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.
one week on ::
Blogpost by Juliana Montgomery :: 2010-2011 Henry Luce Scholar | Singapore. Juliana is participating in a 10-month fellowship hosted by the Asian Film Archive.
Singapore was recently graced with a visit from Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. What a gorgeous human being he is. He came 15th-17th January to support fundraising efforts for the Asian Film Archive. The visit included a Charity Screening of Apichatpong’s 2010 Palme d’Or, Festival de Cannes winning film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and a post-screening discussion. Events rounded out with a New York University Tisch School of the Arts Asia and Nanyang Technological University Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information co-sponsored Masterclass. During the Masterclass, Apichatpong shared excerpts from some of his films and installations as well as offered insights into his methodology and sources of creative inspiration.
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is a magically mystical poetic film that moves between the past, present, physical and metaphysical realms. The man known to the audience as Uncle Boonmee, faces his impending death brought on by acute kidney failure. In the process, Uncle Boonmee experiences memories and individuals from his past that hearken the transience of space and time in physical and non-physical spheres.
Apichatpong notes that this film honours the land. Its northeast Thailand setting, in this world at least, is at once the landscape central to Uncle Boonmee’s life and passage, and to Apichatpong’s youth. It is unsurprising that the film effectively spellbinds the audience because Apichatpong himself is similarly entrancing.
With Apichatpong’s help, and thanks to a great many who also made this effort possible, the Archive raised nearly SGD$18,000! This fundraising effort is aimed at supporting the Archive’s overall work and vision rather than a specific project. Accordingly, the post-expenses Charity Screening and Masterclass funds raised will go towards operational costs for the Archive's outreach programmes and preservation work.
In an article published soon after the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, Apichatpong commented, “When you make a film about recollection and death, you realise that cinema is also facing death. Uncle Boonmee is one of the last pictures shot on film - now everybody shoots digital. It's my own little lamentation…” The representation of the extinction of a medium through Apichatpong’s Uncle Boonmee in some ways echoes the necessity for non-profits like the Asian Film Archive to continue to secure operational funds. As the Archive strives to share the art of Asian Cinema and to keep moving images alive, all within the thrust of the digital era, the relevance of this organization could not be timelier or more pertinent.
One week on, Apichatpong’s energy continues to resonate for us here at the Archive. It’s almost as though he’s still in town. Considering the film Uncle Boonmee is part autobiographical for Apichatpong, one might indeed still consider him to be here in Singapore, sharing his gifts with us.
<> <> <>Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives opens exclusively at The Picturehouse on 27 January 2011.
CHARITY SCREENING: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
MASTERCLASS: Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Bitesize: Understanding Singapore Cinema
Blogpost by our intern, Kevin Goh.
On the 19th of June, Bee Thiam gave a talk on Understanding Singapore Cinema at the Esplanade under the banner of Bitesize,a year-long programme conducted by industry professionals to showcase different facet of the arts every month.
Bee Thiam spoke about Singapore’s film heritage chronologically from the early 20th century to the films of today,more than a hundred years later. His talk showcased the diversity of Singapore’s cinematic richness, from the cult classic They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong, to the comedic Malay films that had audience in stitches with their timeless brand of humor and camp, to the award-winning 12 Storeys and the documentary Match Made which made audiences introspect on current societal conditions.
After the talk, Bee Thiam held an impromptu session with members of the audience interested to speak with him. The crowd, ranging from a retired journalist to a fresh tertiary student, stayed long after the end of the talk to share their views of the current state of the local film industry.
For me, it was an eye opener that the local film heritage had such connections with big names such as Patrick Tse Yin during our golden film era. The partnerships with Malaya and Hong Kong to tap into the region were a pioneering example that the local filmmakers today are trying to emulate. I enjoyed the talk very much and learnt from both coordinating the event and the taking away of some precious anecdotes of film from days gone by.
"Singapore clearly played a pivotal role in the development of Asian cinema -- and Bee Thiam's thoughtful lecture provided a historical overview of filmmaking in this region. It is not merely a chronology, but places the changing tides of the industry within the context of the political and social history of the country. As with the Archive's premiere of the restored print of "Moon over Malaya" earlier this year and the accompanying curated exhibit, this talk was enlightening and reveals a long tradition of Singaporean cinema. I'm happy the Asian Film Archive exists to preserve that rich tradition for future generations. Bravo to Bee Thiam and his colleagues!"- Amos Ezra Katz, NYU Tisch School of the Arts Asia
Bee Thiam on films that have been lost and are unlikely to be recovered.
A lighthearted moment during the screening of clips.
Bitesize photos courtesy of The Esplanade Co Ltd.
Use of stills and film clips courtesy of Doris Young (They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong), Family of Ho Kian-ngiap (Moon Over Malaya), Glen Goei (Forever Fever, The Blue Mansion), J Team Productions (Money No Enough), Jacen Tan and hosaywood.com (Zo Hee), James Leong and Lynn Lee (Passabe), Lian Pek (Mad About English), Mirabelle Ang (Match Made), Raintree Pictures (I Not Stupid), Rajendra Gour (Labour of Love - The Housewife), Shaw Organisation (Seniman Bujang Lapok), Zhao Wei Films (12 Storeys, Be With Me).
