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S’pore fest confronts censors

Film festival looking for an out

SINGAPORE — Now entering its 18th year, the Singapore Film Fest (April 14-30) will screen more than 300 titles from 40 countries.

But the fest is still looking to make its mark among the likes of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Busan — and scissors-happy censors are still a problem.

“To encourage the Singapore film scene, the censorship laws have to open up,” says the festival’s director and programmer Philip Cheah. “Right now, none of the ratings are exempt from censorship, even the adult R(21) rating. As a start, the festival ought to be exempt from censorship as in many festivals in Asia,” he says.

Fest opens with Katsuhiro Otomo’s new anime epic “Steamboy” and closes with Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.” Other Asian animated features include Satoshi Kon’s “Tokyo Godfathers,” Shinji Aramaki’s “Appleseed” and “Wonderful Days,” a debut from Korea’s Kim Moon-Saeng.

Epics also will be featured including Lav Diaz’s “Evolution” (11 hours), Edgar Reitz’s “Heimat III” (nearly 12 hours), Jacques Richard’s “Le fantome d’ Henri Langlois” (Henri Langlois: The Phantom of the Cinematheque) and joint Israel-Palestinian production “Route 181.”

New Singapore films include Tan Pin Pin’s “Singapore Ga Ga,” Merwyn Tzang’s “A Wicked Tale” and Sam Loh’s “Malice.” There is also a retrospective on Hou Hsiao Hsien.

Cheah believes the Singapore fest has opened the national window for buying and distributing more independent films, as well as having created awareness of Singapore film by launching talents such as Royston Tan, Eric Khoo, Kelvin Tong and Ong Lay Jinn. “We still want to expand the diet of cinemagoers into other genres such as the avant garde or a wider taste of Asia from the Middle East to Central Asia,” he says.

As SIFF is not a big-budget film festival, Cheah says it tries to contribute to regional film culture. “Over the years, we have spent time and money to discover and rediscover young and old talents who were either overlooked or forgotten. For example, Malaysia’s U-Wei bin Haji Saari, James Lee and Ho Yuhang had their platform in Singapore first before they headed westwards. Or legends such as Thailand’s Ratana Pestonji or Philippines’ Laurice Guillen had a chance to be rediscovered again in Singapore.”

As for what can be done to improve the fest’s profile and prospects, Cheah laments that funding from the Singapore Film Commission has been cut by around 30% (from $30,000 to $20,000) this year. “Furthermore, our censorship-fee exemption has been withdrawn, and this means that this year, we would have to pay the censors about $12,000.”

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