The Singapore Chinese Film Festival (SCFF), co-organised by Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and Singapore Film Society (SFS), returned to celebrate its fifth anniversary from April 28 through 7 May. Five years may not seem like a great length of time. However, as a festival that is carving out a niche in the area of local and regional Chinese films, SCFF's achievement is especially noteworthy. Younger generations of Singaporean cinephiles would have grown up watching Hollywood movies. In addition, Chinese films (and Asian films in general) tend to be placed on the margins when it comes to box office promotions. Hence, the fact that support for SCFF has increased over the years speaks highly of both the festival's audience, as well as its founders and organisers. Indeed, the festival began in 2013 with only 10 films and 20 screening sessions, while this year's instalment featured 45 films and 48 screening sessions. Attendance size has also steadily increased in the past few years, from 4,550 in 2015 to 6,433 this year. Furthermore, SCFF2017 garnered over 30 media reports, including pre and post screening coverage.
In observance of the fifth edition, festival co-directors Associate Professor Foo Tee Tuan (SUSS), and Mr David Lee (SFS) made the bold and welcome decision to balance contemporary and new works, with retrospective classic screenings. In addition, human relationships was a common theme that ran through many of the selections.
Golden Village (Vivo City) hosted the festival's opening night with Hong Kong director Wong Chun's family drama "Mad World" which portrays the distressing homecoming of a young man battling bi-polar disorder. The movie opened to a packed hall of over 200 audience including invited guests from the film and media industries, academia, and diplomats. The event was honoured by the presence of Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, SUSS President, and Professor Eddie Kuo, Advisor to SUSS and Centre for Chinese Studies@SUSS. In addition, the festival organisers specially flew in Director Wong Chun and screenwriter Florence Chan who interacted with audiences at the post-screening Q&A. Why choose a melancholic film to celebrate a milestone anniversary? Associate Professor Foo explained, "We wanted a theme that would resonate with our audiences and provoke reflection. In Singapore, as in Hong Kong, where sanity, space and sympathy are at a premium, mental illness needs to be recongnised and addressed." Indeed, this view seemed to be affirmed by the two sell-out screenings of "Mad World".
Closing night took place at the National Museum of Singapore with the screening of 1931 Chinese silent film "Love and Duty", featuring one of the most prominent Chinese film stars of her generation Ruan Lingyu. For many years the film was believed lost, until a complete print was discovered in Uruguay in the 1990s. Frequently referred to as the Greta Garbo of Shanghai, Ruan was able to bring a sense of emotional authenticity to her roles. This was evident from quite a few misty-eyed audience members that night.
In between, the remaining 43 selections covered a similarly diverse range – from Chinese Panorama to Documentary Vision, Short Films, as well as Restored Classics. As diverse as they were, these works were delightfully weaved together through their focus on human, especially family, relationships – including the dynamics between children and parents, spouses, the dead and the living, as well as with society in general.
As always, SCFF 2017 also featured a series of free interactive panel discussions to set the tone for and context of the films at the festival. SCFF 2017 delighted audiences with four sessions including one on screenwriting featuring award-winning writer Florence Chan. The second discussion focused on two Mediacorp-produced documentaries featuring a local family business enterprise, but filmed 20 years apart. One could say it was a 'family' re-union, with the Mediacorp Chinese Affairs group and members of the Tan family sharing intricate details of their story over the years. Another panel discussed documentaries that placed the film-makers and their, often estranged, family members as subject matter. The festival also offered a rare and unmissable opportunity for local and Taiwanese folk song lovers to see two movies, each documenting the history and cultural legacies of Singapore (Xinyao), and Taiwanese (Minyao) folk songs. "The Songs We Sang" and "Ode to Time" were curated respectively by Eva Tang and Hou Chi-jan, who also charmed the audience with an honest and authentic face-to-face dialogue.
SCFF 2017 was the result of great effort and care put in by sponsors, festival organisers and volunteers, audiences, as well as the film-makers, and its success is the result of excellent teamwork. The Singapore Chinese Festival will be back again next year with more of the best Chinese cinema has to offer!