought together by our common love for a social cause, at the countless quality documentary screenings, emerging into the bright, post-screening light, depressed and affected.  These stories would continue to affect our worldview, the way we lived our lives, and the causes we believed in, in countless minute ways we probably barely even realised.

And the SIFF was where friends and I would groan in the middle of yet another James Lee film (why do we never learn our lesson?) or a Filipino “new wave”.  And so I’ve always remembered to stay away from “new wave” – okay, fine, you can say I’m too “conventional” for “new wave”, but groaning through the occasional SIFF screening has helped me recognise my own tastes, and I’m okay with that.

I credit the SIFF for gently guiding and helping me find my taste in film, and probably countless other people besides; providing a starting platform from which to discover and appreciate all the little gems of insight humanity has to offer.  But perhaps most important has been the fellowship of like-minded friends meeting to go to or bumping into each other at the same screenings, or in between screening changes, show after show.  The hurried dinner bites before the early weekday evening screenings, the lazy post-show teh sessions, the thoughtful discussions, the animated banter – for that, my dear kakis, I thank you, and hope you enjoy yet another eye-opening season!

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