We need SIFF more than it needs us

The 21st edition of the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) starts next week. For an independently run and curated film festival to reach its 21st edition is amazing. Even more amazing is what it has done for Singaporeans over the years.
Last year, SIFF’s finances were in dire straits and whether it could make it to the 21st edition was in doubt. When we knew SIFF was having difficulty fundraising, a group of us media professionals came together to help. One of the initiatives was to write a letter to the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) to persuade them to increase the funding for SIFF.

Our letter didn’t have much of an effect. Our request to meet them was alas not taken up because it “was not necessary”. The SFC/MDA has made very clear that it is not interested in an independently curated film festival like SIFF. For the 2008 edition, the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) gave SIFF $65,000 (US$40,000).

Still SIFF managed to haul itself out and is now presenting the 21st edition to us, starting on the 4 April with the help of a few individuals, some of whom have been working for the festival for many years.
Everyone, please do not take your independent arts institutions for granted. Please donate, volunteer and support your own festival because if you don’t, no one else will.

Send your cheque addressed to “Singapore International Film Festival Ltd”
Film Festival Secretariat
LASALLE College of the Arts
1 McNally Street #B2-17 (E Block)
Singapore 187940
Tel: 6738 7567 / 6496 5327
Your donations enjoy a double tax exemption status

Here is the full text of the letter we wrote to SFC . Written in November 2007, it was addressed to Mr Man Shu Shum who has since left the position
28 Nov 2007

Mr. Man Shu Shum
Director, Singapore Film Commission

Dear Mr. Man


We are a group of media professionals and we heard that the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) is having a series of fundraising screenings next month. We thought it opportune to write to thank you for supporting SIFF all these years, support which allowed SIFF to thrive, develop and be such an influential part of our lives. We want to let you know how integral this venerable institution with your support has become to us. We want to encourage you to increase your support for it.

Like the Singapore Arts Festival, Singapore Biennale, the Singapore International Film Festival is a major event in Singapores cultural calendar. Every year, about 300 films selected from the world are showcased here over three weeks. Every year for the past twenty years, this event provides an opportunity for Singapore to get a glimpse of the outside world through film.

In the process, SIFF has single handedly cultivated the audience for international films by showing us new ways of seeing, of making films, of talking about films and articulating our lives. We would not have been able to learn all this from our Cineplexs limited offerings. Many of us had life-changing experiences at SIFF. Many of us chose to work in the creative industries because of the SIFF.

In addition, for the aspiring filmmakers amongst us, SIFF is the launch pad to get our films seen and recognised. No other film festival in Singapore (or in Southeast Asia) is as respected for its programming. Moreover because of its scale, SIFF is a hive for media professionals both local and international to network and dream up new projects. Many of us benefited from the contacts and friendships made at the festival.

SIFFs role as a catalyst in our media practice, its role in promoting our work and in audience development is immeasurable

Core to its success and longevity is that SIFF has a big heart. From the onset, it was inclusive and respectful of all. It does not matter whether the film comes from a country with a long film tradition, whether it was made on video, whether it was preceded by hype. Whatever the films creed, as long as it had something to say and it said it with fluency, space permitting, it was programmed. It is in this spirit that SIFF screened and promoted Malaysian and other Southeast Asian films as well as Iranian films way before it was fashionable and hot. SIFFs consistency, its integrity and focus over the past two decades has earned it an international reputation, a moral and artistic standing many film festivals yearn for locally and internationally but very few achieve.

We find it amazing that SIFF was able to do so much for so long with so little. (Compare the funding for SIFF with the funding for the Singapore Biennale and Singapore Arts Festival). Moreover, SIFFs significance has not dimmed even with the plethora of new film festivals here or with the Internet because it does very well what it has done year after year: to challenge us by showing great films that we wouldnt have otherwise seen in an environment that fosters conversation and learning.

Imagine what more SIFF could do with more support. We urge you to put your full weight behind this festival building upon its solid brand, the International goodwill, contacts and skill sets that have been cultivated over the past two decades. A thriving and well-respected film festival will draw even more attention to Singapore as a media hub and Arts renaissance city. It is money very well spent and will go a long way with because of the reputation that SIFF already has.

The SIFF is a precious institution. It has enriched our lives profoundly. Its benefits to Singapore are large and long standing too. We encourage you to support it whole- heartedly.

