Most of us know about the Singapore Film Society in the modern day context. But do you know that SFS has been around for more than six decades? While our mission to promote film appreciation has not changed, the way SFS is run and organised has evolved over the years.
Click on the tabs to read about how SFS developed over the different time periods!
In post-war Singapore, it could be said that movie lovers had a fairly good selection of Western titles to choose from on a weekly basis.
These even included “Continental films” — European titles — though one film fan was not overly impressed by the quality, and lamented the preponderance of commercial fare, such as flicks starring the screen idols and goddesses of the day, such as Esther Williams.
“It is strange that a city the size of Singapore has no small cinema where more discriminating film-goers can see the best films that world has to offer…” said this individual in an October 1954 forum letter to a daily newspaper.
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More forum letters followed. A representative of the Selangor Film Society suggested film fans in Singapore should “get busy and get organised”.
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And they did.
The first record of a meeting by the new Singapore Film Society took place on 17 October 1954, at 6.30pm on a Sunday, at the British Council Hall, Stamford Road. The newspaper notice stated that “people interested in the screening of classical films are invited to attend”.
Less than a week later, a reader wrote in to the newspaper, and opined that a film society would be “a great asset” to Singapore.
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The Singapore Film Society, under the chairmanship of a Mr Eric Mottram, planned its first screening to take place on 14 November 1954.
The film would be The Blue Angel (1930), which was directed by Josef von Sternberg and featured a star-making turn by a previously unknown Marlene Dietrich, who would memorably sing her signature tune, “Falling in Love Again (Can’t Help It)”. The turnout for the screening was so great that the society had to turn away close to 100 people.
While this first screening took place at the British Council Hall, the society began at the former University of Malaya and was initially based at the university’s Guild House at Evans Road.
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OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AS A SOCIETY
In 1958, the Singapore Film Society was officially registered as society under the Societies Ordinance, a precursor to the Societies Act.
Other films the society screened in the 1950s include:
- The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
- Nanook of the North (1922)
- Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1925)
- the Marx Brothers movie A Day at the Races (1937)
- the 1947 film Hue and Cry — considered one of the first Ealing comedies
- Jacque Tati’s Mr Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
- a 1951 documentary on sculptor Henry Moore
In the following decades since it started, the society continued to present an eclectic mix of films.
- Jean Renoir’s La Marseillaise (1938)
- Gone with the Wind (1939)
- Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941)
- Kon Ichikawa’s Burmese Harp (1956)
- Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957)
- Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (1963)
- Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 film The Gospel According to St Matthew
- Akira Kurosawa’s Red Beard (1965)
- Alain Robbe-Grillet’s The Man Who Lies
- Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise (1966) and Accident (1967)
- Jean-Luc Goddard’s Le Week-end (1967)
- the Brazilian crime drama Antonio das Mortes (1969)
- Mike Leigh’s first film Bleak Moments (1971)
In the 1970s, the society embarked on fruitful collaborations with the Alliance Francaise and the British Council to present French and British film festivals. The latter featured six films in its inaugural edition:
- Lucky Jim (1957)
- Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)
- A Taste of Honey (1961)
- The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962)
- This Sporting Life (1963)
- King and Country (1964)
In the next two decades, mini country-centric film festivals would continue to take place with the society lending a hand. In 1981, the Swedish Embassy and the society collaborated on the first Swedish Film Festival in Singapore, with three films of Ingmar Bergman and two of Alf Sjoberg. In 1983, the society collaborated with the Japanese Embassy to present an inaugural five-film Japanese Film Festival, which included Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo Story (1953).
In the 1980s, the society also presented films including:
- Casablanca (1942)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
- George Lucas’ American Graffiti (1973)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
- Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975)
- Breaking Away (1979)
- King Hu’s Legend of the Mountains (1979)
- Tsui Hark’s The Butterfly Murders (1979)
- a tribute to the late Humphrey Bogart
In 1987, in keeping with the society’s key mission to promote an appreciation of films of merit, as they are intended to be seen, the society successfully appealed against the local authorities’ decision to ban Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth (1984), and subsequently screened the film.
The 1990s saw the society continue to offer a diverse slate of films, including:
- Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
- Alfred Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man (1956)
- Luis Bunuel’s Belle de jour
- Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and Chinatown (1974)
- Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities (1974)
- Grease (1978)
- Federico Fellini’s City of Women
- Jesus of Montreal (1989)
- Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness (1989)
- Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Veronique (1991)
By the tail-end of the 1990s, the society had become synonymous with film festivals, especially country- or region-focused ones. It had played a part in vary degrees in the staging of the following festivals that existed at that point: the British, French, German, Italian, European Union, Israeli, Sri Lankan, Japanese, Mandarin, Australian, and Mexican film festivals.
