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INTERVIEWS

As Luck Would Have It


It’s Never Going To Be The Same Again for Madison Kelly


Nothing Foreign Here for Rich Lee


Alec Tok Talks A Big Road


Interview with Brian Gothong Tan, Director of Invisible Children

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Closing Date: 25 April 2009


22nd SIFF Singapore Short Film Competition Trailer from siff on Vimeo

Singapore Film Awards nominated films

SIFF 09 Highlights
The 22nd edition of the Singapore International Film Festival will take place from 14 to 25 April 2009, screening close to 200 films from over 30 countries. The films were selected from 1,056 entries received by the Festival. This year, audiences can look forward to a wide selection of fresh, bold and award-winning films, as well as newly introduced open-air screenings and late night weekend screenings. The Festival will include two tributes honouring 25 Years of the Thai National Film Archive and the Amos Gitai Retrospective. Films shown from the stellar Israeli filmmaker, Amos Gitai, will include his latest One Day You’ll Understand (2008) and Disengagement (2007) which stars Juliette Binoche.

So mark your calendars and get ready for the coming of age event that is the SIFF.

REVIEWS
A Big Road ˆTOP

Singapore filmmaker Alec Tok’s feature film about three women in Shanghai will either leave you disconnected from the recurring themes of life and death, or make you want to seek out what this cyclical voyage that we all go through really means. A nominee at this year’s Singapore International Film Festival’s Asian Feature Film Competition, this local feature is also having its world premiere here. Dreamily shot with a recognizable Chinese folk tune “An 18 year old girl is like a blooming flower” playing throughout, the film feels disjointed yet familiar. Not the easiest film to sit through despite its short 88 minute duration, it may challenge the more seasoned film appreciator. One memorable scene has one of the protagonists standing in front of the mirror in a 10 minute long take, trying on different outfits to decide what she should wear to appear attractive. If this is your cup of tea, then you must watch this to experience life and death presented on film - John Li


Fireflies in the Garden ˆTOP
Robert Frost’s short poem forms the inspiration for writer/director Dennis Lee’s dysfunctional family drama. For many, the draw of this movie will undoubtedly be its ensemble cast, with the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe, Emily Watson and even Julia Roberts. Unfortunately, their combined talent is let down by some truly clunky dialogue. This being Dennis Lee’s feature film debut after his award winning “Jesus Henry Christ” short, he reveals little writing nor directing flair. Despite its parallel narratives switching between the central character Michael Waetchter’s childhood and present day tragedy, the movie fails to sustain much interest no thanks to its uninspired staging. Even the usually reliable actors are let down by the material. Especially one-note is Willem Dafoe’s authoritarian father character, which ends up clichéd and caricatured. Its brightest spark is watching Ryan Reynolds in a dramatic role- it is a transition the usual comedic actor manages to handle quite convincingly - Gabriel Chong

Sell Out! ˆTOP

We love it when filmmakers do not take things too seriously and make a mockery out of the ridiculous state of things around us. The moment this 110 minute movie begins, we know that this is going to be one hell of a ride which will make any viewer, whether you have any understanding about film analysis or not, literally laugh out loud. You see first time Malaysian film director Yeo Joon Jan making a joke of himself. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that there is a brief shot of (gasp!) a male genital, loud gunshots and pools of blood. There are musical sequences, action scenes and dramatic showdowns, all done very engagingly. The movie makes us see how corporate capitalism is taking over the world in a hilarious way. The movie also makes us see how media has the power to manipulate public opinion. And most importantly, the film makes us realise that being original and innovative is something we rarely see these days. And thankfully, we saw it here, and enjoyed every minute of it - John Li


Jay ˆTOP

Never believe what you watch on TV because everything is manipulated. At least, that is what this film from the Philippines wants to say. The setup is how a gay (yes, you have to add to the sensationalism to earn that M18 rating from our friends at the censorship board) school teacher is found dead and how a TV programme is produced, documenting the family members’ responses about his death. And because things have to look good on TV, viewers are given a behind the scenes glimpse at what may have really happened before you see an edited programme on screen. The cast delivers engaging performances and the decent production values are above your average independent production. Director Francis Xavier Pasion explores media issues using comedy (and gay jokes too), but may sometimes overdo it with his in your face approach. The last scene is not without surprise, but is still an effective and appropriate conclusion to this 94 minute award winning film - John Li


