Eternality Tan
by Eternality Tan

The Singapore International Film Festival 2019 returns for its landmark 30th edition from 21 November to 1 December at several venues in the island-city. Although it appears that the overall number of films curated has slightly decreased from previous instalments, the festival seems to be celebrating its milestone anniversary with a more populist programming agenda.

This year, buzzy new films by big-name auteurs whose films world-premiered at major festivals like Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, Toronto and Venice are on show at SGIFF. It’s just a train ride to town to watch films like “Bacurau” (Brazil), “Les Miserables” (France), “Matthias & Maxime” (Canada), “No. 7 Cherry Lane” (Hong Kong), “Synonyms” (Israel) and “The Wild Goose Lake” (China), some of which are selling fast, or have already sold out.

It’s difficult to pick which titles are must-watch when the programming is generally very good. Hence, I’ll approach this short guide in a different way—highlighting key films in several ‘categories’ instead of drawing up the usual list: 


SG Cinema Showcase

Since SGIFF will be opening with “Ilo Ilo” director Anthony Chen’s highly-anticipated follow-up, “Wet Season”, let’s start off with our very own local cinema. “Wet Season” reunites Chen with Yann Yann Yeo and Jia Ler Koh in what has been billed as a ‘coming-of-(middle)-age drama’ that chronicles the relationship between a schoolteacher and student. It world-premiered at Toronto, and is currently in the running for six Golden Horse Awards.

Ilo Ilo

Other new local works premiering at SGIFF include Lei Yuan Bin’s “I Dream of Singapore” and Ler Jiyuan’s “Invisible Stories”, tackling social issues in both documentary and dramatic forms respectively.

Personal interest: Although I’m a film programmer by trade, I also teach and have been engaged with my postgraduate studies on education for the last two years, so it must be said that “Unteachable” by Yong Shu Ling is a godsend of a documentary that I’m looking forward to seeing. I’m sure it will provide illuminating insights on the challenges and affordances of student-centered teaching and learning in Singapore.


Asian Directors Speak

Director Midi Z and actress Wu Ke-Xi return to SGIFF (they were previously here in 2016 for “The Road to Mandalay”) with a new provocative work, “Nina Wu”, in a special presentation screening. They will also be part of an ‘In Conversation’ talk, where they will share about the filmmaking process and the #MeToo themes that their latest film explores.

Another Asian auteur, the legendary Takashi Miike, will speak in a special masterclass. The incredibly prolific director of such cult movies like “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer” presents his new film, “First Love”, a stylish, outrageous crime film as part of the festival’s Midnight Mayhem sidebar.

“The Tree Remembers” seems set up to be another thought-provoking piece about historical racism and ethnic issues stemming from the Malayan Peninsula, by emerging Malaysian filmmaker Kek Huat Lau, whose “Absent Without Leave” won the Audience Choice Award at SGIFF in 2016. He will speak at the screening of “The Tree Remembers”.

Absent Without Leave

Personal interest: As far as Asian films are concerned, I’m particularly excited for “The Wild Goose Lake” by Diao Yi’nan, whose previous crime-drama, “Black Coal, Thin Ice” impressed me greatly. I also look forward to Tibetan filmmaker Pema Tseden’s new picture, “Balloon”, which foregrounds condoms as a plot device in a narrative about family, politics and spirituality. “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”, the feature debut by Gu Xiaogang, is another fascinating one that I want to see, apparently shot in a style that resembles ancient Chinese paintings that captures seasonal and societal changes in a Chinese town in Hangzhou.


High-Profile Films That Will Return

There are a number of high-profile films that you can afford to temporarily miss at SGIFF because they are 99.9% certain to return to the big screen sometime in the near future. Unless you are desperate to see them first before anyone else in Singapore, you might wish to strategise spending your hard-earned money on titles that are ‘more difficult’ to see outside of the festival.

“The Lighthouse” is one of these higher-profile titles that will get a limited commercial release. The black-and-white horror film set in the 1890s stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as two lighthouse keepers trying to stay sane as tensions rise between them. It was shot in an ultra-claustrophobic 1.19:1 aspect ratio, which is as anti-widescreen as it gets.

Other films that will return again include “Downton Abbey”, “Monos”, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” “Ride Your Wave”, “Saturday Fiction”, “The Truth”, “Vivarium”,  “Marriage Story” and “The Two Popes”. So, don’t worry if these films have limited tickets left or are already sold out.


To all cinephiles, have a good time at the 30th SGIFF, and I wish you an enjoyable and illuminating experience at the movies!