Perspectives Film Festival (PFF), Singapore’s first and longest student-run film festival, will be presenting its 15th edition at Oldham Theater. This year’s theme “It’s Time…” highlights the festival’s focus on the notion of time and celebrates its return to in-person screenings after a two-year break.
Time is to a filmmaker what paint is to a painter, a material that indubitably shapes and expresses meaning. Existing interdependently with our memories and identities, time consequently represents fertile ground for creative storytelling through cinematic techniques such as cinematography and editing.
The team behind PFF2022 scoured the world and curated seven films that meaningfully question how the notion of time is portrayed and re-presented across the development of cinema as a whole. The festival opens with Memory Box (2021) on 27th October and will close on 30th October with the restoration premiere of Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003). The other films in the lineup are Mariupolis 2 (2022), Il Buco (2021), Cette Maison (2022), Ikarie XB-1 (1963), and Scala (2022).
Intrigued to discover more about what goes on behind the scenes of organizing a film festival, we speak to Jolie Fan, the festival director from Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI). She talks about how the theme was chosen this time, the death of cinema, and its accompanying sentiments of introspection and loss.
How did you land on this theme?
In light of celebrating the festival’s 15th anniversary this year, the theme of time was first decided by our festival’s advisors — WKWSCI faculty Ms Nikki Draper and Mr Eternality Tan — and then subsequently interpreted and conceptualized by the students organizing the festival. A photoset that Nikki saw on Twitter drew a parallel between biopics of key figures that were made twenty to thirty years apart, and each film was imbued with the political and cultural zeitgeist of its era. This inspired her to juxtapose films that address the same issue, although they were produced in different epochs.
It’s the first time that PFF’s theme was decided by our advisors; themes from past editions were wrestled out by the Programming division of PFF and voted on by the entire team. This change is a welcome one, partially because ‘Time’ feels like a natural and appropriate course of discussion to commemorate a milestone. After all, anniversaries memorialize the passage of time, honoring crossroads in time.
How have these films impacted your understanding of time?
The seven films curated in our lineup attempt to spotlight the multi-layered and amorphous definitions of time. Instead of seeking to define or explain them, we simply wish to make the audience cognizant of how time is a filmmaker’s tool, one that is malleable at the disposal of the auteur. Once you step foot into the theater, time becomes momentarily out of your control, surrendered to the crests and troughs of the story on screen. In that space, you are transported to another world at another time. It is liberating.
It seems that many of the films touch on the concept of loss. Is this a prominent theme you wish to bring out along with the concept of time?
Loss is deeply tied to the temporal. Who and what can withstand the test of time? Not humans, not even cinema and its spaces. The cycles of life and death are couched within this rite of passage, inescapable from the iron grip of time. As such, the concept organically took form in our lineup without intervention; we did not actively seek out films that dealt with loss, death, or grief as a sub-theme.
Speaking of loss, both Scala and Goodbye, Dragon Inn talk about the death of cinema as we know it. What are your thoughts on this topic?
The death of cinema straddles several iterations — the closure of screening spaces, the advent of streaming platforms, the dwindling audiences at picturehouses, and the decay of “quality” films (as termed by cultural critic Susan Sontag). In Singapore, theatres and cinemas are the last few refuges for film lovers (herein termed ‘cinephiles’) whose cinema-going memories are often tethered to specific physical and cultural landmarks. Many of these spaces have now disappeared, deposed as a result of the lack of funding — the Substation, the Cinematheque, the Majestic Theatre, Filmgarde Cineplexes. Newer locales have emerged: Oldham Theater, where this year’s PFF is held, and Projector X. Given the impermanence of these cinematic sites and how easily they can be demolished for grander commercial pursuits by the government, one can’t help but wonder how long these newer sites will last.
In this vein, local cinephiles can find significant resonance with Scala and Goodbye, Dragon Inn for they are likely to be all too familiar with the nostalgia, grief, and helplessness of watching a beloved childhood theatre torn down piecemeal. These two films — made nearly twenty years apart and spanning two vastly different genres — meditate on the same profound longing for the forgotten magic of cinema, paying homage to the cinephilic temples where their most breathtaking encounters of film first transpired.
