Interview with Rep Cinema International

January 28, 2020, 3:50pm

The Asian Film Archive (AFA)’s Executive Director Karen Chan and Outreach Officer and Programmer Thong Kay Wee were recently interviewed by Herb Shellenberger of Rep Cinema International about AFA’s history and work. Below is the introduction and excerpt of the interview.


This week’s interview focuses on the Asian Film Archive in Singapore, and I spoke with Karen Chan (Executive Director) & Thong Kay Wee (Programmer). They provided some good history of the AFA and its work both locally and across international borders, in the archive’s focus broadly on Asian and Asian diaspora cinema with regard to collections, exhibition, research and preservation. We also chatted about State of Motion, the AFA’s annual film and art event, spread across an exhibition, two intertwining film series and other events and programs, all with a focus on many different forms of archival media. It’s a long and very interesting conversation. Enjoy.

To give some background on the Asian Film Archive, could you speak about its founding in 2005? What needs was the organization created to address and what do you see as its main functions? 

Karen Chan: The Asian Film Archive (AFA) was singlehandedly established in 2005 by Tan Bee Thiam, a freshly graduated engineer who was into photography and filmmaking. He realised how difficult it was to find and watch independently made Asian films, for instance, titles that were seen within the film festival circuit but not within the reach of many. There were few dedicated film archives in Southeast Asia in the early 2000s and the issue of film preservation was barely getting any attention. AFA is the result of Tan’s vision to set up a Pan-Asian institution that aspired to provide a repository for Asian films—many of which had yet to be archived in their own countries. The challenging film archiving scenarios in many Asian countries led Asian filmmakers to welcome AFA. Within the first year of the Archive’s open call for the deposit of films, hundreds of titles and their related materials were submitted for preservation, illustrating the fact that many recognised the relevance and necessity of an archive that could potentially save Asia’s cinematic heritage. 

AFA’s mission is to Save, Share and Explore the art of Asian Cinema. It clearly outlines its main functions to preserve (save), provide and facilitate access (share), research, publish and discover (explore) Asian films that need a home and where new generations of researchers and audience can appreciate and be inspired by. 

The full interview can be found here.