- Singapore filmmaker K. Rajagopal’s first feature film, A Yellow Bird is shortlisted as one of the competition films in the Silver Screen Awards.
- SGIFF pays tribute to Singapore independent filmmaker, the late Abdul Nizam, and will screen a collection of 12 of his works.
- SGIFF’s commissioned short film by Singapore filmmaker Gladys Ng will make its world premiere during the Festival opening.
Singapore, 5 October 2016 – A champion of the region’s film talents, the 27th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) will cast a spotlight on three Singaporean filmmakers as part of its line-up this year. K. Rajagopal’s first feature film, A Yellow Bird has been shortlisted as one of the Asian feature films in competition as part of the Silver Screen Awards to be held at Marina Bay Sands; a tribute will be made to the late Abdul Nizam during the festival to celebrate his works and contribution to the industry; and SGIFF’s commissioned short film by Singapore filmmaker Gladys Ng will make its world premiere during the opening of the festival on 23 November 2016.
A Yellow Bird in competition for SGIFF’s Silver Screen Awards
A co-production between Singapore and France, A Yellow Bird made its world premiere this year during the International Critics’ Week, a parallel section to the 69th Cannes Film Festival and a launch pad of auteurs such as Hong Kong’s Wong Kar Wai, Mexico’s Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and France’s Jacques Audiard.
A Yellow Bird tells the story of a Singaporean ex-convict who returns to his mother’s flat after his release to learn his ex-wife and daughter have left without a trace. Unable to find forgiveness from his mother, he begins a quest to locate his ex-wife and daughter in order to right the wrongs he committed against his family. In the process, he finds companionship with a Chinese woman, who shares his isolation in the harsh realities as she works illegally on a social visit to earn money for her debtridden family back in China. Just as he begins to experience solace and hope, he is faced with a heinous truth about his ex-wife and daughter. Audiences will find themselves confronting the edges of morality and questioning the difficult and sometimes corrupted decisions that the characters make in order to live.
A film that is three-years-in-the-making, A Yellow Bird stars veteran Singapore actor Sivakumar Palakrishnan, with Chinese independent film star Huang Lu, acclaimed Bollywood actress in Bandit Queen (1994) Seema Biswas, as well as emerging Singapore actresses Udaya Soundari, Nithiyia Rao and Indra Chandran in supporting roles. Following its Singapore premiere at SGIFF, the film will be theatrically released in local cinemas from 8 December 2016.
On its selection for the Asian Features Film Competition, SGIFF Programme Director Zhang Wenjie shared, “I vividly remember watching Rajagopal’s first short film I Can’t Sleep Tonight more than 20 years ago at the Singapore International Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize. I was struck by Rajagopal’s complete understanding and empathy for the characters of his film and the emotional and psychological wounds that they have suffered. It takes tremendous courage, honesty and someone who has truly experienced life to bring that to their films. A Yellow Bird plunges the depth of human emotions and looks unflinchingly into the soul of a man pushed to the very edge of his humanity. It is one of the most visceral and powerful Singapore feature films I have seen, and we couldn’t be more proud to welcome Rajagopal back in competition for our festival this year.”
Film lovers will be familiar with K. Rajagopal, who won the SGIFF Special Jury Prize for three consecutive years with his short films, I Can’t Sleep Tonight (1995), The Glare (1996) and Absence (1997). Drawn to the poetic nature of the everyday life as an Indian: the liberties, oppositions, hopes, fears and oppressions, the self-taught filmmaker is known for the authenticity and personal storytelling style in exploring the voice of an Indian man in Singapore through his films. He was also part of the well received film anthology 7 Letters (2015), which was Singapore’s entry to the 88th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
Director K. Rajagopal shared his excitement in the opportunity to present his film on home ground at SGIFF, a platform which also premiered many of his short films. He said, “The Singapore International Film Festival was where my career as an independent short filmmaker began twenty years ago. The Festival gave me recognition and ignited a fire in me to continue my journey in filmmaking. Now my first feature film, A Yellow Bird, has premiered in Cannes and begins its tour to other film festivals around the world. But being selected to present the film in competition at my home festival is closer to my heart. I wish to thank the team of SGIFF from the last twenty-seven years for supporting and believing in local cinema! Without you, I would not be doing what I love most.”
