A Whole New World
Blogpost by Viola Ow, Catholic Junior College
Viola participated in a 2-week work attachment with the Asian Film Archive as a part of the English Language Elective Programme (ELEP)
Before coming for my work attachment at the Asian Film Archive, I had a completely different perception of what an archive was, and what it did. Initially, I thought that it would be a dark room with rows and rows of towering shelves full of tapes and DVDs (a little bit like stuffy, ancient libraries). How wrong I was!
On the first day of work, me being the ‘kiasu’ Singaporean, decided to be slightly earlier especially since I lived on the other side of the island. Eventually, I arrived 45 minutes too early! So I decided to wait at the reception, and while I waited, I mentally prepared myself for the things that I might expect in the two short weeks of work attachment.
The first day was very much like an “orientation”. Tee Pao, the archive officer briefed me on what the archive was about, what it does, and what is usually done on a daily basis. Then Karen, the director, came and gave me an overview of what I was supposed to do for the two weeks, plus a little “assignment”. After that, I was given a few films to watch. These films are from the Singapore Shorts Volume One, published by the AFA. I must say, local films are very different from the usual Hollywood box-office films screened at cinemas. They have this emotional edge, a local flavor to it. Most of the time, they offer many valuable lessons and give a different angle/perspective on certain issues in society. Perhaps that’s exactly why some of these films are so captivating. After watching the films, I was given a chance at writing synopses for two of the films. Well, since it was my first attempt at writing a synopsis, I applied my summary skills and summarized the most interesting parts of the plot in a captivating manner (just like those you usually find on the back of a DVD cover). However, that was not how it was supposed to be like! I soon learnt that a synopsis (for an cataloguing purposes in an archive) was meant to briefly describe what the film was about, and not to invoke emotion or to provide analytical insight on the film. So I watched another two short films and tried again, and I finally got it right! (Felt a great sense of achievement!)
The rest of my first week at the AFA was pretty normal. I watched more films, did some cataloguing, a little bit of research, some admin work and a few errands. In no time at all, I picked up many skills that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t have my work attachment at the AFA. One of the skills is on cataloguing – keyword tagging (a little bit like tagging a blog with related words, except that this is tagging a film with keywords.) It’s pretty cool, to see how work gets done behind the scenes. If you want to know how you get to find certain films by typing a word (e.g. family), it’s because somebody conscientiously typed in all the possible words that could be related to the film! Now I’m grateful for all the hardworking cataloguers who put in so much effort to watch the films closely, write an appropriate synopsis, find all the keywords and type them in so that we would have an easier time when looking for the films we want to watch. In the blink of an eye, one week was already over. Time flies when you’re having a good time. I had certainly enjoyed the first week of work attachment at the AFA, and looked forward to the second week.
Week 2 at AFA was rather exciting. Monday was preparation for the Educator’s workshop on Tuesday. Tuesday was a really busy day! The workshop was at the NVPC (which was really hard to find. I almost got lost!) , and started at 9am. I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do, or how I could help. Well, I’m a student, and it was a workshop of teachers. So I was worried it might be a little bit awkward… Turned out that I was wrong again! It doesn’t matter how old you are, or what profession you are in. There’s always something to learn, and things you can do to help others. That was one of the key “take home lessons” of the day. In the morning, I helped out with registration, and setting up the table for tea break. After which, I went in to the room to observe the workshop. Seeing teachers as “students” was a rather interesting sight. It reminded me of the lecture theatre where us students would sit there, listening to the lessons taught by the teacher, but the roles were reversed this time. The teachers participated actively during group discussions, and raised quite a number of questions, and many of them enjoyed the films that were screened! This particular workshop was teaching teachers how they can use films to teach social issues in class. I found it rather relevant for many of my lessons in school. Certainly, it would be a fresh and interesting way to start a lesson with a discussion on a film, or maybe even a debate on the issues and perspectives presented in the films. (Hopefully, we’ll have such lessons soon… my GP tutorials are really dry.) Many of these films would be very useful for most of the subjects in school! Let’s just list down a few examples.