Educators' Workshops: Film Literacy and Documentary Reality in Contemporary Cinema
Our intern, Davina, blogs about the May-June seasons of the Educators' Workshops.
On 31 May and 1 June, the latest season of the educators' workshops took place at Filmgarde Cineplex with the kind support of Iluma. This was our first time holding the workshops in a commercial screening venue, and some of the participants expressed their delight at being able to view the short films on a big screen.
Despite having run for many seasons now, the Film Literacy course remains a popular choice for educators seeking an introduction to using film in the classroom. After the session, participants adjourned to Manhattan Fish Market to formulate their lesson plans over finger food. At the end of the day, we were glad the educators found the workshop useful:
"Practical suggestions on how educations can employ/incorporate films into lessons. Liked the short films that were screened as they were apt and accessible." - Bernice Teo, Victoria Junior College
"[I liked the] sharing session to come up with ideas for lessons, use of local short films suitable for classroom [and] lesson plans that go well with the videos shown." - Adeline Tan, St. Joseph's Institution
The next day, we premiered a new workshop conducted by filmmaker/artist Liao Jiekai. Entitled Documentary Reality in Contemporary Cinema, the session explored the blurring of lines between reality and fiction in film. Participants were brought into the personal cinema experiences of directors Hakim Belabbes, Pedro Costa, Hou Hsiao Hsien and Yasujiro Ozu through excerpts from their films, as well as Liao Jiekai's own "Red Dragonflies".
We were encouraged to see the educators engaging in lively discussions, and especially thrilled by those who came up to us with ideas for further collaboration and suggestions for youth cinema projects. In light of our upcoming youth initiated cinema chain project, Cine Odeon 2010, this is most exciting and very heartening!
Charity Screening of 'Moon Over Malaya' (1957)
Our intern, Davina, blogs about the Charity Screening of 'Moon Over Malaya' on 13 April 2010, our first-ever gala fund-raising event.
After months of planning, weeks of toil, and days of frenzy, the Archive's Charity Screening was finally and successfully held on 13th April at The Cathay. Part fundraiser, part fifth-anniversary bash, the night was ultimately a perfect way to celebrate the Archive's work with our friends and the public.
The audience at the screening was a cross-section of society, made up of all the people we have reached out to over the years. These included partners, corporate and individual donors, filmmakers, volunteers, ex-participants of our programmes, and those who simply wished to show their support for our work. The Archive was especially privileged to receive President S.R. Nathan as our guest-of-honour for the evening. Regardless of whom they were, everyone there had taken time out of their schedules to spend it with us, reliving the halcyon days of Singapore cinema.
Pioneering independent filmmaker, Rajendra Gour
The screen offering was Moon Over Malaya (AKA 'The Whispering Palms', 1957), a Singapore-Hong Kong collaboration produced by the Kong Ngee Company—in its heyday, part of the triumvirate of Singapore’s film production houses. Its treatment of the issues of education and grassroots philanthropy are in keeping with the mission of the Archive, and reinforced the fundraising element of the evening. All this aside, the movie proved to be as potent and as much of a hit as over 50 years ago, earning a very warm reception and eliciting both tears and laughter from the audience members.
It must be admitted that prior to the screening, I'd been warned that I might not enjoy the film, and that it would probably be more suited to my parents’ tastes instead. And sure enough, there were times when, during scenes meant to depict internal conflict and emotional turmoil, I found myself giggling very inappropriately at what was onscreen instead. Maybe it’s the result of prolonged exposure to the slick editing and sophisticated dialogue that most young filmgoers now grow up with. But rather than the absence of these becoming a turn-off, it made Moon Over Malaya unexpectedly and irresistibly charming. The movie turned out to be a refreshing experience because in-between today’s tongue-in-cheek commercial blockbusters and subtle, meditative art house cinema, finding a film as straightforward and heartfelt as Moon Over Malaya can be surprisingly difficult.
After the screening, the President and select guests were treated to a personal tour of the Archive’s exhibition on Singapore cinema history by our very own curator, Karen. Gradually, other audience members also came out to mingle, discuss the movie, and take in the exhibition. Titled Singapore Cinema: Local Films – Global Links, it was a concise but interesting introduction to a lesser known aspect of Singapore’s cinematic past. There was also a contribution from the National Archives of Singapore, who designed an exhibition to give an idea of the era in local history when Moon Over Malaya was made. The entire exhibition will be touring community centres across Singapore, so be sure to look out for it!
His Excellency, President Nathan touring the exhibition Singapore Cinema: Local Films – Global Links
To mark our first gala event and further acquaint the specially invited guests with what we do, the Archive went all out and hosted a dinner with the President, members of our Board of Directors, and leading figures in Singapore business and media circles.
