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CINEPHILES have it good with the Singapore International Film Festival recently staging a strong comeback, and other similar events - such as the Francophonie Festival and Southeast Asian Film Festival (SEAFF) - whetting the appetite for edgier, non-commercial world movies in between.
The Francophonie Festival kicked off last week and runs until the end of the month at Alliance Francaise de Singapour. It has been held here since 1988 and celebrates the diversity of the French language and its cultures among Francophone communities around the world.
The SEAFF, meanwhile, returns for its fifth year from April 10 to May 3 with 20 films and documentaries - proof that the spirit of independent movie-making in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam is alive and kicking.
The Francophonie Festival multi-format line-up includes stand-up comedy, concerts and films. It also doesn't just showcase the works of native French artistes - the aim is to build bridges between cultures with projects that foster cooperation and collaboration.
"The festival is a perfect way to learn about other cultures and explore the creative artistry of the many countries sharing the French language," notes Claire-Lise Dautry, executive director of Alliance francaise.
Hence, the line-up includes local funnyman Hossan Leong, staging Voyage, Voyage, a follow-up to his wildly popular musical, A Singaporean in Paris, from last year.
Belgium, Switzerland, Canada and Rwanda will also be participating and one of the film highlights is Swiss madcap comedy Win Win, about two friends organising a Miss China pageant to hilarious effect in Europe.
It will be making its Singapore premiere here alongside Catherine Deneuve's latest work, 3 Hearts, directed by acclaimed French director Benoit Jacquot. The star-studded romantic drama is about a love triangle between a pair of sisters (Chiara Mastroianni and Charlotte Gainsbourgh) and a man (Benoit Poelvoorde) who falls for them.
Through the years, SEAFF has also built a strong rapport with regional filmmakers, who now see the festival as a prestigious stage to premiere the works, notes Phillip Cheah. He has been co-curating the annual event with Tay Swee Leng in collaboration with lead curator Sam I-Shan of the Singapore Art Museum, SEAFF's host venue.
"(The festival) hasn't changed in terms of venue size and number of screenings; but the trust that filmmakers have in us has grown," he says. "For example, this year from Philippines, we have one world premiere (Chasing Waves), two international premieres (Sparks and Riddles of My Homecoming), and one Asian premiere (K'na the Dreamweaver)."
Likewise, SEAFF's opening and closing films are also being shown here for the first time. The Last Executioner (Thailand), directed by Tom Waller, who starred in the Ryan Gosling 2013 Bangkok-set crime drama Only God Forgives, will open the festival. The drama earned its lead actor Vithaya Pansringarm a Best Actor award at the Shanghai Film Festival last year for playing a real-life prison worker who executes inmates on death row for a living.
The curtains will come down with a screening of NOVA (Malaysia), about a group of friends on a quest to uncover the truth about UFOs. The light-hearted road movie mashes genres such as sci-fi, comedy and romance to pay tribute to Malaysian cinema greats such as P Ramlee, Shamsuddin and Aziz Sattar.
"This year we are showing a number of works that take risks with the filmic genre; they might have unusual narrative structures, or might appropriate from genres such as sci-fi, action and fictional documentaries," notes Ms Sam, of oddities such as the quirky closing film.
SEAFF's bold vision has also somewhat inspired brave new works from local filmmakers like Tan Bee Thiam and Lei Yuan Bin's Fundamentally Happy, which features cinematography by Christopher Doyle; Daniel Hui's award-winning hybrid fiction documentary, Snakeskin; and Lynn Lee and James Leong's Wukan, a documentary about the said Chinese village's brush with democracy.
On those films and how SEAFF has contributed to a more diverse local film scene, Mr Cheah says: "We have what I call a wayward eye - it's informed by an unbounded curiosity."
For more information about the Francophonie Festival and its ongoing list of activities, check the events section of www.alliancefrancaise.org.sg.
To view the full line-up of the 5th Southeast Asian Film Festival, visit www.singaporeartmuseum.sg/SEAFF
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