A Yellow Bird will be competing with nine other Asian feature films for four categories – Best Film, Best Director, Best Performance and Special Mention – as part of the Silver Screen Awards. More information on the Silver Screen Awards shortlist will be announced in late October.
SGIFF pays tribute to Abdul Nizam
The SGIFF will also pay tribute to the late Abdul Nizam for the instrumental role he played in the resurgence of Singapore cinema in the late 1990s. He directed Haura, which was part of Singapore’s first digital-video feature film Stories About Love (2000), and was also the winner of the Best Singapore Film, with his graduate work Datura (1999) at SGIFF in 1999.
During the festival, these signature works will be screened, together with other noteworthy masterpieces such as Keronchong for Pak Bakar (2008) and Breaking the Ice (2014), with both films previously screened in the SGIFF’s Singapore Panorama section.
“One of the most original and distinctive voices in Singapore cinema, Abdul Nizam was a filmmaker who never stopped searching for the truth and essence of our humanity in all his work. He constantly challenged and pushed the boundaries of the way we see and understand ourselves and the world around us. A humble, compassionate and generous filmmaker, Nizam dedicated his filmmaking in recent years to celebrate the spirit and humanity of those nearest and dearest to him. We are honoured to pay tribute to Nizam, a singular artist and an extraordinary human being who has left an indelible mark on Singapore cinema and our lives, with an extensive retrospective featuring his most acclaimed films as well as several rare and never-before-seen work,” Zhang said.
On the screening of a retrospective of Abdul Nizam’s works, his wife Madam Siti Nafisah Bee Sayna Abdul Kadir said, “Nizam was passionate about cinema as well as making films. His choices for films were personal as he really valued and treasured friendship. His films were made with uncompromising sincerity. He was a good husband and a good friend, I have learnt so much from him and miss him greatly.”
SGIFF’s new commissioned film by Gladys Ng
This year also sees the introduction of a new initiative that seeks to nurture and showcase up-and-coming Singapore filmmakers, where SGIFF will commission a new short film by a Singapore filmmaker every year that will make its world premiere at the festival. Gladys Ng, winner of SGIFF 2015’s Best Singapore Short Film, is the first filmmaker to be commissioned under this initiative. Her short, The Pursuit of A Happy Human Life, which tells the story of two best friends who spend their time together before leaving for their separate journeys, will be screened during the opening of the festival on 23 November.
SGIFF celebrates authentic storytelling of the region
As an internationally-recognised platform in Southeast Asia for the discovery of independent cinema, the SGIFF is committed to champion the art and innovation of filmmaking in telling the stories of Asia and the world.
SGIFF Executive Director Yuni Hadi said, “The SGIFF has had close relations with Abdul Nizam, K. Rajagopal, and Gladys Ng – filmmakers from different generations – and have followed their developments as filmmakers. They are undeniably talented storytellers and we respect their fierce commitment to engaging aspects of Singapore we don’t often see in film and TV. This kind of authenticity in filmmaking from our region is what we have always supported and will continue to create space in SGIFF for. The new generation of audience are seeking out films that are telling stories that represent who they are and have that genuine quality to them.”
The 27th edition of SGIFF, which runs from 23 November to 4 December 2016, will take place across various venues, including Marina Bay Sands, National Museum of Singapore Gallery Theatre, Shaw Theatres Lido, National Gallery Singapore Auditorium, The Arts House Screening Room, Filmgarde Bugis+ and Objectifs Chapel Gallery. Ticket sales for SGIFF will begin on 28 October 2016.
The SGIFF is an event of the Singapore Media Festival, hosted by the Infocommunications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA). SGIFF’s Official Sponsors include Presenting Sponsor, Marina Bay Sands and Official Festival Time Partner, IWC Schaffhausen.
Please refer to the appended annexes for more information.
