Arts & Culture

Perspectives Film Festival: Challenging What ‘Institution’ Means

Expectations and why they are worth challenging

Words by
b-side staff

Perspectives Film Festival is an annual event that helms “breakthrough” films and is curated to a different theme for each edition. The four-day festival is organised and curated by undergraduates from the faculty of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information (WKWSCI) of the Nanyang Technological University.

This year’s theme, Institution, is a timely one since today’s world is full of changes. There has been a steady momentum of nuanced discussions on gender rights, rape culture, sexuality, and even the government. Social media have helped to amplify new voices, and while this change may be difficult and uncomfortable, it is ultimately good.

The films curated this year bring this necessary discomfort onto the film screen, dating all the way back to 1970, and will carry this conversation further — that institutions are ultimately made to serve the people and will always be challenged.

Festival directors Claudia Loo and Lee Yi Jia share with B-Side on their roles, censorship and a film they would like to recommend as part of this year’s lineup.

Share with us a bit of what you are studying at NTU, and how you found yourselves as festival directors for Perspectives.

Yi Jia: Claud and I are both majors in communication studies at NTU. Personally, I have been gearing my studies towards more film-centric courses, which is why I found myself taking on Perspectives Film Festival. In case you didn’t already know, PFF is offered by the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information as a practicum module. I was very drawn to the course. This is actually the second time I’m taking it, haha. Why I chose to be one of the festival directors this time was because I really wanted to push the festival beyond that of a module and leave a deeper impression on the local film scene.

Claudia: I entered WKWSCI wanting to get into publication design. I took more journalism and advertising modules in my first year, and I kept photography and videography as hobbies. I took my first film module in Year Two, and that was when I started to marry my background in events and project management with film production. I’m usually the producer or art director for film projects, and I’ve done a few art events before Perspectives. I wanted to combine these skill sets and channel them into one last event before graduation.

Camera Buff (1979)

What was the curation for a student-led film festival like? Were there issues with censorship?

Yi Jia: We had a strong team of programmers and writers who ploughed through films to curate a lineup that we all deemed to be fitting of the year’s theme. They spent countless hours watching film screeners, contacting distributors and working through the process of acquiring the rights to screen the films for our local audiences.

Claudia: Regarding censorship, the chosen films still had to undergo the classification through IMDA since it is a public event. But other than that, I don’t think we ran into any problems. During the curation, we didn’t think too much about the rating, and we weren’t looking to be controversial with our programming either. The committee focused on selecting films that showcase our theme, and we ended up with a lineup that covers a range of institutions.

Song of the Exile (1990)

How do you set yourselves apart from festivals such as SGIFF?

Yi Jia: I don’t think we consciously try to set ourselves apart from other festivals because there are soooo many film festivals in Singapore (I think we have 50!) and they all have different focal points. Perspectives helms itself on programming films that have “breakthrough” qualities, so even though our theme changes each year, we actively look out for titles that are boundary-pushing. Other festivals focus on different things (could be on language/culture like the Swedish Film Festival, Iranian Film Festival etc).

Claudia: We’re also a student-run festival, so that’s pretty different! We’re all learning, and in a way our audience gets to learn with us.

Bamako (2006)

Tell us a bit more about the theme of this year’s festival and its relevance today.

Claudia: This year’s theme is Institutions and we wanted to challenge people’s expectations of what that means. We don’t want people to only look at institutions as something bad. If you take a step back, you’ll realise that we’re surrounded by institutions, and they help make sense of the world around us. Even the aunties and uncles negotiating for vegetables at the wet market are guided by a certain unspoken etiquette, and that in itself is an institution.

Stations of the Cross (2014)

The films this year don’t really feature works from South East Asia. Why is this so?

Yi Jia: Perspectives’ programming standard often seeks to include a diverse range of films, so we don’t specifically look out for films within the region. I think one of the beauties of the festival is that our audience gets to watch films from really distant lands, and in a way, making these geographically inaccessible films more accessible for Singaporeans. This year, our programme includes titles from all over the world, from places as far as Poland (Camera Buff, 1979) to somewhere more familiar like Hong Kong (Song of the Exile, 1990).

3 Faces (2018)

A film you strongly recommend catching at the festival, and why.

Yi Jia: Check out A Woman Under The Influence (1974), screening at the National Museum of Singapore on 28 October at 1:30pm. It’s a film that falls under our institution of marriage, and it explores the relationship between a woman struggling with mental illness and her husband. The film will be screened in 35mm, which is always a treat for the audience because you don’t always get to watch films in its film print.

Claudia: I’d say look through our lineup and see which one speaks to you. Whether it’s politics, religion or nationality, I think audiences first have to open their minds to be able to take away something from each film.

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