*This article was originally published in our 2021 Programme Booklet. It has been adapted and reformatted for the web.
The Projector: Singapore’s leading independent alternative cinema
“Movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have, these reactions [to movies] can seem the most personal and, maybe the most important, imaginable,” writes Pauline Kael, beloved film critic for The New Yorker in For Keeps: 30 Years at the Movies.
One of the most prolific film critics of the 20th century, Kael’s voice influenced public opinion of cinema during her prime and was a trusted voice for good movies—including Nikki Draper’s father. An avid reader of her reviews, he would bring his family to watch any film Kael recommended, no matter how obscure. So began Nikki’s love for going to the theatres.
“I just loved the feeling of being in a place and being completely absorbed in what was going on screen and forgetting yourself,” faculty advisor Nikki says.
There’s a turning point for everyone who comes into the world of cinema; a defining moment when someone is absolutely, irrevocably captured by what they see on screen. Alternative cinema, with all its provocations, works the same way.
All it takes is one film, one scene to make you go ‘What The?!’ and you’re hooked.
Nikki’s first ‘What The?!’ moment was when she first watched Quentin Tarantino’s seminal Reservoir Dogs (1992). Jumping to about six-inches off her seat, she was ready to bolt from the tirade of gore and violence. It was only when Tim Roth began his (in)famous ‘commode story’ scene that she changed her mind. The multi-layered storytelling coupled with dynamic camera work was far ahead of its time, and was enough for her to sit back down and finish the movie.
That was her entry point to a different world of cinema. Not everyone is ready for such provocative films, and that’s okay. No one expects you to be.
“Maybe you’re not ready for something super challenging but you’re curious. You just need to find your gateway film that works for you,” Nikki adds.
For the first time, rather than decide the festival lineup by an abstract theme, the decision for the 14th Perspectives Film Festival was decided by an emotion we hoped to elicit from the audience: Shock.
How, then, can we give our audience their very own ‘What The?!’ moment?
Provocative films are supposed to be interesting, not torturous. What really matters is how you take the film as it is—even if you have differing opinions, you’re still thinking, deliberating and talking.
“Difficult subject matter, matters. We want people to face the films on its own terms, demanding as it may be,” says Jereca, head of the programming team.
Still from On the Silver Globe by Andrzej Żuławski
The core of Perspectives Film Festival has always been about seeking out different perspectives and stories. Another man’s shock-factor is somebody else’s fever dream, or someone else’s living trauma. From the magical horror of Mexican drug cartels, whimsical indie features, dysfunctional sci-fis, to singing puppet babies, you definitely won’t be cruising through the films.
In hopes of generating conversation, the different films cover sensitive, heavy topics. Plunging neck-first (watch The River to get the joke) into themes best explored through the eyes of someone else allows the audience to formulate their own opinions from a safe, detached distance. One of our writers has even posited a contentious argument against violence in cinema.
Still from The River by Tsai Ming-Liang
“When discussing heavy ‘taboo’ topics, it’s hard to find a window for such conversations to emerge. But films open that window of opportunity for people to have that platform to talk about it,” says faculty co-advisor Eternality Tan, whom our team members affectionately call ET.
However, with the start of 2020 reading like the first few minutes of a dystopian thriller (think 2012), there’s no need to cross-examine why people don’t want to watch films with heavy content. It’s perfectly understandable why watching alternative cinema isn’t exactly your ideal go-to plan on a Friday night.
Nevertheless, ET argues that watching provocative films is a lot like “eating your cinematic vegetables”. Sure, they might not be your favourite, but they’re necessary.
“Ever so often, alternative cinema gives us something different for the palate to digest,” ET elaborates: “Because it’s alternative, it’s different, and that’s a breath of fresh air.”
This brand of cinema is useful in testing our boundaries and airing our thoughts, making the area where we stand on fringe or lesser known issues a little less grey. And I think we could all do with a little more of that.
ET posits that in today’s climate, opposing views to what is mainstream have little room to explore, grow, or be discussed in a safe space. The freedom to look at things from a different point of view, whether it be badly perceived or not, has little room to be thought out and rationalised.
Still from Belladonna of Sadness by Eiichi Yamamoto
“It is our duty as filmmakers to stir something meaningful in our audience and be willing to deal with the fallout that comes along with that. The more a film challenges an audience, the more resistance it will inspire”, writes Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Guy Davidi.
While it’s hard to pin down what is considered ‘provocative’ as the paradigm constantly shifts and differs between individuals, these films undoubtedly provide an avenue for us to be jolted out of the mundanity of everyday life.
“If you’re watching our films and you feel like you’re having a familiar experience, that’s not what we’re trying to do. We want to give you cinematic experiences that may be disconcerting to you—and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” muses ET.
These films aren’t supposed to be an easy watch. Perusing over fifty films, our programming team had to balance the line-up with enough wacky, enough heavy, and enough realness to leave people fidgeting in their seats.
The stories that these films tell are gut-wrenching, ludicrous, inspiring, confusing, beautiful, horrifying. Maybe because the world we live in is so inexplicably absurd, these films lend a comforting space that welcomes the bizarre. It’s precisely because cinema is so multi-faceted, that they allow even the most dastardly and loony versions of ourselves to find some resonance.
The programming team admits that they, too, were not as familiar (or comfortable) with the genre of films they found, initially having their own ‘What The?!’ moment. That was when they knew, as long as people come to the festival and leave with more than they had before, they would consider the festival a success on all counts.
“Now that we’ve watched these films, we’re not the same people we were before,” says Jolie from our programming team.
Maybe Kael is right. Maybe the only thing important—and why films have stood the test of time—is how we take the films for ourselves. It’s how we let it absorb into our skin, dissecting, infecting and rolling off the tips of our tongues, the private satisfaction of that reaction being wholly our own.