For General Paper (GP): Social issues presented in films could be discussed and debated in the form of an argumentative essay, analytical expository or just digested as a new point of view.
For Literature: For practice on critical thinking skills. E.g. In depth analysis of themes presented in films, linking it to its significance in society; (and for paper 5 – Women in literature) how women are being presented in society.
For Geography: How different countries across the same region experience social, economic and political impacts as a result of certain issues, and how it has changed over the years.
For English Language and Linguistics (ELL): How English language has changed as a result of changes in society, how English is spoken among different races, in different countries, across different generations.
So you see, films are not just for entertainment! They can be used for education, and other various aspects of our lives.
After the workshop, the rest of the week was back to the usual routine – watching films, scanning magazines, cataloguing. I was cataloguing a Malay magazine yesterday (well, I’m writing this on Thursday, 1st December 2011, so that was Wednesday.) and I really didn’t understand a single word in the magazine. Thankfully there were some pictures, and the layout of the magazine was rather similar to the rest of the usual magazines we see on the shelves (this is a film magazine published in Malaysia in the 60s) so I was able to write a rough description about each page. Some of the descriptions sound really funny if you read it out loud (because they are just so blatantly obvious.). For example, there is “photos of a woman and a man” and “photos of a band named The Beagles.” I laughed at the second one! (Well, doesn’t it sound like ‘The Beatles’? )
Today (1st December 2011) marks the second last day of my work attachment here. Personally, I feel that it’s too short. I’ll certainly miss watching all the good films, and cataloguing them. I must say, these two weeks have been a really great experience, with all the exposure to new, interesting things, valuable lessons I’ve learnt, and most importantly, I’ve come to appreciate local and Asian films. To me, they offer many valuable lessons that you usually don’t see in commercial, Hollywood films, and I hope more people will come to know of these films and develop an interest for them! I’ve enjoyed my time at the AFA, picked up new skills, had opportunities to do things I’ve never done before. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back to help out as a volunteer in the future. With that, I end my post.
Remembering Wouter Barendrecht
Photo by Norman Wang
Like everyone else, I was shocked when I received the news. For the rest of the day, I read and re-read the news report, in the remote hope that my refreshing the page would bring in an April Fools’ Day prank but that did not happen… This is how I remember Wouter:
The first time I contacted Wouter was in 2005 when the Asian Film Archive oganised a retrospective of Penek Ratanaruang. He emailed back, generously gave his blessings and waived the screening fees for our use.
Three years later, we met for the first time at the Berlin Panorama party. We connected instantly and he knew of our work well. He loved films and understood the importance of film preservation. He arranged to meet me again the next day for drinks and offerred to help in any way he could. He immediately blackberried his close friend, Sandra, to connect us. Sandra worked with him at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and then directed the Netherlands Filmmuseum. We spoke more; I told him what challenges we faced and how we intended to overcome them; he gave suggestions on possible funding and how I can always rely on Fortissimo for help. He then invited me to dine at a Chinese restaurant with his colleagues and friends. Before he left for Hong Kong, we met up again for lunch. He asked about my jury duties and my recommendations of films he should look out for. I passed him a pile of DVD screeners from Singapore filmmakers and he promised to look at them. In my years of speaking to people about our film archive work, I never found a more enthusiastic and generous supporter. Despite his busy schedule, he always had time for people who loved cinema, and especially his friends. Later, I would hear similiar stories recounted by others how they were helped by Wouter very early on in their career.
The last we met was in Hong Kong. On the stage of the Asian Film Awards, he was jumping with joy that Tokyo Sonata, a film Fortissimo produced, won the Best Film. At the post-awards party, he gave me big hug and could hardly contain his excitement. We arranged to meet again at the Filmart to discuss some film projects. In between parties, we caught up again and he was visibly exhausted but always happy to be around friends. A few days lafter at his office, I gave some updates on the Asian Film Archive. I brought his favourite kuei lapis from Singapore. During our meeting, he gladly accepted an invitation to come on board as an international advisor, and introduced Esther, his colleague, to be in the loop of it and be of assistance. Later that night, we met at the awards party. Lorna, his ‘wife’ came along and they huddled lovingly. Raymond joined in soon after. And that’s the last I saw of Wouter: caring, laughing, kind, giving and loving.
