Emily J. Hoe

With films like He Shuming’s Ajooma garnering international attention, it’s clear the film world needs to pay closer attention to all the talent emerging from Singapore. While the country may be small, our film community remains strong and mighty, as evidenced by the incredible lineup of movies and directors set to present their work at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival. The 33rd edition of the festival will take place from 24 November to 4 December, with Singapore films making up over a quarter of the lineup. Around 100 films representing over 50 countries will be present.

Related article: Out Now: He Shuming’s ‘Ajooma’ Starring Kang Hyung Suk, Hong Huifang And More

Below, SGIFF Executive Director Emily J. Hoe tells us what attendees can expect from this year’s filmmakers, and reflects on the future of Singapore’s film scene.

Tell us more about the festival’s mission, driving a new agenda for change. The lineup certainly reflects a wider focus on Southeast Asian films.
At SGIFF, we celebrate independent cinema in the region, especially its ability to inform, transform and inspire. We focus on Asian and Southeast Asian films which are reflected in our two competition sections for features and shorts. We aim to foster a deeper appreciation for cinema in Singapore while growing awareness for stories and experiences from all over the world. We want to celebrate the independent spirit of films with the local audience and expand their vision of what cinema is.

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Of course on the other end, we are committed to lending a helping hand to emerging talents from the region and have many programs in place to help nurture newer filmmakers, such as the Asian Producers Network and Southeast Asian Film Lab. We feel that there is an enormous pool of film talent in the region which deserves to have their works screened or be part of SGIFF’s capability development and networking programmes. We feel that our role is important in galvanising the pipeline of new talent and supporting them on their journey.

As in-person events and an influx of tourism come flooding back into Singapore, the arts scene is seeing a lot of revitalisation. What excites you most about the future of Singapore’s art scene?
After two robust Covid-era festivals, we are thrilled to be back in full force, welcoming more international filmmakers this year to share with us their experiences and perspectives through physical Q&As. Just being able to connect with them face-to-face again this year has been amazing. 

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We’ve been noticing the blurring of lines between art disciplines and seen cross-collaborative projects that have resulted in unique, interesting works not just in film, but across the entire Singapore art scene. In addition, the development in technology is one not to be ignored, and we are eager to see how filmmakers will embrace technology-driven interactive elements such as Virtual and Extended Reality to overcome physical limitations and tell their stories in a more engaging manner. That’s definitely exciting and I look forward to seeing the response, and how this might transform SGIFF programmes and line-ups in the future. 

What do you hope the film festival will help do for the art scene here?
Singaporean talent, content and co-productions have always been featured strongly at SGIFF. This year, Singapore films account for more than a quarter of the line-up, with 6 feature films and 20 short films, and we’re seeing many new emerging local filmmakers. SGIFF serves not just as a platform to widen the perspectives of local audiences and increase awareness of independent film but also to groom the pipeline of talent in Singapore. This can be seen through our Southeast Asian Film Lab and the Film Immersion programme where we bring independent films and have thoughtful discussion in local schools.

Out Now: He Shuming’s ‘Ajooma’ Starring Kang Hyung Suk, Hong Huifang And More
Hong Huifang and Kang Hyung-suk in Ajooma. Photo: Courtesy

We always hope to provide a safe and nurturing space for local filmmakers, giving them a boost in their filmmaking journey. Recently, the first recipient of the Most Promising Project at the festival’s Southeast Asian Film Lab in 2015, Ajooma, directed by He Shuming, has been making waves in the industry with four nominations at the Golden Horse Awards and a World Premiere at Busan International Film Festival. On top of that, previous editions of the Film Lab have also developed three feature films that are in the running for this year’s Asian Feature Film Competition and this is testament to the robust work that the festival team has been doing. 

You talk about celebrating new perspectives with this year’s edition. I’m curious to hear what perspectives you think are currently missing in the film scene here and how you hope to elevate those voices through the festival.
The championing of independent cinema in Singapore has always laid on the shoulders of organisations such as SGIFF, other smaller film festivals and independent cinemas such as The Projector. I do hope that there will be more voices in Singapore to help increase awareness and encourage local audiences to broaden the range of films that they see. Independent films are all individually special and different, and there’s a story for everyone. The fact that we have a focus on Asia and Southeast Asia also propels stories from our region to new audiences, making a great entry point for the audience, who can connect with stories close to home.

Before Life After Death
A still from director Anshul Tiwari’s Before Life After Death. Photo: Courtesy of SGIFF

What are some highlights to look for from this year’s festival?
I always recommend people check out the shorts programme as there are so many exciting works from emerging local filmmakers that deserve to be seen. They bring a fresh voice to the industry and you never know, they might be the next He Shuming in the near future. Aside from that, do check out our Forum programme, where we have experimented with more creative and interactive elements where the audience can experience Festival firsts. We All Paint Ourselves Green is a talk and live demo of Extended Reality technology while Mildly Offensive, Sometimes Accurate is an interactive gameplay hosted by comedian Hossan Leong, where local film industry names pit their viewpoints against each other while the audience continually votes on the ‘offensiveness’ of each statement. Lastly, Lei Yuan Bin’s ‘Baby Queen’ will be anchoring our annual fundraiser this year and it’ll be an electric night with a one-night-only showing and live drag performances by protagonist Opera Tang and fellow Queens.