Film festival season is in full swing in Singapore. Two powerhouses of world cinema - France and Latin America - are holding festivals this week, with the Singapore International Film Festival kicking off next week.
The Keppel Latin American Film Festival, now in its sixth edition, opened yesterday with a collection of 10 films, one each from a member country.
A unique point of the event, sponsored by Keppel Offshore & Marine, is that admission to all films is free.
One highlight is a movie from a nation with a cinema industry little known outside its borders - Panama.
Panama Canal Stories (PG13, 106 minutes) is an anthology of five short dramas, each helmed by a different director, showing how the intensely strategic waterway affected the lives of locals from 1913 - a year before it formally opened as an American-owned asset - to 2013, some years after the United States handed control of it to the local government.
Mr Alfredo A. Spiegel Aponte, the Panamanian ambassador to Singapore, says that the film tells stories that are "unique and riveting", while shedding light on aspects of the republic's history that few outsiders will know.
BOOK IT / FRENCH FILM FESTIVAL
WHERE: Golden Village Plaza Singapore, Alliance Francaise, The Projector, ArtScience Museum
WHEN: Till Sunday, various times
ADMISSION: $11 to $13.50
Various timings and ticket prices
INFO: For schedule and bookings, go to frenchfilmfestival.sg
KEPPEL LATIN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL
WHERE: Golden Village Suntec City
WHEN: Till Sunday, various times
ADMISSION: Free, tickets to be given 30 minutes before show
INFO: For schedule, see www.gv.com.sg
"Under the stewardship first of the French and then of the North Americans intent on building a canal which cost many lives, 25,000 of the 75,000 working on the Canal died from malaria, yellow fever, landslides, explosions and horrid living conditions," he tells The Straits Times in an e-mail interview.
The film screens on Sunday at 9pm, at GV Suntec City.
Another work in the Latin American festival is the Mexican comedy- drama One For The Road, which screened yesterday.
It details a journey undertaken by three men in their 80s to make good on a promise to a dead friend. As they hitchhike, bus and taxi across the country, they meet with setbacks and kindness, as well as a touch of supernatural intervention from a witch.
Its director, Jack Zagha Kababie, 37, speaking to The Straits Times over Skype, says he did not intend for the film to be a straightforward account of a journey - the inclusion of magical realism was important.
"The belief in magic is common in Mexico. Maybe not that much in the cities, but many writers and painters use magical realism in their work and I wanted to portray that in the movie," he says.
The French Film Festival is the older of the two festivals this week, having started 32 years ago.
Ms Laurence Lochu, festival director and director of Institut Francais Singapour, says that its longevity is due to its popularity.
She says the festival this year is making greater efforts to go beyond a cinephile audience.
"We have comedies, family films and films for children. It's not just arty things for intellectuals," she says. She cites as an example the bittersweet drama Monsieur Chocolat (PG13, 110 minutes) as a film anyone can enjoy.
The biopic, directed by Roschdy Zem, stars Omar Sy (The Intouchables, 2011) in the title role of France's first popular black entertainer. In the late 19th century, he overcame prejudice and stereotyping to become one of the country's most popular circus performers.
The film screens tomorrow at 2pm, at the Alliance Francaise.
Its co-producer, Mr Nicolas Altmayer, speaking to The Straits Times on the telephone from his base in Paris, says that the clown tumbling and pratfalls seen in the film were performed by Sy, without using a double.
He was trained by professional clown and mime artist James Thierree, grandson of Charlie Chaplin.
In the film, Thierree plays Footit the clown, who, with Chocolat, formed a duo that packed houses.
"Sy and Thierree started training together every day for a month and a half," Mr Altmayer says, so that leaps, slaps and falls would look correct. The cast was committed to reviving the Chocolat name.
"He was born a slave, then escaped and became a stage performer. It is an unbelievable story," he says.
Correction note: An earlier version of this article misspelled festival director Laurence Lochu's name. We are sorry for the error.