We would like to meet you to for an opportunity to give you a sense of how the festival has benefited us. Please let us know when might be a good time to meet you.

Enclosed with this letter words from people who have benefited by the SIFF.

Yours sincerely,

(with 25 signatories)
Wee Li Lin, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, Gone Shopping
Kelvin Tong, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, The Maid, Love Story
Tan Pin Pin, Director, Singapore GaGa, Invisible City
Jasmine Ng, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, Pink Paddlers
Audrey Wong, Co-Director, Substation
Dave Chua, Programming Manager, Singapore Film Society
Yong Shu Chiang, Marketing manager, Singapore Film Society
Ben Slater, Author, Kinda Hot, about the filming of Saint Jack in Singapore
Boo Junfeng, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director
Sun Koh, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Producer, Lucky 7
Ho Choon Hiong, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Finalist, Director
Ho Tzu Nyen, Artist
Pok Yue Weng, Director, Superdong (Cannes)
Jacen Tan, Director, Tak Giu, Zo Gang
Victric Thng, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Finalist, Director, Locust. The Mole
Jan Uhde and Yvonne Ng Uhde, Authors, Latent Images, Film in Singapore
Ric Aw, Director, Ang Tau Mui
Sherman Ong, Director and photographer, Wanita Yang Berlari
Tania Sng, Silver Acreen Awards Finalist, Executive Producer, Cages
K. Rajagopal, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director
Gek Li San, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, Heave
Chew Tze Chuan, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Finalist, Director, Zombie Dogs, F
Zhang Wenjie, Film Programmer, National Museum Cinemateque
Kristin Saw, Film Programmer, Substation

cc Director, Media Development Authority
cc: Minister of Information, Communication and the Arts


“Before I was a filmmaker, I was a ticket boy, volunteering for SIFF. I remembered thousands and thousands of tickets I torn at the door and that was many years ago. In retrospect, it felt like the most honourable job I had in my life.”
– Victric Thng, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Finalist, Director, Locust. The Mole

SIFF has really launched me as a filmmaker…it gave me confidence when my short films won some awards there (in 1997, 1999 & 2003) and it gives me inspiration when I watch the wonderfully curated films there every year.
– Wee Li Lin, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, Gone Shopping

SIFF is the only festival I could think of to premiere Singapore GaGa. Opening it at any other festival is not the same. Opening at SIFF, I feel I have come home.
– Tan Pin Pin, Director, Singapore GaGa, Invisible City

My first cinematic awakening occurred during an SIFF screening when I was 18. I had no idea that I wanted to make films prior to that experience. Over the years, I learnt about other cultures, nuances, and made many invaluable contacts that helped me in my filmmaking journey. Not to mention the Best Director win for my short film “The Secret Heaven” that introduced me to the international scene. This lift opened many more doors that resulted in my subsequent projects, If SIFF can do that for someone like me who has no prior interest in culture or films, imagine what it can do for the many well-prepared minds out there.
– Sun Koh, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Producer, Lucky 7 Project

After attending SIFF for the first time in 1992, I went for New York Film Academy’s filmmaking workshops the following year. I made a short film “Loving Sappho” there and it was shortlisted in SIFF 1994 short film competition. Further encouraged, I made a few more short films on 16mm. Later I became the Director of Photography for Abdul Nizam’s “Datura”. It won the Best Short Film award in SIFF 1999. This year, I feel greatly honoured that SIFF has chosen my documentary film “F” as part of it’s opening programme. I’m going to make more films for Singapore and international audiences.
– Chew Tze Chuan, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Finalist, Director, Zombie Dogs, F

SIFF shaped a big part of my growing up. I dare to say that a major part of my beliefs were formed through the “difficult films” I watched. The values of film-buffing cannot be weighed by any economic meters. I hope that Singapore can continue to provide & give great support such unique event for the benefit of our future generations. It is important to know that the world is beautiful and diverse.
– Gek Li San, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, Heave

Even with the most meagre of means, SIFF has steadfastly been championing Singaporean and South East Asian films since its inception. SIFF’s position as platform for local and regional filmmakers to get international attention has been instrumental in pushing SEA cinema onto the world stage. Over the years, SIFF has emerged as the most crucial festival for SEA and Central Asian cinema, and stands as one of the most important festivals in Asia, alongside Pusan and Hong Kong.
– Sherman Ong, Director and photographer, Wanita Yang Berlari