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About the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF)
Founded in 1987, the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) is the largest and longest-running film event in Singapore. It has become an iconic event in the local arts calendar that is widely attended by international film critics; and known for its dynamic programming and focus on ground-breaking Asian cinema for Singapore and the region. Committed to nurturing and championing local and regional talent, its competition component, the Silver Screen Awards, brings together emerging filmmakers from Asia and Southeast Asia while paying tribute to acclaimed cinema legends. With its mentorship programmes, masterclasses and dialogues with attending filmmakers, the Festival also serves as a catalyst for igniting public interest, artistic dialogue, and cultural exchanges in the art of filmmaking. The SGIFF is organised by the Singapore International Film Festival Ltd, a non-profit organisation with Institution of a Public Character (IPC) status. For more information, please visit https://www.facebook.com/sginternationalfilmfestival/
Biography of K. Rajagopal
K. Rajagopal worked in theatre and is a veteran of Singapore’s film community where he directs both TV productions and personal projects. His shorts include I Can’t Sleep Tonight (1995), The Glare (1996) and Absence (1997) – consecutive winners of the SGIFF’s Special Jury Prize. He also directed Brother (1999), The New World (2008) and segments in the omnibus features Lucky 7 (2008) and 7 Letters (2015). A Yellow Bird is his debut feature.
A Yellow Bird (不归路)
Singapore / 2016 / 110 minutes / Tamil, Mandarin, English, Hokkien / M18: Sexual Scene and Coarse Language
An uncompromising portrait of Singapore’s lumpenproletariat through the eyes of one man searching for salvation in a city that never forgives.
After serving eight years in jail, Siva (in a breakthrough role by veteran TV actor Sivakumar Palakrishnan) is released back into a world outside bars. He has to grapple with his minority status and the fractures he created within his family. With a mother (legendary actress Seema Biswa) who rejected him, and a society that offers no respite, Siva roams the streets as a vagabond. He befriends Chen Chen (Huang Lu), a Chinese prostitute who connects with him through their shared desperation. When Siva discovers a terrible truth, he plunges into a liminal zone between death and redemption.
A Yellow Bird is a film with precise cinematography that becomes a vessel for Siva’s alienation, a subtle soundtrack of resounded effect and director K. Rajagopal’s own focused psychological interrogation into his own place in Singaporean society.
Biography of Abdul Nizam
One of the most original and distinctive voices in Singapore cinema, Abdul Nizam was a filmmaker who never stopped searching for the truth of our humanity in all his work. From his breakthrough short film Datura to his final feature film Breaking the Ice, he constantly challenged and pushed the boundaries of the way we see and understand ourselves and the world around us. Gifted with an innate sense of rhythm and an imaginative eye for the visual language of cinema, Nizam’s films are sensorial and thought-provoking examinations of our reality and identity.
As the front man, vocalist and drummer of pioneering indie band The NoNames, Nizam played a significant role in the burgeoning Singapore indie music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Formed in 1986 with schoolmates Vincent Lee, Choo Jong Aik and Dennis Lim, The NoNames was a major influence and inspiration for the next generation of local musicians and indie bands such as The Oddfellows and The Padres that would come to prominence in the 1990s. To pursue his lifelong love for cinema, Nizam enrolled at the Film, Sound & Video department of Ngee Ann Polytechnic in 1995, and found his second calling as a filmmaker. In 1999, two of his student short films Ajna and Datura were selected for competition at the 12th Singapore International Film Festival. Datura won the award for Best Singapore Short Film and launched his career as a filmmaker. The following year, Nizam directed the Haura segment of the anthology feature film Stories About Love, one of the first Singapore feature films shot on digital video.
