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Q&A: Singapore Festival Programmer, Yuni Hadi

The Singapore International Film Festival, bounced back last year after a hiatus. Now it asserts a dual role: showcasing international films, and providing a global platform for the best of Singaporean cinema. As the 26th edition of the festival kicked off the Singapore Media FestivalVariety caught up with programmer and executive director Yuni Hadi.

Variety: What are the principles or guiding themes behind the competition selection?

Yuni Hadi: “We try to put forth our personality as a festival through our key programmes like our opening film and films in competition. Our Asian feature film competition and Southeast Asian Short Film Competition is where we place emphasis on filmmakers with strong individual voices, focusing on their first few films. Every year we also like to highlight Singaporean films and this year it’s been the 20th anniversary of “Bugis Street” and “Mee Pok Man” (both films are restored versions), reminding us how far Singapore cinema has come from a time we could have counted the number of films that were made a year with one hand.”

Variety: What are the other sidebar categories about?

Hadi: “This year’s side bars include our tribute to Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Chinese independent documentary programme and a spotlight on Mexican cinema.

Part of our job is to keep introducing different aspects of international cinema to the Singapore audience and for SGIFF to create that link to filmmakers around the world who are doing something interesting in their own countries. It’s important that in order to understand what we are seeing, we have that dialogue with the filmmakers participating so the talks related to these programmes are as important as the films themselves. We’ve had such an enthusiastic response to Mohsen coming here from the region. For SGIFF, having Mohsen in Singapore for his screenings and a masterclass will be an inspiration to filmmakers here. That is an experience that can be life changing. We really want to connect with filmmakers with whom we share the same values.”

Variety: How has the festival evolved in its second year after hiatus and under new management?

Hadi: “It’s such a rare and wonderful opportunity to be working for a film festival. Part of building the festival is training a new generation of programmers and executives with not only an understanding of what we do, but also the passion required to take SGIFF forward and to stay relevant. The real fuel behind a film festival is people with that great commitment and passion for cinema that at the end of the day, is sustained by the belief in the mission of the organization.

There’s a great deal of understanding of the festival’s heritage required and also that vision to see what’s ahead not only for the film industry in general but one’s own film community. Redefining what ‘growth’ is is important. Creating our own benchmarks of success and not being swayed by too many different trends will help keep SGIFF stay grounded and relevant.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I’m interested to connect with the film community and provide that platform so we can discover the answers together. The bond that we have as a Southeast Asian community can only serve as a strength if we aren’t afraid to share our experiences. And who better to promote Southeast Asian film talents than SGIFF as someone from the region.”

Variety: Given that the chairman of FINAS is this week saying that Malaysian cinema is in ‘critical condition,’ how do you weigh up the health of SEA cinema?

Hadi: “We’ve seen some great Malaysian film projects in our Southeast Asian Film Lab that gives us insight to what’s coming up. Independent filmmaking is hard because it doesn’t have the same structure as a studio film, so it’s not unusual to have lots of ups and downs. The directors and producers that created the Malaysian “new wave” are still out there developing projects and making films, along with so many young filmmakers so I’m very certain that Malaysia will continue to contribute significantly to Southeast Asian cinema, and find a new voice for Malaysian cinema.”

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