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"Ilo Ilo" first Singapore film shown at Washington film festival

This week has seen the US capital host its annual international film festival, and among the over seventy films on offer at Washington DC's Filmfest was its first ever entry from Singapore.

WASHINGTON: This week has seen the US capital host its annual international film festival, and among the over seventy films on offer at Washington DC's Filmfest was its first ever entry from Singapore.

“Ilo Ilo”, the debut feature by director Anthony Chen, tells the story of a middle class family and their Filipino nanny struggling with the impact of the 1997 financial crisis.

Having won several international plaudits across Europe, Asia and the Middle East, the movie has made the trip to the US capital, as part of Washington DC’s annual international film festival.

DC residents of all ages and backgrounds turned out for the festival's first ever Singaporean film.

"Ilo Ilo" won the Camera d'Or at last year's Cannes Film Festival, and it has been shown at the Philadelphia Film Festival since then. However, this is the first time that Washington DC's international film lovers get to see it on the big screen.

Filmfest DC deputy director Shirin Ghareeb said this is partly because films from Singapore are rare, making this week's premiere particularly special.

“Ilo Ilo is an exceptional film. Of course, it's nice to have a film from Singapore in the festival; it's unusual to have a film from Singapore because I don't think there are many films from Singapore,” she said.

“Our audience is diverse and we have audience members from that region but we have a very curious audience, and we have people who are very curious to see where what films from that region look like and what film-makers want to convey.”

That curiosity was not disappointed. Whether they had a personal connection to Singapore and the Philippines, or were just looking for a new experience, many Washingtonians clearly related to what they saw.

It is rare for any films from Singapore or the Asia Pacific region to make it to US cinemas.

“When we bring films from South East Asia, or a lot of the films that we bring in the festival to Washington or to film festivals in the US, they go back to their country of origin,” said Ms Ghareeb.

“They don't have the opportunity to be shown on cineplexes, on American screens. They don't get picked up by American distributors so they never get shown again on American screens, and American audiences don't have a chance to see them, if it weren't for film festivals or cultural organisations that will bring them."

But despite the enthusiasm for "Ilo Ilo", which won high scores in the festival's informal poll, it may be the final such film Washingtonians will be able to see locally.

Filmfest DC faces a deep financial shortfall, as a result of tight city budgets and rising costs.

Organisers are fighting to raise the money to keep this cultural showcase going, but any future features from Asia Pacific directors, and elsewhere in the world, may face a more uncertain future in the US capital next year.  

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