The fifth edition of the Southeast Asian Film Festival (SEAFF) presented by the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) returns from 10 April to 3 May 2015 with an exciting line-up of the newest and most compelling cinematic work from the region. The Festival features films from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Taking a co-curated approach, SAM once again collaborates with independent film curators Phillip Cheah and Teo Swee Leng for this edition’s film selection, presenting a total of 20 films. The films Chasing Waves (2015) and Fundamentally Happy (2015) make their world premieres at this Festival, while K’na the Dreamweaver (2014) and Riddles of My Homecoming (2013) and Sparks (2014) are international premieres showing outside their home countries for the first time.
Opening and Closing Films
SEAFF opens with the film The Last Executioner (2014), directed by Tom Waller, which tells the story of Chavoret Jarubon – the last person in Thailand whose job was to execute death row prisoners with a machine gun. The film stars Vithaya Pansringarm in the role of Chavoret, for which he won Best Actor at the Shanghai Film Festival in 2014. He is also internationally known for his role in the 2013 crime drama Only God Forgives alongside Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Scott Thomas. The closing film, NOVA (2014) by Malaysian director Nik Amir Mustapha, is a tale about the madcap adventure of a group of friends on a quest to prove that UFOs are real. Focusing on the camaraderie of old friends and childhood memories, the film also pays homage to Malaysian cinema greats like P. Ramlee, Shamsuddin and Aziz Sattar.
Next Generation Directors
The screening of NOVA at SEAFF underscores the role the Festival plays as a place to discover the next generation of Southeast Asian filmmakers. In addition to Nik Amir Mustapha, this year’s stellar list includes Charliebebs Gohetia (Chasing Waves, 2015), Daniel Hui (SNAKESKIN, 2014), Giancarlo Abrahan (Sparks, 2014), Tan Bee Thiam and Lei Yuan Bin (Fundamentally Happy, 2015), and Ida Anita del Mundo, daughter of celebrated Filipino film director Clodualdo del Mundo, with her debut feature film, K’na the Dreamweaver.
An Evolving Festival
SEAFF is also reflective of the changing times and demographics, evolving to mirror the transcendence of boundaries – an experience that characterises the region today. It is the subject that Fluid Boundaries (2014), a cross-cultural film project by Mun Jeonghyun, Vladimir Todorovic and Daniel Rudi Haryanto, engages with. This experience is also reflected in the Festival with the increasing number of non-Asian filmmakers who have made Southeast Asia their home and those who have strong links with the region. They include Joshua Oppenheimer, a US-born MacArthur ‘Genius’ Grant recipient fluent in Bahasa Indonesia who directed The Look of Silence (2014), the sequel film to his successful documentary The Act of Killing (2012) about Indonesia’s so-called communist purge of the 1960s which saw the killings of hundreds and thousands of people; Tom Waller, Thai-Irish director of The Last Executioner (2014) who resides in Thailand; French director Bastian Meiresonne (Garuda Power: The Spirit Within, 2014) who is also an Asian film critic; and Australian Andrew Leavold whose fascination with popular Filipino cinema led him to direct the film, The Search for Weng Weng (2013).This diversity offers an opportunity to present a snapshot of Southeast Asia with multiple points of view from within and without, pushing audiences to reflect on issues highlighted in the films.
For the first time, SEAFF introduces the action film genre. As a special tribute, the Festival presents two films as part of Action Asia: The Wild Wild Years of Asian Film Action – The Search for Weng Weng directed by Andrew Leavold and Garuda Power: The Spirit Within directed by Bastian Meiresonne. The former is a documentary about 85-cm tall Filipino action hero, Weng Weng, who was known as the Filipino James Bond and is an investigation into the eccentric history of Filipino B-grade cinema and the business of film, power and politics. Garuda Power: The Spirit Within takes an incredible journey into Indonesia’s action films from their beginnings in 1920s up to the latest international successes.
The science fiction and dystopia genres also make their mark at SEAFF’s fifth edition with two films – 2030 (2014) and SNAKESKIN (2014). The films envision alternative futures based on existing social, political and environmental issues re-examine the present and the past with their narrative and experimental structures. 2030 by Nghiem-Minh Nguyen-Vo predicts a future in which rising sea levels adversely affect Vietnamese farmland, mixing this dystopic vision with a gritty noir mystery. In Daniel Hui’s hybrid film, SNAKESKIN, Singapore’s history and past is explored via the narrative of a single survivor of a mysterious cult from the year 2066.
SEAFF continues its practice of bringing film directors to the Festival for post-screening dialogues and discussions. Over the three-week festival period, audiences will be able to meet 13 directors, producers and other industry professionals associated with these films, participate in these sessions where filmmakers will discuss issues raised in their work and share insights into their filmmaking process.
SEAFF runs from 10 April to 3 May 2015 at the Moving Image Gallery, SAM at 8Q. Tickets are priced at $10 and are available from SISTIC. More details about the film programme and post-screening discussions can be found at www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/SEAFF.
Editorial by Wilsurn “Omnomnom” Lim