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Singapore Media Festival Finds Opportunities in Pandemic Crisis

City-state aims to enhance its status as a media hub by gathering producers and storytellers to explore creative solutions to challenging times

Singapore Media Festival
Courtesy of Singapore Media Festival

Storytellers from Asia have demonstrated resilience and creativity amid the disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. From Nov. 26 to Dec. 6, they are gathering — physically or virtually — at one of the largest annual media events in the region, the Singapore Media Festival.  

It’s a muchneeded opportunity that bridges those storytellers with global markets in challenging times.  

The SMF returns for a seventh edition in 2020 with an array of events to showcase and connect filmmakers and content creators from around the region. The fest rides on the citystate’s unique status as a media-tech hub in Asia, and prepares talent to reimagine Asian storytelling and embrace the future in the post-pandemic era. 

“As we recover from this challenging climate, we have to ensure that there continues to be opportunities for the region’s talents to develop their craft, and that doors for cross-country collaborations continue to be open to catalyze more production projects, that will in turn, benefit media professionals and companies in this road to recovery,” says Howie Lau, assistant chief executive of media and innovation at Infocomm Media Development Authority, which hosts SMF.

Lockdowns and social distancing measures aimed to contain the pandemic have caused a major shift in the way people consume content. They’ve migrated from attending events in-person to online, says IMDA board member Amit Malhotra, regional lead at Disney Plus Southeast Asia. 

But Malhotra adds that one thing remains unchanged: the importance of storytelling. 

“It is indeed an exciting time to embrace the digital revolution where new capabilities and skill sets are sought after,” Malhotra says. “The content industry… has pivoted to find new avenues, creative outlets and sources of inspiration.” 

Singapore aims to take the lead in this transformation with this year’s SMF. The flagship event has made a tremendous contribution to the region’s media ecosystem since its inception, having facilitated more than $1.7 billion worth of deals between local and international media companies from 2014 to 2019. 

Lau says SMF is playing an even bigger role this year: The event serves as a multi-medium, multi-genre platform that regathers the community while establishing the citystate as a go-to place for content creatorsIt’s encouraging them to expand into the region as the industry faces a paradigm shift. 

Five SMF events look to serve these purposes. The four-day virtual Asian Academy Creative Awards, which is in its third edition, celebrates the regions talents. The 31st edition of the Singapore International Film Festival, which champions the art of filmmaking in Singapore and the region, proceeds in a hybrid format of physical and online screenings.    

The Asia TV Forum & Market, which runs from Dec. 14, takes on a digital format this year. This market is a key platform for bringing content creators, financiers and investors together. Events include animation, Chinese and format pitches and a “speed dating” program matching industry players with potential partners for a 10-minute conversation 

The market event also features talks with executives from the likes of BBC Studios, Tubi, TV Chosun and WarnerMedia Entertainment Networks, who will explore solutions to the fast-changing media landscape under the pandemic.  

At the Southeast Asian Film Financing Project Market by ScreenSingapore, filmmakers behind 10 projects from China, Malaysia, Myanmar, Netherlands, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand will be given the opportunity to meet potential financiers and investors virtually for co-production opportunities. 

Although the Singapore Comic Con had decided to take a break this year due to COVID-19 restrictions on large-scale consumer events, the newly added SuperGamerFest and Singapore Games Market Bootcamp tap into the growing esports and gaming sector in Southeast Asia. Gaming content creators and esports talents will be honored at the inaugural SuperGamerFest Awards.

Lau emphasizes that besides hosting events, forging partnerships with global players to enhance “Made with Singapore” content is the key to the citystate’s position as a hub in the region — and that happens by expanding the business networks of local media companies and talent. Last year saw CJ ENM Hong Kong, TencentVS Media (China) and Viacom International Media Networks (U.S.) engage in a series of partnerships with local companies to distribute content digitally beyond Singapore. Industry observers expect more such collaborations to be announced at this year’s SMF.  

The pandemic has thrown the media and entertainment industries into chaos, but Singapore-based producer Fran Borgia of Akanga Film Asia says there could be a light at the end of the tunnel if content creators can adapt to changes and harness the available opportunities. Borgia says his company’s greatest challenge during the pandemic was “keeping our company alive while we had to re-schedule all our ongoing projects.” 

He calls it “a very delicate time,” but it also presented an opportunity: “It has allowed us to conceptualize new projects.” 

I believe we need to adapt to the times,” says Borgia, “And be more flexible with our immediate goals and projects. We are exploring content that we didn’t consider before. It’s also a good way to explore new collaborations and outcomes.”