Five out of the seven films were released between 2021 and 2022. Why do you choose to include more recently debuted films? As films are said to reflect the culture of their time, do you think that there are commonalities in their portrayal of time as compared to the other two films, released in 2003 and in 1963?
Aside from the premiere value of recent films and a glorious restoration of Goodbye, Dragon Inn, these films also allow us to reflect on pivotal moments in history. Mariupolis 2 confronts the horrors of the Russian-Ukraine War; Memory Box revisits the adolescent memory of a woman mired by the 1980s Lebanon Civil War; Il Buco reenacts the discovery of Europe’s deepest caves in the 1960s; and Scala contemplates the displacement of the past by the present.
Connecting the past with the present and the future, we have Cette Maison, which navigates identity politics through spatial-temporal flows and movements. To this end, films don’t simply reflect the culture of their time — they attempt to re-read other timelines, contextualize a different time period with nuanced interpretations from the current one, and provide a progressive edge to an otherwise traditional era.
In comparison to films released years ago, recent films have not yet found their cult value for they are nascent in circulation and still in the midst of generating discourse. On the flip side, established films often find new life in homages, influences, and tributes. Ikarie XB-1 inspired Kubrick’s tour-de-force 2001: A Space Odyssey and Goodbye, Dragon Inn returns meta-narratively to the past to celebrate King Hu’s 1967 wuxia masterpiece Dragon Inn.
How do you think film and cinema have changed over time?
100 years ago, a film depicting a moving train was a spectacle of shock and fascination. People cried out in excitement, jumped, and ducked from their seats in fear. Today, moving images are barely surprising. They appear on a variety of screens: phones, tablets, desktops, big TVs, and even personal projectors. And they are much faster too — after six seconds, you’re swiping for the next video. Film, as director Martin Scorsese deplores, is being reduced to “content”, christened by the seismic rise of streaming platforms and its algorithms that rewires our brain into filmic echo chambers: we only like films similar to what we’ve watched before and we only watch films recommended to us.
It’s not all that bad, I think. Cinema as content reaches new audiences, redefines incumbent art forms, and experiments with chaotic surprises. It takes cinema down from ivory towers to an audience that wants to engage. For instance, maximalist box-office hit Everything Everywhere All At Once caters to the TikTok generation with collective attention deficits and it gets its message across. At the same time, there must be a concerted effort to celebrate history, to rescue filmic treasures of national, cultural, or historical significance from oblivion, and to chart its place in cinematic movements. After all, how can you understand cinema now if you never knew what it was before?
This marks the first time that Perspectives Film Festival is organizing in-person screenings since 2019. Many people are getting used to virtual events and some of their perks. Is there a need to change how we organize events now or do you see the value in trying to go back to the way things were pre-pandemic?
I hold the optimistic view that there will always be an audience for physical screenings at a cinema. Certainly, virtual screenings are convenient, comfortable domestic bubbles; but it is very much insulated from movie-going rituals (just ask any spoon-throwing The Room fanatic). Cinematic experiences are about submerging yourself in the world of the image, losing yourself in the lives of people on-screen, and finding wonderment in sharing sniggers or sniffles with a nameless stranger next to you who’s been moved the same way you were. Movie-going becomes a communal experience.
Sure, virtual events traverse impossible physical boundaries, bringing directors and cultural workers from across the globe to our doorstep and heralding new avenues for filmic discourse and transnational perspectives. But they ought to be combined with physical screenings to foster meaningful connections pre- and post-screening. A hybrid of both will allow us to enjoy the best of two worlds.
If you had to recommend only one film from this lineup or choose one as your favorite, which would it be and why?
I would recommend Il Buco for its stunning landscapes, acoustic potency, and the filmmaker’s incredible technical prowess — displayed through shooting on-location in the depths of the world’s third-deepest cave. I cannot possibly explain this film without butchering its timeless beauty.
It’s a film you must sit through in a cinema on the big screen with a proper sound system. Surrender any worldly notion of time and go into the theater (a cave, but with plushy chairs!) with an unhurried mind.
Catch Perspectives Film Festival 2022 at Oldham Theater
27 – 30 October 2022
Timings and prices vary;
Bundle of any three screenings: S$29, with additional films priced at S$10 each
Festival pass: S$49
Questions by Jett Yeo; edited by Low Jay Sen; cover collage by Sherryl Cheong