Thursday, February 02, 2006

2 Asian fests in April

It behoooves me to announce that Lelaki Komunis Terakhir will screen virtually back-to-back in April, first at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and then at the Singapore International Film Festival.

I've screened at both festivals several times before, which is not to say I take it for granted that they will always accept my movies. Each time is like the first time, honest.

HKIFF attracts more foreign guests and journalists as it's better-funded. Plus, it's attached to a film market and also the local film awards, so the money and glam factors are present and accounted for. Given a choice, people just prefer going to Hong Kong than Singapore. I don't blame them; Hong Kong is indeed the most beautiful Asian city I've seen (not that I've seen many).

SIFF, on the other hand, has no local movie stars. The Singapore government also keeps slashing its grant to the festival, making its future look decidedly uncertain. The shame is that SIFF is the most vibrantly programmed annual film event in South-East Asia and deserves more support than it has been getting. This was the festival where I first saw films by people like Lino Brocka, Mario O'Hara, Lav Diaz, Garin Nuhrogo and Riri Riza, to mention just a few. It had early retrospectives of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and James Lee before the rest of the world had even heard of them. Its strength isn't just in regional cinema as there's always an interesting array of films, including documentaries, that would otherwise never get a theatrical release. I first attended SIFF in 1998 where (I'm ashamed to say) I only saw the two Malaysian films, Jogho and Dari Jemapoh ke Manchestee. I did the subtitles for both films and just wanted to check on them! Since 2001 I have been a better and more adventurous festival-goer.

I first attended HKIFF in 2001 where my DV camera promptly got stolen during a screening. It wasn't even mine; I'd borrowed it. Since then my experiences in Hong Kong have been much happier, thankyouverymuch.

I hope to attend both festivals again this year. Audiences in each city should, in theory, have some sort of relationship with the subject-matter. Singapore and Malaya went through the same historical trajectory during the Emergency Era (1948-60) and its first Chief Minister David Marshall is represented in the movie, albeit in cartoon form. (He took part in the 1955 Baling talks between the Malayan Communist Party led by Chin Peng and the incoming Alliance government led by Tunku Abdul Rahman). Hong Kong, meanwhile, is beginning to feel the effects of being handed back to the Chinese communist motherland.

It would therefore be interesting to see who will turn up at the screenings and how they will respond. Reports will be posted after the event. In the meantime, if you know anyone in those fine cities, tell them to turn up lah. Screening details should be announced on the websites by mid-March.

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