SINGAPORE - From a documentary about the only true artisan left at the Haw Par Villa theme park to an award- winning Taiwanese drama-comedy about a widow who must come to terms with her late husband's male lover, this year's edition of the Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) offers plenty of choices with its slate of 103 films from 44 places.
At a press event on Tuesday (Oct 23), SGIFF's executive director Yuni Hadi and programme director Pimpaka Towira gave highlights of the event, which runs from Nov 28 to Dec 9.
Among the films receiving a world premiere at the festival is The Last Artisan, by Craig McTurk, a senior lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic's School of Film and Media Studies. The American has lived in Singapore for 17 years.
The documentary, screened under the Singapore Panorama section, follows Mr Teo Veoh Seng, an 83-year-old who is the last of his generation of Haw Par Villa craftsmen, the workers who created the sculptures of Chinese deities and creatures of folklore and keep them looking fresh. Mr Teo is racing against time: Can he whip his young replacements into shape before he leaves for good?
Screening under the Special Presentation section is Dear Ex, from Taiwanese film-makers Mag Hsu and Hsu Chih-yen. The film is a standout at this year's Golden Horse Awards, where it has earned eight nominations, including for Best Feature Film. The awards ceremony will be held in Taipei on Nov 17.
The drama-comedy stars Hsieh Ying-xuan as Sanlian, a woman who finds, to her shock, that her dead former husband has named a stranger, Jay (Roy Chiu), as the beneficiary of his insurance payout. She and Jay, her former husband's lover, get caught in a bitter battle of wills, one that will also involve her son Song Chengxi (Joseph Huang).
Global arts review site View Of The Arts calls the film "a powerful examination of family, grief and what it means to be in love" and a "touching LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) production" that is well-timed, given recent court decisions in Taiwan that open the way to make same-sex marriage legal.
Ms Yuni says the film is both emotional and topical. "This is a story about a unique family situation, one that fits the times."
To promote a diversity of voices, there will be an all-women jury panel for the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition. The jurors are Maike Mia Hohne, curator of the Berlinale Shorts programme, Filipino film-maker Shireen Seno and Singaporean film-maker Kirsten Tan.
Among the stars slated to attend the festival and who may appear at its public events are Chinese- American actress Joan Chen, who is receiving a Cinema Legend Award; Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-O, 2010 to 2017), a member of the Asian Feature Film Competition Jury; and Hong Kong singer and actress Sammi Cheng, who is accompanying her film, the drama First Night Nerves. Chen, Kim and Cheng are scheduled to speak at the In Conversation public talk series.
Also announced at Tuesday's event is the SGIFF Film Fund. Designed to nurture the independent film industry in Singapore and South-east Asia, the fund has been launched with two new grants.
The Tan Ean Kiam Foundation-SGIFF Southeast Asian-Documentary Grant will support four mid-length or feature documentary projects each year with a cash amount of $25,000 each. The SGIFF Southeast Asian-Short Film Grant will support two short films each year with a cash amount of $4,000 and post-production support worth $4,000 each.
Applications for both grants are now open at sgiff.com
"This is something very close to our hearts which we have been working hard to put together. It's important for us as a national festival to be committed to helping projects," says Ms Yuni.