As Singapore gets used to life under Phase 2 of our COVID-19 relaxation measures, players like Singapore Festival of the Arts (SIFA) – or its gentle rebrand SIFA v2.020 – are responding with programmes that are welcoming us back into a semblance of normalcy. SIFA’s film component, Singular Screens, runs from 4 September to 11 October, offering audiences the choice to either watch it at Oldham Theatre or catch it on-demand at home.
The seven films curated by Asian Film Archive represent a spectrum of diverse and independent visions, celebrating new voices while not missing out on a few big names (or two). Already, opening film About Endlessness, by acclaimed Swedish film director Roy Andersson, is sold out.
While the force of the pandemic is still keenly felt, it is strangely heartening that the curation for Singular Screens has been unaffected – an indication of the strength of film as a medium.
Precautions will be taken for those who want to enjoy the theatre experience in person: the maximum capacity of each screening is 33, and there will be social distancing measures, mandatory temperature taking and SafeEntry log-ins. Three of the films can also be enjoyed at home via SISTIC Live Stream, which will allow audiences to catch them within a one-week period.
ArtsEquator speaks to film programmer Viknesh Kobinathan from Asian Film Archive about his cinematic picks, and his tips for the best viewing experience.
ArtsEquator: Is there a theme or messaging for this year’s film programme?
Viknesh: As with previous editions, there is no overarching theme or messaging for Singular Screens as we want it to be as open as possible to feature different types of films. As the title of the programme suggests, we look out for new and singular works of cinema in our selection process. This singularity can be in terms of form, aesthetic, or structure, amongst other things.
ArtsEquator: Tell us, what is curating during the time of a pandemic like?
Viknesh: As programmers and curators, many of us are exploring the online platforms to best reach audiences who are inundated with content. When the circuit breaker period was implemented, we had to stop our physical screenings and cancel our outreach programmes. It was very disheartening initially but as an organisation, we found ways to continue engaging with film communities, such as with online film programmes Rewired and our monthly Asian Cinema Digest.
The SIFA team has found a great way to keep the momentum of their festival going with online discussions and dialogues. It is fitting for Singular Screens to be part of SIFA 2.0.
ArtsEquator: Is there anything about film as a medium that lends itself well to artmaking and consumption of art during this time?
Viknesh: One of the most extraordinary qualities of filmmaking and film viewing is its adaptability. Technology allows for cinema to be portable. Today cinema can easily now be accessed via an infinite variety of screens and places, instead of just on the big screen in a large darkened hall packed with people.
During this peculiar period of time, this portable feature of cinema makes it an easy alternative medium for people to be entertained, engaged, enriched, and fulfilled by art with little to no barriers.
ArtsEquator: This year, the audience can choose to watch some of the films at Oldham Theatre, or catch it online. What’s the difference in terms of the viewing experience? Do you have advice to share on how best to appreciate the films?
Viknesh: Even with the ongoing situation, audience members can be assured that appropriate measures such as social distancing and limited seating have been implemented to ensure the safety and comfort of everyone.
However, if the audiences still prefer to watch some of these films at home, it is completely understandable. The home space offers opportunities for a mask-free environment with multiple bathroom breaks and a smorgasbord of snacks. While the experience of the cinema can never be fully replicated, reducing distractions, silencing phones, turning off notifications on devices, and focusing on the film can help one can feel more immersed in the world on screen.
ArtsEquator: Can you recommend 3 films from the programme?
Viknesh: Last and First Men (Iceland, 2020, Jóhann Jóhannsson, PG)
Loosely based on a science-fiction novel that describes life on earth over the course of two billion years in the future, this film marks the directorial debut and curtain call by the late Icelandic film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson who created a hypnotic score set to sumptuous visuals of brutalist architecture.
Narrated by Tilda Swinton, the film provides an appropriate opportunity to collectively meditate on humanity and its existence during the strange times that we are presently living in.
Theatrical screening: 19 Sep 2020, Sat, 8pm / 25 Sep 2020, Fri, 8pm /03 Oct 2020, Sat, 8pm
Viknesh: Isadora’s Children (France & South Korea, 2019, Damien Manviel, PG) (Also available on VoD)
Four contemporary performers respond to a heartrending solo piece by legendary dancer Isadora Duncan, who choreographed it more than a century ago in response to the tragic death of her children.
With all that is going on presently, the feelings of isolation and loneliness can be overwhelming for many. This film is a testament to the transcendent power of art and its ability to connect lives and experiences across time and space.
Theatrical screening: 5 Sep 2020, Sat, 4pm; 11 Sep 2020, Fri, 8pm. VOD: 21 – 27 Sep 2020
Viknesh: Tamaran Hill (Japan, 2019, Tadasuke Kotani, PG) (Also available on VoD)
Hinako repeatedly encounters a word, ‘Tamaran’. She hears it being exclaimed in frustration by her father; she discovers it in the title of a book – the same book that the film is based on. As the meaning of the word shifts and changes, Hinako’s reality evolves with it – her memories fusing with that of the text.
Mirroring Hinako’s experience, the film itself becomes a metanarrative – an exercise in translation and adaptation from literature to cinema. Tamaran Hill is an inventive and original work of cinema with a calming sense of intimacy that can be experienced in both a cinema and at home.
Theatrical screening: 13 Sep 2020, Sun, 4pm; 19 Sep 2020, Sat, 4pm. VOD: 28 Sep – 4 Oct 2020
Singular Screens runs from 4 September to 11 October 2020. Tickets cost $12 per theatrical screening or $8 for VOD, with bundle promotions available. For more info, please click here.
This article is sponsored by the Singapore International Festival of the Arts.
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About the author(s)
Nabilah Said is an award-winning playwright, editor and cultural commentator. She is also an artist who works with text across various artforms and formats. Her plays have been staged in Singapore and London, including ANGKAT, which won Best Original Script at the 2020 Life Theatre Awards. Nabilah is the former editor of ArtsEquator.