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[InC-terview] Perspectives Film Festival programmer, Julian Toh!

By Say Peng  /  10 Oct 2017 (Tuesday)

Launched in 2008 and in its 10th anniversary this year, Perspectives Film Festival is an annual practicum course run by Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, NTU. 

It aims to immerse students in the real-world hands-on experience of organising a film festival, which includes budgeting, programming, publicity and marketing, audience development and ticketing.   

Despite its student origin, the quality of the festival is equivalent to some of the other local film festivals run by professionals. The main draw and strength of the festival has always been its strong thematic programming. Every year, the team hones in on a one-word theme and programs films under the banner of that theme. This year's theme is Rebel and the festival team has curated an expanded slate of films. 

InCinemas speaks to the head of programming, Julian Toh, a fourth year undergraduate, about his experiences.

InCinemas: Can you introduce yourselves? How did you become interested in film programming?
Julian: Perspectives Film Festival is an annual festival completely run by students of NTU. Each year we come together, select a theme, and then curate the films that fit that theme. This is our 10th anniversary for the festival so it’s really special to us. We’ve come a long way and I believe we’ve build a loyal following.

Personally I became interested in film programming because I watch a lot of films and realise that not everyone has the same time and patience to go through so many films. Yet there are many hidden gems of cinema that don’t get a huge marketing budget like blockbusters, and so they get lost under the radar quite easily.

As film programmers, we bring together a carefully curated selection of films that represent the theme in a unique way, with the hope of exposing our audiences to great films that didn’t get their chance to shine. I like to think that I am putting my effort to some good use in film programming, and it makes me glad if the audiences like the films we curate.

InCinemas: Why the theme of ‘Rebel’ this year? What are some of the other themes that you all have considered?
Julian: We wanted to look for a theme that represent aspects of being edgy, non-conformity, and overall not entirely broad to be misconstrued. I think another theme that came to us earlier on was “Technology”. After a good amount of deliberation, the team decided that “Rebels” was a fitting theme to celebrate our 10th anniversary and its achievements.

Film still from I Am Not A Witch

InCinemas: Can you share with us the process of programming for the festival? How did you all narrow down the thousands of possible films to show to the final 11 films?
Julian: So once we select our theme, we brainstorm to find the films that suit it. We also need to fulfil our recurrent, overarching theme of “Breakthroughs in Cinema”, so that was not so easy. We also wanted to program a good diversity of films from around the world, as well as diversity in the theme representation.

The theme “Rebels” is not just having some rebellious protagonists in the film. It is to us the different types of non-conformity. Therefore we have films that rebelled against film production codes, film form, genres, industrial standards etc. The final 11 films were a result of this process, and we’re very proud of them. This is where the programming team's film knowledge is put to test the most.

InCinemas: Can you share with us something unexpected that you have learnt about programming in the course of programming for this festival?
Julian: The unexpected thing I learnt is that there is no one approach to programming. Sometimes you just need to understand that different people see things in a different light, and that’s why I love programming. The diverse subjectivity of the team brings a very unique line-up that wouldn’t have been the same should it have been one person’s work.

Film still from The Lure

InCinemas: What is your favourite film in the program and why should audiences watch it?
Julian: It’s not really my style to pick favourites, but I have a great adoration for Blow-up. It is Antonioni’s first work in English, and it has all the makings of a masterpiece. Bringing out the early indications of what is to become the swinging 70s, Antonioni channels his love for hypnotic, dream-like realities into a gripping mystery that leaves audiences wanting more than just a resolution. The film is a rebel against the tight production codes in the US at that time, and definitely made a bold statement about artistic integrity and freedom of a filmmaker. If you appreciate an aesthetically pleasing piece of mystery that is full of energy, challenges your state of mind but at the same time gives you ample time to compose it, then Blow-up is your kind of thing.
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