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IT'S rare to find an event here dedicated to political films, but several gems of political cinema are set to go up on the big screen in the coming weeks.
The film programme of the OPEN, the pre-festival of the Singapore International Festival of Arts (SIFA), delves deeply into the impact that governments and regimes have on people around the world, making the screenings unmissable for the discerning film junkie.
Most of the 14 films, which hail from Russia, Germany, Indonesia, Iran, Chile and other countries, are award-winning features and documentaries. Each takes an unflinching look at a particular moment of its country's history that left at least part of its people devastated.
A couple of titles explore au courant affairs, such as Edward Snowden's disclosure of the US National Security Agency's activities in the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour (2014) and the complexity of the immigrant experience in Pedro Costa's sparse and enigmatic feature Horse Money (2015).
Programme curator Tan Bee Thiam took his cue from SIFA's festival theme of "post-empires", which focuses on life after the unravelling of colonialism, dictatorship, communism and other political orders.
The result is a collection of sometimes searing, sometimes daunting films that show individuals picking up the pieces and making new sense of their lives in the wake of systemic disintegration.
Mr Tan says: "A common thread that runs through these films is a kind of fighting spirit. You can see what the filmmakers are advocating. And their political visions come through so eloquently."
Mr Tan cites This Is Not A Film (2011), a work by Iran's Jafar Panahi who has been banned from making films for 20 years after he was charged in his home country in 2010 for purportedly making art that is "propaganda" against Iran.
Panahi got round the ban by using a home camcorder to shoot scenes of himself performing various tasks, and strung them into a cohesive narrative. The film was then smuggled out of the country on a USB thumbdrive hidden inside a cake. It was announced as a surprise entry at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and received glowing reviews.
Mr Tan says: "The film is an important statement about the creative spirit triumphing. By making the film, however simple it may be, he frees himself of the circumstances of the ban. It's an important gesture."
Meanwhile, other films are noteworthy for their bold excavations of a chilling past. Chilean director Pablo Larrain examines the legacy of his country's dictator Augusto Pinochet through his excellent trilogy of narrative films, Tony Manero (2008),Post Mortem (2010) and No (2012), which will be screened here one after another for the first time.
Also worth catching is American director Joshua Oppenheimer's doublebill The Act of Killing (2012) and The Look of Silence (2014), which digs into the genocide of almost a million people in Indonesia in the mid-1960s. Needless to say, several of these films have provoked the ire of the respective governments.
The OPEN (an acronym for Open Participate Engage Negotiate) starts next week and serves as an appetiser for the main course, SIFA, which runs from August to September. Beside films, the OPEN also has concerts, exhibitions, theatre and dance performances all centred on the theme of post-empire. BT Lifestyle checks out some of the must-sees:
June 30, 7.30pm
One of the most urgent films of our time, Citizenfour looks at how Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified government documents to expose the extent of surveillance the US National Security Agency carries out on the American public, among other shocking revelations.
This extraordinary documentary was shot mostly inside a Hong Kong hotel room in June 2013 where Snowden was hiding when he released the documents to the world. Indeed, it's almost unprecedented to watch then-clandestine history being made at the very moment it occurred - for Snowden would quickly become the most famous whistleblower of our era right after that.
Directed by Laura Poitras, Citizenfour won a much-deserved Oscar for Best Documentary in February.
June 20, 3pm
Director Pablo Larrain must be Chile's belated answer to Martin Scorsese. He documents life on the streets with the same unflinching eye and depicts violence with equal panache.
Tony Manero is the first film of Larrain's acclaimed trilogy examining the legacy of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. It tells the story of a hustler (played by the brilliant Alfredo Castro) who becomes obsessed with Saturday Night Fever and will stop at nothing to win a John Travolta-lookalike contest. What begins as a dark comedy turns into a powerful study of alienation, paranoia and desire amplified by the brutality and misery of Pinochet's regime.
The second film in Larrain's trilogy is Post Mortem which will be screened on June 21 at 3pm, while the third film No will be screened on June 22 at 7.30pm. The latter won the Art Cinema Award at the 2012 Cannes Directors' Fortnight and scored an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
THE ACT OF KILLING (2012)
June 28, 3pm
THE LOOK OF SILENCE (2014)
June 28, 6pm
Carve a space in your calendar for this doublebill. Joshua Oppenheimer's two magnificent documentaries about the 1960s mass executions of suspected Communists in Indonesia will play back to back for the first time in Singapore.