Like many veteran Singapore filmmakers, Nizam had a long relationship with the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), and almost all his films had their very first screening at SGIFF. In 2002, Nizam served on the main jury of the Singapore International Film Festival, which gave one of the first major film awards to Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz, awarding Batang West Side as Best Asian Feature. In the same year, Nizam directed the ground-breaking television series Koridor, an adaptation of Singaporean writer Alfian Sa’at award-winning short story collection. Featuring some of the best Malay stage and television actors such as Jorah Ahmad, Mustura Ahmad and Najip Ali, its poignant and incisive portrayal of the lives of the Malay community pushed the artistic boundaries of Singaporean television.A generous and compassionate filmmaker, Nizam’s filmmaking entered a new phase in 2008 when he made the personal and lyrical documentary Keronchong for Pak Bakar, a touching ode to the 85-year-old Abu Bakar Ali, who was the cinematographer of P. Ramlee’s films during the heydays of the Malay film industry in the 1950s and 60s. From then on, all his films were made for his friends and fellow comrades in his journey of life and art. Breaking the Ice (2014), made for and in collaboration with Singapore artist Jeremy Hiah brought together Nizam’s former film school classmates as well as his old band The NoNames to create and record music for the film. To Paisan (2015) and his final work Tribute (2016), made just months before he passed away, are love letters and a moving farewell to those who are closest and dearest to him.
For Nizam: A Retrospective
A celebration of one of the boldest and most original voices in Singapore cinema, this retrospective looks back on the film legacy of the late Abdul Nizam who passed away in June this year. From his award-winning Datura (1999), to the groundbreaking television series Koridor (2002) based on Alfian Sa’at’s short story collection, and never-before-seen shorts from Nizam’s film school days and his final work, we pay tribute to a singular and unique artist who has left an indelible mark on Singapore cinema.
Singapore / 1998, 2016 / 6 min / No dialogue
Director: Abdul Nizam
A project for the Lighting and Camera class during Nizam’s final year at Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Film, Sound & Video department, Rope tells the story of a man who is preparing to take his own life and the unexpected twist of fate that awaits him in his final moments. Shot without dialogue on 16mm black and white film with expressionistic lighting and set design, Rope shows Nizam’s early talent for visual storytelling. The film will feature a new soundtrack by Dennis Tan (Nizam’s former classmate and the film original sound designer) in collaboration with local music collective BALBALAB in place of the film’s original soundtrack which has been lost.
Singapore / 1999 / 18 min / English, Malay, Hokkien and Cantonese with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
Shot at the iconic Mitre Hotel at Killiney Road, Ajna was the short film that Nizam made prior to Datura, and both films were selected for competition at the 12th Singapore International Film Festival in 1999. Ajna is about the denizens of a dilapidated double-storey hotel and the secrets each of them harbours behind their closed doors. Sensuous and atmospheric, the film features original music by Nizam with local musicians Choo Jong Aik (The NoNames) and Gary Chand (IGTA), and a memorable performance by Ong Chuen Boone as the smarmy boss of the establishment.
Singapore / 1999 / 18 min / Malay with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
Winner of the Best Singapore Short Film at the 1999 Singapore International Film Festival, Datura launched Nizam’s career as a filmmaker and remains his most well known work. A young man enlists a bomoh (Malay shaman) to prepare for him a concoction of datura, a deadly poisonous hallucinogenic plant that was used in ancient times for ritual. Drawing from folklore and the ideas of Persian poet Rumi, Datura is one of most visually striking and imaginative Singapore short films made. Unfolding like an intoxicating fever dream, at the heart of the film is a spiritual quest into the nature of our reality and existence.
Thailand / 2015 / 6 min / No dialogue
Director: Abdul Nizam
The film is an ode to the pioneering Thai performance artist Paisan Plienbanchang who passed away in July 2015. In February 2015, Nizam and fellow artists Jeremy Hiah, Dennis Tan and Han Xiaohan travelled to the Mekong River to join their friend Paisan on a community art project. On the trip, they found out that Paisan is suffering from late-stage pancreatic cancer. To Paisan is a documentation of a spontaneous performance they did at a site known as the “9000 Holes” and a moving farewell to a friend.
Malaysia / 2016 / 8 min / English
Director: Abdul Nizam
Tribute is Nizam’s final work as a filmmaker and was created in memory of family friend, the late Dato Dr. Raja Mohamad Abdullah. Dato Raja was an influential business leader in the Muslim world and founder of OIC International Business Centre and OIC Today magazine. In the film, dignitaries including high commissioners, country ambassadors and ministers as well as family members remember Dato Raja’s legacy and his immeasurable contributions to society.
