National Gallery launches film festival focusing on works about art

The month-long Painting With Light: International Festival Of Films On Art will also feature talks and discussions

What was once a year-long film screening series by National Gallery Singapore is now a full-fledged film festival, comprising a month-long programme that includes talks and panel discussions.

The inaugural Painting With Light: International Festival Of Films On Art will also have a wide geographical reach. It features more than 30 works from Brazil, South Korea, France, Iran and the United States, among other countries, covering the 1950s to the present day.

It opens tomorrow and runs till Oct 29.

The works, which range from documentaries to dramas to performance-art pieces, are about art and society, in keeping with the Gallery's mission as an art museum.

Four sections define the festival. Holding Space has screenings and events about art institutions. Way Of Seeing highlights films about artists. Special Focus: The Art Commission will showcase films, funded by private and public bodies, which have become classics. Southeast Asian Shorts is a free programme of films from around the region.

Ms Suenne Megan Tan, the Gallery's director of audience development and engagement, says that the festival aims to "encourage more dialogue coming from this programme".

In a public forum on film commissions, held as part of the festival's Special Focus section, attendees and industry panellists will grapple with questions around the issue of artists being paid by an organisation to make art.

  • BOOK IT / PAINTING WITH LIGHT: INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF FILMS ON ART

  • WHERE: Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium, City Hall Wing, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew's Road

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Oct 29

    ADMISSION: $10, from the Gallery and Sistic (go to sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: www.nationalgallery.sg

"We'd like to create an open space for conversations and perspectives," she says.

Burma Storybook

PG13, 81 minutes

Part travelogue, part biography, and part art film, this work in the genre of creative documentary uncovers a side of the South-east Asian country few tourists will see: its poetry and the men and women who write it, often at the cost of their freedom.

Director Petr Lom, 49, says that the film's unusual format fits the subject. "There's no poetry in television," he says, referring to traditional non-fiction film-making seen on cable channels.

In Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), poets hold a special place in society, says Lom, who was born in Czechoslovakia, but has spent most of his life in the United States and Canada.

His film spends time with 70-year-old poet Maung Aung Pwint, a beloved artist and former political prisoner. "I wanted to make a film as beautiful as his life has been and to honour the work of all the poets," says Lom over the phone.

He and producer Corinne van Egeraat spent two years in Myanmar making the film. "It's how we work. It's an open-ended process. We went there with the idea to show how the country was changing from a dictatorship," he says of the ruling military junta's handover of power to a democratically elected government, beginning in 2010.

The film-makers had known about the popularity of poetry and how the art form has a tradition of being used for voicing opposition.

"But we didn't know how to turn all this into a story," he says.

A friend introduced them to Aung Pwint and it was "love at first sight", says Lom, who was struck by the writer's character and the circumstances of his life. In the film, the ageing, ailing Aung Pwint is shown sharing happy moments with his wife while he waits for his son to come home from 20 years of exile.

Aung Pwint is not only the best-known dissident poet in the country, but also "a very special human being", he says.

As a foreigner dealing with a potentially touchy subject, Lom says he had to tread carefully.

By taking a "soft" approach, the authorities allowed his team to remain in the country and allowed the film to be screened there, he says.

The film was screened recently at a human rights film festival and Lom plans to organise free public screenings around the nation.

"I can do this because the film takes a gentle approach and is respectful of poetry and it shows a criticism of the past, not the present, regime," he says.

• Screenings on Oct 21 and 22.

• Director Petr Lom, producer Corinne van Egeraat and poet Maung Yu Py will be present to field questions after the screenings.

Cuts (Potongan)

NC16, 70 minutes

Singapore is not alone in Asia as a country where, from time to time, debates over film censorship flare up. Indonesia's film classification regime draws its share of flak from artists who bemoan its inflexibility.

One such team is behind Cuts, a provocative and often funny documentary recording how a film negotiates the bureaucratic maze of the censorship board, Lembaga Sensor Film (LSF).

Speaking to The Straits Times from Jakarta, the film's producer, Meiske Taurisia, 43, says the idea behind the film was sparked some years ago, when a drama she produced - Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly (2008), an allegory of the 1998 race riots - was turned down by the LSF on moral and political grounds.

"I wanted to do a test, to see if things have changed," she says. Her team worked with officials and lawyers to obtain consent for filming the LSF process.

Films there are rated for age-appropriateness, but these are just recommendations and people of any age can enter a screening.

This contrasts with vetting regimes such as Singapore's, where an M18 rating, for example, bars entry to those under the age of 18.

The LSF therefore has a low threshold of tolerance for works that deal with religion, sex and politics.

In one scene in Cuts, directed by Chairun Nissa, a committee is filmed in secret as its members give reasons why Blind Pigs cannot be shown. One by one, representatives from various sectors voice their objections.

It is a scene that reveals the strange and difficult position that film-makers there find themselves in, because they have to account for the sensitivities of many groups.

"We have five official religions. We also have to think about ministers and parliament. We have to think about national defence," Ms Taurisia says.

• Producer Meiske Taurisia will speak at post-screening discussions on Oct 14 and 15.

Manifesto

PG13, 95 minutes

In this filmed performance piece, actress Cate Blanchett adopts various personas - a teacher, mother, chief executive at a private party, bearded homeless man, tattooed punk - to recite words from writers and artists of the modern era, both famous and obscure.

As the title suggests, these words are declarations of purpose assembled from many sources, from painters such as Claes Oldenburg to film-makers including Lars von Trier.

Depending on the setting - the work was filmed at real locations - Blanchett's readings add a layer of emotion, such as anger, despair and, sometimes, humour.

Artist and film-maker Julian Rosefeldt, 52, says that artists' manifestos "inspire, open your mind, they have an infective character".

"When you read them, you will be blown away by the total freedom... they are amazingly written pieces of poetry," he tells The Straits Times on the telephone from New York.

The Berlin-based artist says the film, a distillation of a multi-screen video installation that has been touring museums around the world, provokes reactions he never anticipated when he started filming three years ago.

At screenings in North America and Europe, he says the film triggered anxieties over how right-wing populism seems to have sprung from nowhere in the last two years. "At Sundance, at the Q&A, everyone talked about United States president Donald Trump and in France, they talked about politician Marine Le Pen and in Turkey they talked about president Recep Tayyip Erdogan."

Two-time Oscar winner Blanchett, who played Galadriel in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy (2001 to 2003) and who will appear as the villain Hela in Marvel comic book movie Thor: Ragnarok later this year, lures audiences who would otherwise not watch a film about art.

"The art world is quite hermetic," Rosefeldt says. Without an education in art, there is little motivation for someone to "walk into a museum on a Sunday afternoon, even if it's free".

Blanchett excites curiosity in a feature that would otherwise stay within the "white cube" of a museum. "Cate's presence breaks this film out of the white cube," he says.

• Manifesto screens on Sunday and Oct 21.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2017, with the headline 'Films on art from around the world'. Print Edition | Subscribe