Boy Interrupted ˆTOP

What does it take for a mother to make a documentary about her own son’s suicide? This may be the most difficult thing to grapple with while watching this heavy film. A 15 year old jumps from his window and takes his life. What was going through his mind when he made that decision? Why did he do it? These are questions that not only viewers, but also the filmmakers will continue to ask. In the 92 minutes, viewers get to know Evan Perry – how he grew up disturbed and depressed, how his friends and family loved him, and how he finally decided that life is too much for him to take. Sincere and constantly heart wrenching, this documentary puts together archival footages and photographs which may not be your typical Hollywood fare, but speak more loudly, and more poignantly than any of those high budgeted movies. This one is a must watch, simply because it was produced with heart, and trust us, no matter how cold blooded you are, this will touch your soul - John Li


Boy ˆTOP

Filipino director Auraeus Solito’s debut feature The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros (2005) was a delightful gay love story set in Manila. Viewers can expect the same amount of merriment in Solito’s latest work – during the 80 minute movie’s first few moments, that is. After a few jolly tunes from lip synching drag queens during the film’s opening sequence, the film becomes a rather depressing look at how a boy (he is unnamed, hence the title) realizes what love is all about by engaging a dancing rent boy who works in a gay bar. The film reminds us of Brillante Mendoza’s Cannes Film Festival nominated Serbis, shedding light on the seedy and unpleasant back alleys of the Phillippines. Solito tries to inject poetic symbolism and social commentary into the story, but viewers may get a feeling that it is overdone. Listen out for the voiceover narrated by the boy – it’s a case of either loving it or hating it, and leaving you to decide whether the film works as a coming of age love story or not - John Li 


Shahida ˆTOP

The first controversial aspect of this documentary is its English festival title: Brides of Allah. While we shall not go into how this can complicate things in the religious context, we can tell you that this is one film which will leave you thinking about the state of things in this confused world we live in, long after the credits roll. Israeli director Natalie Assouline documents the lives of female prisoners who have been put behind bars for their involvement in terrorist acts. In these 76 minutes of interviews with different women, we get to learn that behind these religiously fanatic minds are lifestyles which you and I are familiar with. What does it take for a loving mother or daughter to decide to ignite bombs up and take away other innocent lives, together with their own? There may be no scenes of bloodshed and burnt bodies, but the words from these women will send chills down your spine.  Such is the power of a well made documentary - John Li


Invisible Children ˆTOP

The last time we watched Brian Gothong Tan’s work was his segment in the collaborative project Lucky 7. He left a lasting impression with his eye catching approach of telling stories. His first feature film tells the familiar (and somewhat overdone) tales of Singaporeans feeling socially disconnected. Urban alienation and the struggle to find happiness in this cold city are exemplified in the parallel stories told in this 85 minute film. There are two children who run away from home, a socially inept man who helps his neighbour in need, an air stewardess who is depressingly loveless and an army officer who has lost all directions in life. While characterizations like these are not that fresh anymore today, the California Institute of Arts graduate makes it up with his sure handed directing and a rooted eye for visuals. The choice of actors for these detached Singaporeans is also spot-on, with engaging performances by veterans like Yeo Yann Yann (as a teacher!), Karen Tan (as a mother!) and Lim Poh Huat (as a NEA officer!)- John Li


The Convert ˆTOP

Islam is the religion that is the subject of this movie which follows a Thai woman, June, as she learns to embrace the faith. Love is the impetus for her conversion- the man she wants to marry a Muslim named Ake. This documentary by three Thai directors is based on a true story that June and Ake themselves took turns to shoot in parts. It steadfastly chronicles her initial doubts, the reactions of her family and friends, her subsequent determination to learn the teachings of the faith, as well as how she lives them out in her daily life. The best part about this is its authenticity- at no point does this account aim to pander to its audience or offer any platitudes. Rather, it portrays Islam, the target of much misunderstanding lately, in an honest and candid manner. But the movie also demands your patience, because nothing really dramatic does happen. Still, that’s how life for most usually is, and this is as real as it gets - Gabriel Chong