Haura / Stories About Love
Singapore / 2000 / 37 min / English and Mandarin with
Director: Abdul Nizam
Stories About Love is an anthology feature film based on the themes of love, longing and lust featuring three local directors – James Toh, Abdul Nizam and Cheah Chee Kong – and is one of Singapore’s first feature film shot on digital video. The second segment Haura directed by Nizam stars Mark Richmond and Andrea De Cruz as a pair of lovers who meet over a one-night-stand. Soon Haura (De Cruz) finds their relationship taking a darker and irreversible turn as her lover (Richmond) reveals his true nature. Impressionistic and evocative of the unique visual style Nizam established in Datura (1999), the film examines the dichotomy between love and sex, and the sacred and the profane. Intertwined with the central story of the two lovers is the relationship between the flute-playing narrator (local musician George Chua) and his silent father who is obsessed with sexually explicit movies, as well as Haura’s younger sister and her boyfriend.
Garin’s Humanisme: The Making of Unconcealed Poetry
Indonesia, Singapore / 2000 / 45 min / English and Bahasa Indonesia with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
Garin’s Humanisme: The Making of Unconcealed Poetry is a documentary about the making of A Poet: Unconcealed Poetry, Indonesian master Garin Nugroho’s acclaimed film about Aceh poet Ibrahim Kadir’s 1965 imprisonment after being falsely accused of being a communist. Featuring in-depth interviews with Nugroho and scenes from the film, the documentary was shot during the period following the fall of President Suharto when the streets of Indonesia was engulfed by massive riots and unrest, providing a chilling parallel to the still-fresh horrors of the imprisonments and genocide of 1965-1966. The screening of Garin’s Humanisme: The Making of Unconcealed Poetry will be presented with newly translated English subtitles.
Singapore / 2002 / 65 min / Malay with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
Commissioned in 2002 by MediaCorp TV12 Suria, Koridor was a television series based on the award-winning short collection by Singapore writer Alfian Sa’at. Koridor was ground-breaking in its sensitive and poignant portrayal of the Malay community and the filmic aesthetics it brought to local television. The series will be presented with newly translated English subtitles.
Video, the series’ first episode, opens with an ominous full moon amidst a torrential downpour. Abu Bakar and Maimoon are an elderly couple planning to go on the Haj when the husband suddenly passed away in the night. The death of the patriarch uncovers the underlying tension and secrets between the family members. The episode features memorable performances from a cast of renowned local Malay actors such as Jorah Ahmad as the widow Maimoon, and Najip Ali and Mastura Ahmad (from this year’s acclaimed local feature Apprentice) as a couple caught in a childless marriage.
Koridor: Hari Jadi
Singapore / 2002 / 46 min / Malay with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
Hari Jadi (Birthday) is the third episode of the Koridor series. Local playwright and actor Aidli Mosbit stars as Rosminah, a young pregnant mother who had to look for a job to sustain her family as her jobless husband whiles away his time lying in bed. Rosminah found a job as a cleaner and struck up a friendship with her colleague Kala (Shanmugm Muthulakshmi), a kind-hearted older Indian lady who never married. Rosminah and Kala soon became best friends, and for the first time they found in each other someone who understood the loneliness and hardship of their lives. On Rosminah’s birthday, Kala brought her friend, who had never received a birthday present, a toaster. With standout performances by the two leads and Nizam’s sensitive and nuanced direction, Hari Jadi is a moving story about the solace of friendship between two lonely souls living on the fringe of society.