You’ll be missed dearly. My biggest hug to Wouter, the gentleman with such a great heart for cinema and his beloved friends.
- Bee Thiam
Thank you for making this our 4th Anniversary
2008 has been a very fruitful year for the Asian Film Archive and even in uncertain times, we have plenty to give thanks to.
Our collection grows to more than 1250 titles, out of which more than 20% are available for the public to view for reference at the library@esplanade. We wish to extend our gratitude to film donors, filmmakers and collectors for providing these gifts. In conjunction with the UNESCO World Audiovisual Heritage Day, we mounted our second Lost Film Search to look for some culturally significant films, made in Singapore between 1940s to 1970s, whose existence are currently unknown. In our course of work, we are sometimes surprised how quickly even recent film masters get misplaced and lost in the digital age we lived in. In the coming year, we hope to do more to create public awareness of the importance and urgency of archiving Singapore’s and Asia's culture and heritage through its films. We also invite your contribution to help build the Asian Film Archive Collection further. If there are films you feel are of importance and require proper preservation, please let us know.
Last year, we presented two research papers on our collection work at the 6th NYU Orphan Film Symposium in March. At the same event, we premiered the restored film Labour of Love by Rajendra Gour. In July, we presented our innovative outreach and research work involving teachers and students at the Seoul Youth International Film Festival, alongside 3 other invited archives - the British Film Institute, Museum of the Moving Image and National Film Centre (Tokyo).
Apart from our preservation work, the Archive organised outreach projects to nurture and engage new audiences for films in our collection. Our Educators’ Workshops, film seminars and talks reached out to 163 teachers and 3754 students in 2008. The In Conversation series this year focused on film festival programming with participation from programmers from Venice, Berlin, Toronto and Locarno.
In its second year running, Cineodeon 2008, a youth-led cinema chain that encourages young people to use films in the Archive to organise screenings for their community, drew 103 student organisors from 13 educational institutions who put together 17 screenings in the month of August on the theme of Independent Singapore Cinemas. We also launched the Young Critics and Jury Programme where students watched and analysed films under the mentorship of 18 film critics, scholars and programmers. At the Symposium on Singapore Cinema which drew an audience of 216 people, the young jurors presented the Asian Film Archive Young Jury Awards to film professionals in honour of their contribution to Singapore Cinema.
Just two months ago, the Archive launched the second anthology of Singapore Shorts, a selection of nine films, made between 1974 and 2007, from the Asian Film Archive Collection. Renowned film critic, Dave Kehr, has praised it as "vital evidence of the excellent work being done in Singapore." Through these films which have never been available on DVD yet, we hope the different facets of the Singapore society can be explored and better understood from these insightful and edifying angles.
The Singapore Shorts Anthology is also a fundraising effort to support the preservation and cultural mission of the Archive. Your gift provides essential dollars that allow the Archive to continue our preservation and education programmes. The Archive already operates on a tight budget and with the gloomy economic outlook, we look to you for assistance to fund for our core programmes.
In April last year, Mike Wiluan, Managing Director of Infinite Frameworks, joined the Asian Film Archive Board of Directors, made up of volunteers who contribute their time and expertise without any remuneration or director's fees. In June, I was elected Secretary-General of the Southeast Asia-Pacific Audio Visual Archive Association (SEAPAVAA), reflecting the regional role the Archive is increasingly involved in.
Our achievements are really a reflection of the contributions we received from our dedicated partners, donors, friends and volunteers. With your continued support and kind blessing, we look forward to commemorate our 4th anniversary on the first day of 2009 and another year of doing good well. If you have any suggestions how we can better serve the community, please write to us too. Your feedback is important to us.
May the new year bring you and your loved ones, peace, joy and happiness.
My best, as always,
Asian Film Archive
From the intern's desk
If my internship at AFA were a movie, it would undoubtedly be a thriller. Frantic action ensues with a cast of hard-boiled characters as they encounter looming deadlines, terse phone calls and fast-forwarded movies. The body count as yet stands at zero.
