Back for its sophomore outing as a component of the Singapore Media Festival, the 26th Singapore Intl. Film Festival is showing little sign of the malaise that often strikes after a particularly interesting debut. Festival runs Nov. 26-Dec. 6.

Previous incarnations of the festival endured a particularly fractious relationship with the Singaporean authorities over persistent censorship, one that new management is not particularly keen on reigniting. Instead, according to festival co-director Yuni Hadi, the focus this year is on getting the festival more personal with its audience.

“(Being personal) will fall into every aspect of what we do, even in the films we choose. That’s why we’re doing a lot more talks and masterclasses,” says Yuni. “We’re creating the access to the people behind the films, so they can know the stories behind the stories. I think that’s what makes us interesting as a festival.”

In practice, that means more talks, master classes and forums, and in a departure from previous festivals, all talks will be free to the public.

Indeed, the master classes announced include a solid, if not entirely inspiring, lineup of film-fest circuit regulars, such as Palme d’Or winner Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Filipino neo-realist Brillante Mendoza, Hong Kong producer Terence Chang and Iranian auteur Mohsen Makhmalbaf. Selection also features a wide panorama of Asian cinematic voices in the program, including Pan Nalin’s “Angry Indian Goddesses,” pictured.

In another bold move, the festival is eschewing the traditional closing film. Instead, audiences will vote on an Audience Choice Award, the recipient of which will be announced and re-screened on the final day. Sidebar events that continue from last year include the Southeast Asian Film Lab, which brings together 10 regional filmmakers under a mentor.

“That need for community, not just in Singapore but also a wider Southeast Asian film community is even more relevant now, because it has become harder to find money for your movie,” says Yuni. “Bringing together that energy to push forth with projects and support filmmakers who are not necessarily commercial, requires that sense of community.”

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