OPEN is showing a longer director's version of The Act Of Killing which is even more riveting than the theatrical version shown at the Southeast Asian Film Festival here last year. The Act Of Killing shows Oppenheimer interviewing the executioners who first boast about their cruel exploits and then don costumes and makeup to recast scenes of the grisly murders as a Hollywood movie. The second film, The Look Of Silence, is even more powerful as it traces the journey of Adi, the brother of one of the genocide victims, as he seeks answers from the perpetrators for why they carried out the killings.
June 20, 8pm & June 25, 7.30pm
This Ukrainian masterpiece will leave you breathless by the end of it. In the history of cinema, no filmmaker has centred an entire film around a group of deaf-mute characters - without providing any subtitle for the general audience.
And yet, you don't need to know sign language to follow the story about a group of late teens who study at a boarding school in the morning and run a drug and prostitution ring at night. All the characters are played by non-actors who give fiercely authentic performances.
The film is intended to be a political commentary on government corruption and police violence in Ukraine and has, to date, garnered more than 30 awards in international film festivals.
UNDER ELECTRIC CLOUDS
June 27, 6pm & July 3, 7.30pm
What is Russia today? A country torn by its past, tentative about its present and terrified of its future - at least that's how it's presented in Aleksei German Jr's allegorical film about his country.
Set in 2017, exactly a century after the Russian Revolution, Under Electric Clouds centres on a skyscraper whose architect went mad and it was never completed. Characters drift in and out, sometimes referring to the building, sometimes philosophising, but mostly going about their lives in a bid to find some purpose in it.
The film is ambiguous and, at 138 minutes long, very meandering. But the gorgeous cinematography by Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk is something to behold, while the cryptic dialogue, if you're willing to listen long and carefully, speaks of a nation's bewilderment.
The OPEN festival runs from June 16 to July 4. For the full list of films as well as other events, go to sifa.sg/theopen. Admission to all film screenings and many of the other events is free with an OPEN pass which is available at Sistic for S$45. For the films segment, you must register on the OPEN website for a seat as capacity is limited. All films will be shown at The Projector at Golden Mile Tower.
Other OPEN highlights
The Imagination of the Future
June 25 - 27 at 72-13
SERIOUS theatre lovers would be remiss if they didn't catch this extraordinary play. In 1973, Chilean president Salvador Allende was deposed by the army of General Augusto Pinochet who then held the country for 17 years under brutal military rule.
But in this play, theatre company Teatro La Re-sentida re-imagines the day of the coup where Pinochet's power grab was somehow averted so Chileans continue to enjoy their freedom.
Funny, inventive, bittersweet and wise, the play is also a great companion piece to Pablo Larrain's film trilogy about Chile (see main story).
Tickets at S$35 from Sistic
July 2-4 at 72-13
Jean Genet's classic 1974 play The Maids is reinterpreted through the classic Indian art of bharatanatyam. Two male dancers, Navtej Johar and Lokesh Bhradwaj, play out the intense love-hate relationship between the two maids who plot the murder of their mistress.
The male dancers' virtuosity aside, it's interesting to note that Genet himself had once hinted at the idea of the maids being played by men, not women.
Tickets at $35 from Sistic
The Price of Neglect
June 17 to July 4 at DECK
The must-see artshow at OPEN is Lu Guang's photo exhibition at DECK on Prinsep Street. The Chinese shutterbug has long been chronicling through his photos the high human and environmental cost of China's headlong industrialisation.
Many of his photographs lay bare the sacrifices that ordinary men and women have to make on the altar of economic growth.
Lu, who hails from humble beginnings, shows a deep sympathy for the plight of China's poorer classes.
Free admission with an OPEN pass.
Toyo Ito: The Role of Tomorrow's Architects
June 27 at SOTA Studio Theatre
Toyo Ito, the winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2013, delivers this keynote speech about the role of architecture.
After the tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011, Ito initiated the Home For All project which saw several multi-purpose communal huts being built to restore community spirit and interaction. His speech will delve into the possibilities of creating such spaces around the world.
OPEN pass gets you free admission to the talk. But you must register online on sifa.sg/theopen for a seat