Was in Berlinale for the first time and as a Manfred Salzgeber jury for the Panorama section, at the invitation of Wieland Speck. It was a magical experience - red carpet at Berlin Palast, Cinemax, Sony Center, Arsenal Theatre, Film Museum, Potsdamer Platz.
Taiwanese actress ShuQi (in Hou Hsiao Hsien's Millenium Mambo and Three Times) sits on the international jury with Costa-Gavras (Godfather of political filmmaking and President of French Cinematheque) and Walter Murch (legendary editor and sound designer who wrote film history with his spectacular sound design for anti-war film Apocalypse Now).
Kumasaka Izuru, (Asyl – Park
and Love Hotel) who won Best First Feature; Errol Morris (Standard
Operating Procedure - Silver Bear Jury Prize) congratulating Fernando
Eimbcke (Lake Tahoe - Alfred Bauer Prize and Fifresci), Paul Thomas
Anderson was the only one with 2 silver bears -
Best Director and Best Music.
People who kept me warm in winter Berlin: Laura from Berlin Hot Shots Festival; Wouter, from Fortissimo who distributes my favourite films; Wakamatsu, the new addition
to my cinematic heros (pink filmmaker in the 60s who was presenting his
new political film, United Red Army), Anthony Chen and gang from Haze, first
Singapore (short) film to compete in Berlinale for the Golden Bear;
Wieland, the charismatic director of Panorama; Meenaushi, NETPAC jury and
the most hyper film critic I know; Jasmila Zbanic, Bosnian director who
won the Golden Bear with her feature film debut, Grbavica in 2006, us
on the jury table at celebratory dinner after the closing ceremony;
Garin Nugroho and his son; Susanne, my
fellow Manfred Salzgeber juror, also curator of Institute of
Contemporary Art; Dieter Kosslick, director of Berlinale, whom Paul
Thomas Anderson affectionately referred to have managed to pull off the
second biggest film festival in the world, like he's having a party at
home; Meenaushi, Aditya (director, Wonderful Town) and Garin; NETPAC
juries; Markus, nanny for all the juries. - Bee Thiam, Director, Asian Film Archive
Visit to Hanoi
Visited the Vietnam Film Institute for research materials on Archiving Asian Cinema. VFI is one of the few FIAF accredited members in Asia. Established in the 70s, it has grown from strength to strength, under the leadership of its director, Dr Hoang Nhu Yen. Been a fruitful trip for me to look at some of the propaganda animations made in the 60s too.
Dr Yen and I
Film vault building where the films are kept.
I also visited the Hanoi Cinematheque and was more than kindly hosted by Gerald Herman who founded and directed it. It's a lovely place for cinema, with the nice company of the expat community and film lovers. Gerald also invited me to give a talk on Singapore Cinema and we are delighted after the talk to find the Singapore ambassador amongst the audience.
Gerry at a lecture to the university students at the cinematheque.
Entrance of the Cinemathque office. It's an old picture of a production set which I find very charming.
The cafe outside the cinematheque.
Audience at my talk.
Thank you for the generosity.
Stopover in Bangkok: Supper with Apitchapong and his team after the press screening of Syndrome and a Century, an amazing film that topped the 2006 charts for Cinemascope and Film Comment.
Asian Film Archive turns two
On the first day of 2005, a group of us came together to register an organisation to do something about our film heritage. It has been two years.
To mark this occasion, we are glad to share one of our latest finds - the earliest known independent Singapore short films that were screened in overseas film festivals and won awards. We will be honouring the independent filmmaker of these films, Mr Rajendra Gour, at a signing ceremony this month which will mark an important milestone for the Asian Film Archive. In our pursuit to preserve film heritage, we are glad to find new partners in the Singapore Film Commission and the National Library Board.
Asian Film Archive Collection: Sunshine Singapore (1968-72) by Rajendra Gour
Asian Film Archive Collection: Labour Of Love (1974) by Rajendra Gour. Bronze-medal winner at the 50th American International Film Festival.