A NEW HOME
In the society’s early years, it screened films at the British Council Hall at Stamford Road, then the Cultural Centre (which later became the Drama Centre) at Fort Canning Rise, and also the Regional English Language Centre at Orange Grove Road.
The society also screened films at the Goethe Institut, which has moved several times over the years — the Goethe has been located at Finlayson Green, Singapore Shopping Centre and Winsland House II.
In September 1996, the society set up its base at Golden Village Marina multiplex, which would become the main venue for its screenings for the nearly the next two decades.
Besides its close relationship with GV, in the past decade, the society has been proud to partner with various exhibitors and cultural institutions to use their venues for its screenings. These include Shaw, Cathay, Filmgarde, Alliance Francaise, The Substation, The Arts House, the National Museum of Singapore, and *SCAPE.
The society is currently based at Golden Village Suntec City, following the closure of GV Marina in 2014.
At the turn of the millennium, going into the 2000s, the society continued to be known for organising or co-organising film festivals. In 2000, there was the Nordic Film Festival, organised in partnership with five Scandinavian countries.
In 2002, the society organised the first Asian Children’s Film Festival, in conjunction with the Asian Children’s Festival; it also collaborated on a major retrospective of the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder with the Goethe Institut. And there was the first-ever China Film Festival.
In 2003, the society organised its first Latin Film Festival; this was also the year the society organised one of its standalone festivals, Indigo, a showcase of films from and about India.
The following year, the society collaborated on the New Zealand and Brazilian film festivals, and presented one of its most popular standalone festivals, Animation Nation, a showcase of international animated works that, as of 2016, has run a total of nine editions thus far.
In 2005, the society presented another standalone event, the Fantastic Film Festival; a year later, it collaborated on the ASEAN Film Festival.
In the past 10 years, technology and the burgeoning choices at the box office for film fans has meant that the society’s role in originating and supporting film festivals has changed. More and more festivals exist now, and more and more foreign films — previously a staple of the festival circuit — have gotten commercial releases. Furthermore, more and more quality films can be viewed on DVD or on pay TV and video on demand, or on via online streaming and downloads.
Still, the society has endeavoured to keep presenting films of quality and merit.
FILMS PRESENTED IN THE 2000s
- Ken Loach’s Kes (1969)
- Grey Gardens (1975)
- Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
- Errol Morris’ The Thin Blue Line (1988)
- Atom Egoyan’s The Adjuster (1991) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
- Bela Tarr’s Satantango (1994) and Werckmeister Harmonies (2000)
- Mike Figgis’ Timecode (2000)
- Werner Herzog’s The White Diamond (2004) and Rescue Dawn (2006
- Moolade (2004), Tony Takitani (2004)
- Alexander Sokurov’s The Sun (2005)
- 49 Up (2005)
- Majid Majidi’s The Willow Tree (2005)
- Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo (2006)
- Battleship Potemkin (with a new score by Pet Shop Boys), Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen’s Singapore Dreaming (2006)
- Homeless FC (2006), Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
- The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006)
- 4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days (2007)
- Planet Terror (2007)
- Doze Niu’s What on Earth Have I Done Wrong (2007)
- A Month of Hungry Ghosts (2008)
- Paolo Sorrentino’s Il Divo (2008)
- Burma VJ (2008)
- The Class (2008)
- Dear Zachary (2008)
- Afghan Star (2009)
- Sex Volunteer (2009)
FILMS PRESENTED IN 2010 – 2013
- The Tiger Factory (2010)
- Let the Bullets Fly (2010)
- Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
- Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry (2010)
- Steve McQueen’s Shame (2011)
- You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011)
- Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry (2011)
- Elena (2011)
- Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film (2011)
- Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
- 56 Up (2012)
- Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta (2012)
- Park Chan-wook’s Stoker (2013)
- Ilo Ilo (2013)
- Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Like Father, Like Son (2013)
- Her (2013)
- Under the Skin (2013)
- Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013)
- Foxcatcher (2014)
- Transcendence (2014)
- Boundless (2014)
- Life Itself (2014)
- Ida (2014)
For films presented from 2014 onwards, click here.
In more recent times, we have incepted the popular Singapore Chinese Film Festival in 2013 (it celebrated its fifth edition in 2017), the Heritage Short Film Competition in 2014, and also collaborated with the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS) for the MINDS Film Festival in 2016.
2016 also saw the society showcase a special presentation of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy. There are plans for more exciting and thought-provoking film screenings, showcases and festivals for 2017 and beyond.