Reel Exchanges

The Singapore Film Society fosters international goodwill and promotes cross-cultural understanding through regular screenings, film festivals and film exchanges that showcase the spectrum of world cinema.




eritage and movie buff, Chew Keng Kiat, decided last July to fuse his two passions together. As the marketing manager of the Singapore Film Society (SFS), he founded the Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition (SHSFC) which showcases the unique heritage of Singapore through the eyes of budding filmmakers.

Setting up the SHSFC as part of the SFS calendar was a natural progression from Chew’s interest in heritage appreciation. He has, on numerous occasions, been involved in or organised visits and walks to heritage sites and nature trails in various parts of Singapore, like Bukit Brown Cemetery.

It also added another dimension to the SFS mission to promote film across cultures and disciplines.

Indeed, the SFS, founded in the 1950s, has a long history of shining the light on different cultures through the medium of film. Originally started by British expatriates interested in watching films not shown on mainstream cinema screens, the society’s earliest members included both Singaporeans and expats, and counted university lecturers and people from the diplomatic community among its ranks.

Over the years, SFS also cultivated strong ties with diplomatic and cultural organisations and helped promote the appreciation of film across cultures through screenings and film festivals.


Its latest cross-cultural effort happened when Chew, 42, was in George Town, Penang, last August, and chanced upon a poster for the Kaki Lima Short Film Competition, a cultural initiative of George Town World Heritage Incorporated, which spearheads efforts to safeguard the city’s cultural legacy.

Kaki Lima, which was then in its first edition, aims to unearth young talent capturing precious aspects of Penang through film. Chew realised that its mission was similar to that of the SHSFC, which he had founded just the month before. In that instant, he saw an opportunity for the two competitions to come together to showcase the two cities’ heritage and culture.

Once he returned to Singapore, he got in touch with the Kaki Lima organisers and their discussions later culminated in a film exchange supported by the Singapore International Foundation. As part of this exchange, this May, a selection of films from both competitions was screened in both Singapore and Penang.

There were also talks and interactions among audience members, organisers and filmmakers; as well as exhibitions and forums, including one that discussed novel conservation ideas in Singapore and Malaysia.

Stills from last yearʼs shortlisted fi lms for the inaugural Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition showcased different art and cultural aspects of Singapore.

This partnership also served as a platform to bridge the two communities together through arts, heritage and culture by raising awareness of the cultural and historical diversity of Penang and Singapore.

Chew says: “The Singapore-Penang film exchange helped audiences to appreciate the vibrant culture and heritage that both sides have, and how similar we are with each other.

As organisers we have also learnt much from each other. It was heartening to see participants tackle subjects that they would not normally come across, for example, of another culture.”

Apart from SHSFC, the SFS has also initiated other themed events, such as Indigo, a festival of Indian films; and the Singapore Chinese Film Festival (SCFF), which features new and classic Chinese-language works from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia.

SFS chairman Kenneth Tan, 50, says SFS has been integral in bringing people and communities together, both in a literal sense within cinema halls and through the abstract – ideas and opinions exchanged through conversations generated by its events.

TOP, LEFT: A film still from an entry on local Chinese opera groups in last yearʼs Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition (SHSFC). TOP, RIGHT: Behind the scenes of a film production for the SHSFC.

“The Singapore-Penang fi lm exchange helped audiences to appreciate the vibrant culture and heritage that both sides have, and how similar we are with each other.”
Chew Keng Kiat, Singapore Heritage Short Film Competition founder

In terms of cultivating communities, bringing together the local film community has been of keen interest to the society as well. Says SFS vice-chairman and SCFF director David Lee, 35: “We believe in engagement and contributing to the local film community, and we often programme local feature films that include post-screening dialogue sessions with filmmakers.”

The SFS is also thinking of ways to connect a new generation with the past through the SHSFC.

The feedback from audiences of SHSFC is that the competition made them think more about heritage, and the need to preserve and conserve what is still alive and around us, says Chew.

“We see the competition as a great platform to engage audiences and participants, in making and watching Singaporean short films,” he adds.




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