Director’s Note (Apr-Jun 2015)
The Asian Film Archive (AFA) was established in 2005. The National Library Board incorporated the National Archives of Singapore in March 2013, followed by the AFA in January 2014. The AFA serves as a repository for films from all over Asia. Many fine Asian films make their rounds on international festival circuits, winning critical acclaim and awards, but are often not released commercially. Without the preservation work of the AFA, these films – which are part of our Asian heritage and identity might be forgotten or lost forever.
The AFA celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, having come a long way from its simple beginnings but always adhering to its mission “to save, explore and share the Art of Asian Cinema”. In this issue, executive director of the AFA, Karen Chan, takes a look back at the AFA’s first 10 years, sharing its vision and the challenges it faces in film archiving.
This year, the 19th South East Asia-Pacific Audiovisual Archives Association (SEAPAVAA) Conference will be held in Singapore from 22 to 28 April, and is hosted by the National Library Board. We look forward to this significant meeting of representatives from film archive institutions from all over Asia.
This issue of BiblioAsia is aptly dedicated to the subject of film.
Few people are aware that cinema in Singapore has had a long history, dating as far back as 1896. Bonny Tan traces its development from the arrival of the Magic Lantern – the precursor of the modern cinema – to Singapore’s earliest indigenous films: Xin Ke (1927, The Immigrant) and Leila Majnun (1934). After the lull period during the Japanese Occupation came the golden age of Malay cinema, from 1947 to 1972. This 25-year period gave rise to more than 250 films as well as local celebrity stars like P. Ramlee, Jins Shamsudin, Siput Sarawak and Maria Menado (of Pontianak movie fame), among others. Michelle Heng and Nor Afidah Abd Rahman examine the films and studios of this illustrious era.
Singapore has been an alluring set location for Western filmmakers since the early 1930s. Our guest writer Ben Slater looks at movies shot in Singapore over the years and examines foreign perceptions of Singapore that range from the seedy and the exotic to the mysterious and futuristic.
After the 1970s, local filmmaking again crawled to a standstill and remained so for the next two decades. Raphaël Millet discusses the resurgence of Singapore films from the 1990s to the present, looking through the lens of established auteurs such as Eric Khoo and Jack Neo as well as newer talents like Boo Junfeng, Anthony Chen and Ken Kwek.
Guest columnist and two-time film director Glen Goei mulls over his transition from the stage to the screen in “My Leap into Movies”. His remake of Pontianak – an homage to the golden age of Malay film in Singapore – is currently in production and slated for release in 2017.
Also preserving memories from yesteryear is Wong Han Min, a collector of film-related memorabilia. He shares items such as old ticket stubs, posters, advertisements and other ephemera, giving us a glimpse into movie-going in the past. The older generation will remember buying cinema tickets with seat numbers scrawled in crayon; they will also recall those helpful ushers without whom many would have ended up stumbling in the dark and taking the wrong seat.
While commercial films have a successful track record in Singapore, art house movies have often struggled to find their footing. Gracie Lee examines the challenges faced by alternative films in “Culture on Celluloid”.
We are lucky in Singapore to have hosted many film festivals and to enjoy easy access to numerous films from all over the globe. More than just entertainment, films open a window into different cultures and societies.
Ms Tay Ai Cheng
National Library Board