Breathless ˆTOP

Perhaps ironically, “Breathless” is unlikely to leave you breathless- squarely due to its overlong runtime. Not much happens in the first half, as one watches a vulgar and violent loan-shark Kim Sang-Hun beating up people as part of his job. It is only towards the latter half that the story begins to crystallize around the unlikely friendship between Sang-Hun and a high school girl, Han Yeon-heui. This story of redemption benefits from its handheld style of shooting that gives it an added edge of realism, as well as its stellar lead performance by Yang Ik-June who also wrote, produced and directed the film. What is most poignant is its unflinching look at domestic violence, and its costs and consequences on both spouse and children alike, as depicted through the lives of both Sang-Hun and Yeon-heui. Indeed, this is no pleasant film to sit through, all the more so because of its languorous length, but its saving grace is that it does reward you with a thought-provoking lesson - Gabriel Chong


$9.99 ˆTOP

The elusive search for the meaning of life need not always be depressing. Tatia Roenthal’s stop motion animated film proves that point brilliantly. Strung together by a $9.99 booklet that promises the answer to the meaning of life, different characters living in the same apartment block are faced with issues in life that many filmmakers would prefer approach with a heavy hand. Based on the short stories of Israeli writer Etgar Keret, this film is a refreshing take on the usually grave and profound topics. One plus point is the decision to use clay figures to tell the story – it just keeps your eyes glued to the screen. The painstaking efforts put into making this film can be seen from the details of the many scenes in the 78 minute feature. Watch out for an endearing tale of a boy who feels for his piggy bank. His simple show and tell segment in the classroom about the porcelain pig’s painted smile may just leave you reflecting about the meaning of life. And you don’t need $9.99 to buy a book to do that - John Li


One Day You'll Understand ˆTOP

This year’s Singapore International Film Festival celebrates the works of Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai. His latest work is a French language film about a man’s journey to collect memories of his grandparents who died in a concentration camp during the terrible Holocaust. The more he tries to connect himself to his family roots, the greater is the distance between him and his own mother. The topic will tell you that this is one heavy film to sit through, and the artfully filmed long takes coupled with lengthy dialogues may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But be assured that the 90 minute film is an emotionally thoughtful (and somewhat heart wrenching) experience that will satisfy the cinephile in you. The bare music score and some eye catching visualizations are textual symbols which will trigger much discussion long after the film reaches its final shot. The cast of Jeanne Moreau, Hippolyte Girardot, Emmanuelle Devos provide the required weight and gravitas to the film - John Li


Sincerely Yours ˆTOP

Just as we were wondering whether filmmakers could explore the topic of illegal foreign workers in Singapore, Taiwanese director Rich Lee made this film to open this year’s Singapore International Film Festival. Likeable protagonists (the girl is from Java, the boy is from Thailand), this 96 minute feature manages to engage with its themes of survival and love despite its art house film approach. This is especially true with the director’s choice to include familiar sights and sounds in his debut work to catch the attention of viewers who grew up in this part of the world. Veteran actress Yang Kuei-mei (Pleasure Factory) gives a brief but memorable performance as a forgotten celebrity while the lead cast Lola Amaria (Ca-bau-kan) and Banlop Lomnoi (Tropical Malady) converse in awkward Mandarin to showcase the unique affection between the two lovers. Expect a decent level of production value which showcases Taiwan’s allure. When the film’s end credits roll and you walk out of the cinema, you may begin thinking about what stories Singapore’s foreign workers have to tell - John Li


Girl Inside ˆTOP

A transgender put in the spotlight – it’s no wonder why viewers want to watch this documentary feature by Maya Gallus. Before you think that this is going to be a weepy and depressing affair, you may walk out of the theatre pleasantly surprised with the amount of optimism injected into this 70 minute feature. Madison B is the centre of attraction in this feature which follows her journey from a “he” to a “she”. Some viewers may find the surgical procedures shocking, while others may find spiritual meaning in her transformation from a man to a woman. Her relationships with people around her are also put in focus – it’s especially touching to see how she eventually found a life partner by the end of the film. Listen out for the moving interviews with the two of them to understand what it is really like to accept someone for who he or she is. Never once self depreciating, this engaging award winning documentary is well worth your time - John Li


 
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