THE O.P.E.N., SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

Serious issues in lighthearted films

The award- winning work, The Other Side Of Hope (left), is the opening film for The O.P.E.N.
The award- winning work, The Other Side Of Hope (left), is the opening film for The O.P.E.N.PHOTO: SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ARTS

This year, The O.P.E.N. segment at the Singapore International Festival of Arts will offer the widest selection of films to date.

The films - 26 in total, topping last year's 25 - run the gamut from documentaries to experimental works and come from countries around the world.

Film curator Tan Bee Thiam says that in addition to the wider selection, the theme of this year's festival, Enchantment, has been translated to mean works that are lighter in tone.

"I've been looking for films with a sense of humour, to draw in people who would otherwise be put off by arthouse films. They don't have to be slow and boring," says Tan, 39.

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Last year's theme, Post-empire, offered a slate of dramas about the after-effects of war and colonialism.

In contrast, while there are films in this year's programme that deal with topics such as the migrant crisis, they might handle them in a warmer, more optimistic fashion, says Tan.

  • BOOK IT /THE FILMS OF THE O.P.E.N.

  • WHERE: The Projector, Level 5 Golden Mile Tower, 6001 Beach Road

    WHEN: July 1 to 15, various times

    ADMISSION: $45 for an O.P.E.N. Pass, valid for six films; $10 for a single-entry ticket

    INFO: For schedule and booking details, go to www.sifa.sg/theopen

He mentions the Dutch documentary, Miss Kiet's Children (PG, 115 minutes). Children from Syria and Iraq, resettled in the Netherlands, are observed for a year by a camera crew, both inside the classroom of teacher Miss Kiet and outside of it.

Or the approach to the migrant crisis might be absurdist, as in the opening film, The Other Side Of Hope (PG, 98 minutes), from acclaimed Finnish film-maker Aki Kaurismaki.

The plight of two men in trouble, a Syrian refugee and a down-and-out shirt salesman, is the subject of the dry comedy, which won a Silver Bear for directing at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. "It's a different kind of approach to the topic of migration, with a lot of deadpan humour in the unlikely friendship between the two men," he says.

The screening of The Other Side Of Hope is preceded by a short film - F***ing Bunnies (R21, 17 minutes), a black comedy about Finns coping with living next to people of a different culture. "It's an outrageous comedy about a sex cult," says Tan.

The screenplay comes from Antti Toivonen, a Finn who has lived in Singapore for eight years and is a permanent resident.

The short premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. It was among the 68 selected from more than 9,000 entries.

The story, set in Finland, deals with a middle-class man searching for a squash partner. A neighbour, newly moved in, volunteers to play with him. The problem is, he happens to be the leader of a Satan-worshipping sex cult.

Toivonen, 38, a freelance creative director, worked with director Teemu Niukkanen to make the picture.

He says: "Xenophobia is a massive issue in Europe and the United States... The world hasn't been as polarised as it is now, at least in my lifetime. We wanted to talk about it in a way that wouldn't be preachy."

He drew inspiration from how, in the 1990s, there was panic in northern Europe over allegations that teens were being drawn into devil worship by heavy metal music.

In writing the screenplay, he also remembered how a friend of his, who thought of himself as a liberal person, faced a dilemma when he took a call from a woman asking about a flat he was letting.

"The woman told him she was a gypsy, a person of Romany origin, and asked him if that would be a problem and he said 'not at all'," says Toivonen.

When she showed up, he lost his nerve. He lied, telling her the flat had been taken. "He thought, 'What did I just do?' He realised he wasn't the open-minded person he thought he was. These things are more deeply ingrained than we think."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2017, with the headline 'Serious issues in lighthearted films'. Print Edition | Subscribe