The night was rounded off with the presentation of tokens of appreciation to all dinner guests. Nothing less than Singapore Shorts Vols. 1 & 2 would do!
His Excellency, President Nathan and Mrs. Nathan presented with token of appreciation by Tan Bee Thiam as Mr. Wong Ngit Liong looks on.
From L-R: Mr. Richard Eu, Mr. Michael Ma, Mr. Mike Wiluan
“Films are cultural artifacts that are representative of the times during which they were made. The archival of films would help preserve a part of our cultural heritage, keeping it alive so that it could be shared with future generations. The film “Moon Over Malaya”, shot in Singapore and Malaya in the 1950s and recently restored by the Asian Film Archive, provides viewers here with a glimpse of the architecture and landscape as well as the way of life of the people of Singapore in the yesteryears.” – His Excellency President S.R Nathan
"I thoroughly enjoyed the Asian Film Archive's screening of Moon Over Malaya. I was immediately transported to a Singapore that I did not know about before, both from a historical and sociological perspective. Watching the film made me realise how important it is for us to preserve the cultural heritage of our films as only films can truly encapture and indeed allow us to relive a period of our history and to document our lives for future generations." — Glen Goei, film and theatre director
"It's like rediscovering a piece of family history I'd thought was lost. I'm humbled by the restoration effort put in and proud at the same time. Thank you very much." — Nat Ho, great-grandson of the founder of Kong Ngee Company
"The Charity Screening was a well-organised, very meaningful and enjoyable event. The Asian Film Archive has done a great job not just in restoring & preserving the film "Moon Over Malaya" but ensuring that there is a wider critical appreciation of this art form." — Koh Boon Long, Principal Consultant, Educare International
The Charity Screening turned out to be more than even what we envisioned. It brought together distinguished guests and average folk, young cinephiles and nostalgic old-timers, all appreciating and enjoying Singapore’s cinematic heritage. In fact, the response from the public was so overwhelming that we may have to look into organising a second screening of the film! Our greatest thanks goes out to everyone who helped with this event—volunteers, sponsors, partners, people who provided all kinds of assistance in their own time,—everyone who graced the event with their presence, and all who are keeping an eye out for the Archive. We’ll be seeing you again very shortly!
Asian Film Archive in March 2010
Our new intern Davina blogs about what we have been up to in the month of March...
March was a busy time for the Archive, with a whirlwind of events going on.On 5th March, Short Films From Asia was one of the opening programmes for the National University of Singapore’s Arts Festival 2010. The audience enjoyed the five short films by Lav Diaz, Hong Sang-Soo, Tan Chui Mui, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Christopher Chong. Read what one of our guests, NTU Shaw Foundation Professor Patricia R. Zimmermann, had to say about the screening on her blog.
On 6th March, the Save Our Film campaign had its finale activity, the Roving Showcase, along various points of bustling Orchard Road. The campaign team showed to curious passersby clips featuring interviews with members of local film community, and film buffs from the public reminiscing on their film memories. Trivia quizzes on local film history were also conducted, and 22 copies of Singapore Shorts Vol.2 were given away as prizes to delighted passersby who answered our questions correctly.
The Archive provided support for Media Development Authority’s Media Fiesta 2010 – The Spectaculars! Taking place on 5th and 6th March, the screenings brought together an enthusiastic crowd to watch a series of fondly remembered Cathay classic films, including Sumpah Pontianak, Our Sister Hedy (四千金) and They Call Her… Cleopatra Wong.
Also part of the NUS Arts Festival 2010, Spotlight On NUS Alumni Filmmakers on 13th March consists of screenings of Sherman Ong’s Flooding In The Time Of Drought and Looi Wan Ping’s White Days. Both directors are graduates of NUS, and they were in attendance to address questions in a Q&A session together with Chris Yeo, a cast member of White Days. Facilitated by NUS student Daniel Koh, the segment produced a lively discussion on the filmmakers’ motivations. A varied group, the audience consisted of NUS students and faculty, cast members, and regulars of AFA screenings, one of whom was keen to know about the influence of Taiwanese New Wave directors on the two filmmakers.
March saw the year’s first season of Educators’ Workshops. This season, the workshops are held at The Arts House’s Screening Room. On the 15th, Bee Thiam delivered a workshop on Film Literacy to great response. The next day, we held a screening of Mukhsin by Yasmin Ahmad, followed by a discussion and workshop led by acclaimed Malaysian writer/documentarian Amir Muhammad. Amir later also attended a dialogue session at Raffles Institution with RI students after the screening of his film, The Big Durian.
Coming up next for the Archive is the fundraising Charity Screening on 13th April as the highlight of our 5th anniversary celebrations. Moon Over Malaya (1957), starring Patrick Tse, Nam Hung and Patsy Kar Ling, will be presented in Singapore for the first time in decades. Be there to experience a slice of Singapore’s golden age of cinema, and to celebrate the work of the Asian Film Archive!
Professor Zimmermann blogs about our 5th Anniversary and Short Films From Asia programme.