“As Singapore matures into an international arts hub and as cinema becomes the world’s most accessible art form, a cultural institution like the SIFF is more crucial than ever.”
– Kelvin Tong, SIFF Silver Screen Awards Winner, Director, The Maid, Love Story

“The SIFF showcased Iranian, Korean and New Malaysian cinema well before they became popular. It developed many local filmmakers by showcasing groundbreaking films from around the world and through their shorts program. An excellent film festival like it is essential in ensuring Singaporean talent get a chance to see and connect with films and filmmakers around the world.”
– Dave Chua, Programming Manager, Singapore Film Society

“What’s always astounded me about SIFF is that it has achieved something very few festivals manage to do – a genuine excitement and buzz around cinema as an art-form. It’s not about star names, red carpet photo opportunities, or previewing a much-hyped film that’s getting released anyway; all easy ways to get attention. Rather SIFF has always been about the discovery and adventure of cinema; and that is what makes it such a precious and important event in the cultural calendar. It’s influence can be seen everywhere in Singapore, from indie distributors to venues specialising in independent or foreign-language film, all of whom owe a great deal to the way SIFF has nurtured the film culture here and allowed it to mature. But, it’s had a tough time lately, media coverage of the festival has declined significantly over the last five years, as has funding and sponsorship, and the intensely competitive film festival climate means that getting films is more difficult and expensive than ever. So the future of SIFF looks uncertain. It seems to be merely surviving when it should be flourishing. Lets hope that more funders and sponsors see the light in the coming years. Singapore needs SIFF.”
– Ben Slater, author Kinda Hot
“Ever since I returned to Singapore in 2000, after studying overseas, the Singapore International Film Festival has been a vital and indispensable component in my film education–an annual treat. From Eternity and a Day, to Possible Worlds, to No Man’s Land, to Lilya 4-ever, to Osama, to The Giant Buddhas; the films of SIFF have taken me on many fantastic journeys, and the film fans of today–and tomorrow–deserve the same opportunity.”
– Yong Shu Chiang, Marketing manager, Singapore Film Society

“There are only so many moments in one’s life that I can, on retrospect, claim as important turning points. But I am certain that quite a few of these turning points in my life so far, had occurred in the darkness of a cinema theater, before a screen, where splendid images were projected, courtesy of the Singapore International Film Festival.”
– Ho Tzu Nyen, Artist

“Watching movies during the 1st SIFF was a life changing experience for me. Watching Eric Khoo’s short films and other lesser known features from around the world only confirmed my interest and passion in filmmaking.”
– Pok Yue Weng, Director, Superdong (Cannes)

“My passion for film stems from the excellent programming that the SIFF puts together: films that move me, help me understand humanity, and most importantly make me want to be part of the industry with the potential to produce such artistic phenomena that can speak to the rest of the world.”
-Kristin Saw, Film Programmer, Substation

“The SIFF is an internationally respected festival of substance and integrity which has been instrumental to the revival of Singapore cinema. Its growth is essential to Singapore’s aspirations to develop its film industry and to promote the city’s image as a centre of arts and culture. It deserves to be strongly supported by the government.”
– Jan Uhde and Yvonne Ng Uhde, Authors, Latent Images, Film in Singapore

It was more than a decade ago that I watched my very first film at SIFF, “Far Away So Close” by Wim Wenders. It was then I knew that I had to be part of creating cinema. Now, I’m striving to make that happen. I hope SIFF will continue to inspire many more generations of filmmakers.
– Ric Aw, Director, Ang Tau Mui

“Over the past 20 years, the SIFF has built up a strong international reputation for its artistic integrity and originality. It has selected and showcased little-seen and little-known Asian filmmakers, helping many gain critical recognition worldwide. It put Singapore on the global map of film festivals. The SIFF has also helped Singapore develop ‘cultural capital’ and nurtured Singapore talent – two of the main thrusts of our state’s cultural policy. If Singapore is to become one of the world’s top creative cities, we need to support and recognise artistic integrity and support SIFF.”
– Audrey Wong, Co-Director, Substation