SIFF: Prospects?

Ben Slater made a podcast about the recently-concluded S’pore International Film Festival for GreenCine:

GreenCine Daily: Singapore Dispatch. Podcast 1.

Incidentally, he wrote a great article in Time Out Singapore discussing dialect censorship and Mandarin dubbing for movies shown here.

(earlier posts about Ben Slater)

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At the end of every SIFF, there’s usually a general sense of unease about the following year’s offerings. Coming out of its 20th incarnation however, this sense seems more pervasive; more sinister. Some opine that the selection’s getting worse (although I don’t know what criteria they’re using to judge the quality of selection. To me every year’s selection is equally esoteric and obscure). Most people point to the shrinking festival period, and see in this year’s plain booklet design (compared to the lavish illustrated covers of previous festivals) ominous portents.

I don’t think the festival will die out completely without government attention – worse comes to worst we can go back to 50+ films and photocopied programmes. But if the government’s really serious about staking places for Singapore in international film circles and making this little island-city a global metropolis, it has to do more to help SIFF grow.

Not doing so would be a real waste of SIFF’s achievements so far. Celebrities, glitz and press coverage make for nice, neat KPIs. But these are not worth much in an age where you can literally buy these kinds of festivals. For example, Bangkok paid a consultancy to plan their film festival, source for prints and lure Hollywood stars halfway around the world. Besides, other major Asian cities are already competing in the red carpet game.

In such an environment, SIFF’s painstakingly-built cultural reputation and hard-won place in independent film circuits are valuable long-term assets that ought to be grown. How many festivals can boast of 20 years in business and an established international reputation for showcasing edgy independent work, particularly from Southeast Asia?

Admittedly, I’ve heard rumours that the SIFF organisers are obstinate. I don’t know how true these are, but it would be a sad day indeed for Singapore if SIFF was allowed to deteriorate out of neglect by both public servants and film enthusiasts.

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