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The 10th Singapore International Film Festival: April 4 – April 19, 1997

The 10th Singapore International Film Festival: April 4 - April 19, 1997

The 10th Singapore International Film Festival: April 4 - April 19, 1997

by Christian Gaines

Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, the Singapore International Film
Festival further defined its identity as a festival for regional
filmmaking. More so than many Pacific Rim fests, the SIFF was decidely
focused on films from Southeast Asia; Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam,
Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines were all well represented with
recent and not-so-recent work, as over 200 films from throughout the
world lit screens at a half dozen sites around town. Film Programmer
Philip Cheah had a discerning eye for provocative films, and despite the
strictures of Singapore society, was able to present an engaging program
of films. The SIFF seems to have come of age in its tenth year, taking
its place among major international film festivals.

The Singapore festival opened with a special screening of Makhmalbaf’s
“Gabbeh” (Iran), and closed with “Breaking The Waves” (Denmark/France) —
both familiar festival circuit fare, but exciting for the local audience

Highlights in the intensive program included “The King Of Masks” (China),
“Three Friends” (Korea), “Amok” (Malaysia), “Four Faces Of Eve” (Hong Kong),
“Dead Sure” (Philippines) and “My Secret Cache” (Japan). The festival
offered tributes to French master Francoise Truffaut and Indian
filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak as well.

But the SIFF also offered fascinating glimpses of cinema rarely seen
elsewhere, and here the festival marked its strongest territory. Home
grown production “God Or Dog” by Hugo Ng is a chilling account of the only
serial murderer in Singapore’s history. Such subject matter is certainly
a challenge given the free rein with which Singapore’s censors can wield
the scissors. But in avoiding the censor, filmmakers express themselves
with the kind of creative techniques evidenced to great effect in “God Or Dog,”
where grisly events are given impressionistic treatment every bit
as effective as the more explicit renderings of Western cinema. It’s
plenty disturbing, all the more for its stylistic departures.

Without doubt the standout of the festival was local filmmaker Eric
Khoo’s sophomore effort “12 Stories,” a painfully funny and pointed study
of three families living in a government subsidized apartment building
called an HDB Block. In a culture where there is practically no crime,
unemployment or homelessness, and where wealth, cleanliness and
organization are national priorities, “12 Stories” is a sharp, perceptive
foray into the lives of simple people experiencing emotions and
tribulations which threaten to overcome their lives. Recently chosen for
the “Un Certain Regard” section of the upcoming 50th Cannes Film
Festival, “12 Stories” may push Eric Khoo’s career into the realm of World
Cinema, even as it puts the Singapore film industry on the map.

The centerpiece of the festival was the Silver Screen Awards, presented
at the Westin Stamford, and broadcast live on the local TV station TCS
— a glitzy, choreographed affair, with awards presented by a parade of
local celebrities and Chinese stars.

[Christian Gaines is the director of the Hawaii International Film Festival and travelled to the Hong Kong and Singapore International Film Festivals and reported for the Sundance Channel web site, who graciously allowed indieWIRE to run excerpts of those reports. See the full text of those reports at’s Hong Kong festival excerpt is here.]

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