New programme director is also a film director and screenwriter

Ms Pimpaka Towira says a key challenge in her new job at the Singapore International Film Festival is to draw a bigger audience to films from the region.
Ms Pimpaka Towira says a key challenge in her new job at the Singapore International Film Festival is to draw a bigger audience to films from the region.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Ms Pimpaka Towira seems to have done it all when it comes to film: She has written about them, for a newspaper; and she has written them, as a screenwriter.

The 50-year-old has directed two features and a slew of short films. She was also programme director at two film festivals, The Bangkok International Film Festival and the Bangkok Asean Film Festival.

It is this wide range of experience that made her the best candidate for the job of programme director of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF), says its executive director, Ms Yuni Hadi.

"She is very much in touch with the South-east Asian film community and could really make SGIFF the key festival in the region," says Ms Yuni.

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Ms Pimpaka replaces festival director Zhang Wenjie, who left earlier this year after being with the organisation since it relaunched in 2014. She will have a three-year contract.

Mr Zhang tells The Straits Times that he resigned to "take a break", to spend more time with his family.

Ms Pimpaka says her job now is to take over his duties, which include selecting films and overseeing the organisation's development schemes, the Southeast Asian Film Lab and the Youth Jury & Critics Programme.

One key challenge, she thinks, is to draw a bigger audience to films from the region. It is a problem she faced previously in the festivals she helped run in Thailand.

South-east Asian films face an uphill battle in winning over film buffs, but the effort is worth the payoff, she says.

"They are very special to me. They are rich in storytelling and have an artistic value that audiences should uncover," says Ms Pimpaka, who is single.

Regional film-makers have unique styles that range from that of Apichatpong Weerasethakul from Thailand, winner of the 2010 Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival, whose dream-like images address Thai culture, to that of Lav Diaz from the Philippines, whose films grapple with social issues such as poverty and the abuse of power.

The Filipino cinematic style is very different from the Thai one and it is worth the effort to understand each national mode of expression, says Ms Pimpaka.

"To a Westerner, it might all look the same, but when you can see what the director is trying to do, you can see they are really special," she says.

Singapore film-maker Boo Junfeng (Apprentice, 2016) met her at the Dharamshala International Film Festival last year.

"Her taste has a wide range, judging by the films she has programmed at the Bangkok Asean Film Festival. She's got a good grasp of South-east Asian films and seems to be a contact with film-makers in the region." he says.

Ms Pimpaka sees the trend of personal viewing on laptops and smartphones, instead of at cinemas, not as a threat, but a benefit to a festival programmer. "It means that people watch more films and are up to date on trends. They will be eager to see the new works," she says.

John Lui

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2017, with the headline 'New programme director is also a film director and screenwriter'. Print Edition | Subscribe