Keep the film festival weird

Keep the film festival weird
The Silver Screen Awards brought in film stars such as Chow Yun Fat (centre), who was a presenter in 2007.

SINGAPORE - Go to the website of the Singapore International Film Festival ( and you will see its round black logo.

It is a familiar sight, and a comforting one, as it hasn't been seen since 2011, when it disappeared amid a flurry of financial and personnel woes. Some people have wondered if it would ever be seen again.

But here it is again, and below the shield are, aptly enough for a film festival, the tantalising words, "Coming soon, 2014".

Like a movie franchise that has been rebooted - think Spiderman or Star Trek - fans will wonder in what new direction it is headed and, more importantly, if it will be any good.

To be perfectly accurate, the independently organised film festival had been rebooted once before.

Since its founding in 1987, it has been supported by a conclave of cineastes, volunteers and young film-makers. They would be surrounded by a larger group of fans. It was a proud fortress of aesthetics and principles, a body that would dare test the limits of film censorship again and again.

Then the Internet happened, as did national film festivals put out by the different embassies in Singapore, the widening of cable channels and a ratings system that allowed DVDs rated up to M18 (suitable for those aged 18 and above).

The Singapore International Film Festival (then called SIFF) was no longer as edgy, because the mainstream had expanded to co-opt the fringes. Audiences dwindled.

The festival tried to stave off irrelevancy by adopting a something-for-everyone approach to its programming. More films meant more screening locations. It also invited celebrities in an attempt to be Cannes-on-the-Malacca Straits.

The festival had gone for broke, and that is perhaps exactly what happened in 2011, the last time it was held.

This time, the SGIFF version 2.0 will be an add-on event to the Asia Television Forum and ScreenSingapore, a trade and conference event.

It looks like a sweet deal, coming under the umbrella of a larger showcase. Some costs can be shared and the prestige of film premieres can likewise be distributed, as can its stars. The glamour of one event can rub off on the other.

And this is already what is happening now. Two other film festivals with different organisers, the ASEAN Film Festival and the Rendezvous With French Cinema, are run alongside ScreenSingapore. It is, as they say, a symbiosis. A marriage made in heaven.

But as in all marriages, there has to be compromise. Assuming it can find enough funding, the island's once-mighty flagship film festival will find itself a junior member among the events attached to ScreenSingapore.

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