Koridor: Episod Terakhir
Singapore, Indonesia / 2002 / 77 min / English, Malay and Chinese with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
Episod Terakhir is the fifth and final episode of the Koridor series and it stars Salmah Ibrahim, veteran actress of the Malay film industry and wife of screen legend Nordin Ahmad. Salmah plays Rokiah, an old lady who discovered a dead body along the corridor of her flat during her evening prayers. Through a series of flashbacks and ruminations, she recalls her childhood days living in the kampong (village), a family trip to Jakarta and her daily life in her small HDB flat. Since moving from the kampong she grew up in, Rokiah has never fully gotten used to staying in a flat. Living cheek to jowl with all the neighbours around her, she feels as if the walls are closing in on her. And when her children and grandchildren leaves for work and school, she abhors the silence and emptiness of the house. Even a family vacation to Jakarta offers no respite and she could not wait to go home. Shot by Indonesian cinematographer and filmmaker Faozan Rizal, Episod Terakhir features performances by Annabelle Francis and Catherine Sng as Rokiah’s neigbours. Screened for the first time with Nizam’s original edit, this final episode of Koridor examines, through the eyes of the elderly, the inevitable sense of loss and belonging in an urban and ever-changing Singapore.
Keronchong for Pak Bakar
Singapore / 2008 / 56 min / English and Malay with English subtitles
Director: Abdul Nizam
After a hiatus of six years following Koridor, Nizam returns with Keronchong For Pak Bakar. A lyrical ode to the 85-year-old Abu Bakar Ali, P. Ramlee’s cinematographer during the golden age of the Malay film industry in the 1950s and 60s, this documentary is one of Nizam’s most personal and moving films. For many years Nizam had been researching and working to develop a film about the legendary icon of Malay cinema, P. Ramlee. By chance, Nizam found out that Abu Bakar Ali, or Pak Bakar, was living in the same apartment block as him and made initial contact by sliding letters through the Pak Bakar’s door. The film is a chronicle of the friendship between the two filmmakers from different eras, and it shows Nizam’s affinity and reverence for Malay cinema. Constructed like a series of letters to Pak Bakar, Nizam talks about his personal filmmaking journey, and his influence of his late father, an army captain who shared with Nizam a deep love of cinema.
Breaking the Ice
Singapore / 2014 / 55 min / English
Director: Abdul Nizam
“You believe that you can capture reality. But it is impossible. You can always go further.” – Abbas Kiarostami
With Kiarostami’s thesis on the nature of cinema and reality as inspiration and starting point, Breaking the Ice explores the boundaries between film and performance, the nature of art versus life, and the question of what it means to be an artist. Centred on a filmed performance art by Singaporean artist Jeremy Hiah, the film deconstructs and reconfigures the footage with both imagined and actual images from the artist’s daily life, attempting to arrive at the essential truth of reality that eludes the lens of the camera. Breaking the Ice is in many ways a homecoming of sorts for Nizam. He brought together his former film school friends like Lau Hon Meng (cinematographer) and Dennis Tan (sound) and reunited his old band The NoNames to work together with him on the film. Breaking the Ice is a thought provoking discourse between artist and filmmaker, and between performance and cinema, and Nizam’s final feature-length work.
Biography of Gladys Ng (吴佩玲)
Gladys Ng’s recent short film, My Father after Dinner, was awarded the Best Singapore Short Film at the 26th Singapore International Film Festival. She was trained in writing and directing at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne, Australia, and in 2012, participated in FLY ASEAN-ROK in South Korea. She developed her new short film earlier this year during a film residency under Objectifs.
About The Pursuit of A Happy Human Life (淡淡的蛋蛋)
Singapore / 2016 / 11 mins / English / World Premiere A Commission of the Singapore International Film Festival
Unspoken affection and awkward conversations fills the last day two best friends spend together.
Steph is leaving Singapore and her best friend Yokes is trying to come to terms with this news. Both friends know that this day is probably the last day they will spend time together before Steph leaves. They attempt to go through the day with their usual banter albeit awkward moments but tension rises when Yokes is unable to deal with her emotions of Steph leaving.
Since her film Ying & Summer (2011), director Gladys Ng continues to explore the intricate yet complex relationships between female friends. In The Pursuit of a Happy Human Life, she captures the youthful exuberance of two girls struggling to make sense about their uncertainties of the future and unexpressed emotions. Her gentle observations lure the viewer into the subtle nuances of adolescent relationships.