festival blog

SPOTLIGHT • Six Documentaries to Expand Your Heart and Change Your Mind

Watching documentaries is always a solid bet at a film festival: At the very least, you’ll learn something about a previously unfamiliar culture; at best, the insights and humanity on display might change your life. This year’s Singapore International Film Festival boasts an expansive and eclectic array of documentary films which span the range from hard-nosed social realism to intimate personal pilgrimages of love. Here are six compelling docs you should not miss when building your personal program.

  • 1. I Want to Go Home

2-still-iwanttogohomeJapanese widower Yasuo Takamatsu sets out on a heartrending journey to reclaim the lost body of his wife, who was lost to the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011. The film draws its plaintive, elegiac title from the final text message that Mr. Takamatsu received from his wife when she realized her fate upon seeing the approaching waves. I Want to Go Home is Singaporean director Wesley Leon Aroozoo’s first foray into documentary filmmaking. (He also wrote the novel of the same title.) Aroozoo gently creates a heart-on-its-sleeve ode to the enduring love of a husband, and a tribute to the emotional journeys people undertake in the light of loss, grief and recovery. Supplemented with beautiful dream sequence animation from local animators Zhuang Brothers, I Want to Go Home is a reminder of the true weight that marriage vows can carry. This one will stay with you.

WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You believe in true love and want some affirmation; you don’t believe in true love and want to be convinced; you need a good cathartic cry; you have a heart.

SCREENING TIMES:

2 DEC, SAT / 4:30 PM / NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE

 

  • 2. A Skin So Soft

1-still-askinsosoftFrom acclaimed experimental director Denis Côté, A Skin So Soft is a fascinating, sensitive sub-dermal dive into the psyches of six bodybuilding-obsessed men. The film’s ironic title plays on the surprising tenderness and fragility of these men, whose sculpted physiques cast them more as Achillean figures of mythology than flesh-and-blood mortals. Quietly patient and measured, Côté’s camera is unobtrusive, content to let the bodies speak for themselves. Hulking and heaving, these men don their glistening skin like a coat of armour as they polish and varnish themselves towards a paragon of hyper-masculine perfection. There’s a poetic, beatific calm in the juxtaposition of their clear-eyed dedication with domestic prosaic ennui, peering beyond their rippling exteriors to reveal the deep sense of lack emanating within. A Skin So Soft showcases this mercurial Canadian director at his most confident and restrained best; unlike his subjects, his filmmaking has no need for preening and self-display.

WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You’re interested in themes of gender identity; want a laid-back counterpoint to intense psycho-dramas like Black Swan and Whiplash which deal with similar ideas of obsession and perfection; you enjoyed the film Pumping Iron (…and enjoy pumping iron).

SCREENING TIMES:

26 NOV, SUN / 4:30 PM / FILMGARDE BUGIS+

 

  • 3. In the Claws of a Century Wanting

1-still-intheclawsofacenturyofwantingIn the Claws of a Century Wanting paints a portrait of the hard lives of four individuals: Anne, the mother who is struggling to raise her two children with a third on the way; Akira, the young rapscallion who scavenges for metal and coal; Eddie, the nightshift docker who is fascinated with a broken TV; and Emelita, the grieving widow. Living under the long shadow of Tondo, Manila’s most active port, their stories dovetail and intersect when the housing authorities mark up their homes for redevelopment. Despite the critical eye that the film casts on commerce and industry, it still manages to cast admiring glances at the port, whilst never losing sight of its destructive portent. Hapless in the crush of state machinery, these subjects’ lives are increasingly encroached upon by the dislocating apparatus of modernity. Yet you’ll find that the film ultimately breathes hope into their lives even as their homes are being torn plank by plank.

WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You like social realism in films; you were affected by Tsai Ming-Liang’s Stray Dogs.

SCREENING TIMES:

28 NOV, TUE / 7:00 PM / THE ARTS HOUSE

 

  • 4. Phantom of Illumination

1-still-phanthomofilluminationIn young filmmaker Wattanapume Laisuwanchai’s Phantom of Illumination, jobless film projectionist Rith haunts his old workplace, the now defunct Thonburi Rama cinema in Thailand, like a spectre. The film interlinks and traces the downfall of film projection in Thailand with the spiraling trajectory of Rith’s own life, conjuring up fascinating insight into a tortured man shackled by time to his profession. Originally a farmer, Rith has been a projectionist for 20 years. Now, isolated from society and estranged from his wife and daughter, Rith morphs increasingly into a Travis Bickle-like figure who spends his days alienated, watching pirated DVDs and longing for relevance. The documentary is a visual love letter to physical film; suffused with bold shadows and streaks of light, Phantom of Illumination possesses a gritty and lively visual texture that is reminiscent of the vitality of film stock.

WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You love cinema and care about the increasing rarity of film projection (and all its poignant consequences around the world); you are hungry for a bold young filmmaker’s experimental take on documentary

SCREENING TIMES:

26 NOV, SUN / 7:00 PM / THE ARTS HOUSE

 

  • 5. Homogenous Empty Time

5-still-homogeneousemptytimeAn odyssey of the Thai people, Homogenous Empty Time delves into the lives and beliefs of its subjects, which run the gamut from high school students and military cadets to the “Village Scouts,” a group of rural Thai ultra-nationalists. From therein, a narrative of loss is uncovered; joie de vivre is gradually and systematically wrung into submission by highly controlled state forces. Underpinned by German philosopher Walter Benjamin’s theory of the same name, the film is a dialectic on Thai national identity—it suggests that nationalism emerges from empty within an area shared by people with Xerox identities. By director Thunska Pansittivoraku, the film comes by way of Sleep of Reason Films, a collective which aims to expose human rights violations and challenge state propaganda in Thailand.

WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You are intrigued by the current global political regress into right-wing nationalism and jingoism; you loved Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, With Love; you enjoy the philosophies of Walter Benjamin and Benedict Anderson.

SCREENING TIMES:

27 NOV, MON / 7:00 PM / THE ARTS HOUSE

 

  • 6. hUSh

3-still-hushHolding a magnifying glass to the injustice and violence that society commits on women, hUSh is a bold mockumentary from prolific local director Kan Lumé and Indonesian maverick Djenar Maesa Ayu. It’s also a candid exploration of feminine sexual identity and status under the prejudiced strictures of society. Singer-songwriter Cinta Ramlan plays a fictionalized version of herself whose identity as a musician is interwoven with a fantasy free-spirited firebrand of a woman. Brimming with vim and youthfulness, Ramlan grabs the film by the scruff of its neck, daring us in equal measure to ignore or follow her. A film that taps into our zeitgeist, hUSh is a daring and honest reminder of how far society has yet to go, and an anarchic celebration of how far society can still yet go.

WATCH THIS BECAUSE: You are sick of the patriarchy; you wish to, as the kids say, “stay woke”; you want to give a middle finger to taboo and convention.

SCREENING TIMES:

27 NOV, MON / 9:30 PM / NATIONAL MUSEUM OF SINGAPORE

The 28th Singapore International Film Festival runs November 23 to December 3, 2017. Get your tickets here.

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