Leong Puiyee: “Being a part of Southeast Asia, it is only natural to highlight the stories from the region.”
Understanding short films as an artistic medium for storytelling
Leong Puiyee is senior manager at Objectifs – Centre for Film and Photography, a non-profit visual arts space in Singapore. With more than 15 years of experience in the field, she curated the ‘Women in Film’ and ‘Asian Film Focus’ annual programmes at Objectifs, and was also Programme Manager (Short Films) for the Singapore International Film Festival (2014-19). She has also been a member of the selection committee for the Busan International Film Festival (2023), Bangkok ASEAN Film Festival (2020-21), and SeaShorts Film Festival (2017-18), among others.
What is it about the medium of film/short films that sustains your interest?
Film is a reflection of life, our emotions, the people and world around us. Being immersed into a world for that 10 minutes or 2 hours allows us to feel sad or happy, to ponder about certain social issues, to understand a culture that we are unfamiliar with. To me, that is the beautiful thing about film, as sometimes you do not know what to expect when you are in that world for that time period.
The Objectifs Film Library is an educational and research resource focused on short films from Southeast Asia. Could you talk more about the approach to this collection and the public programming around it?
The Objectifs Film Library collection was started with a focus on short films from Southeast Asia, and to bring attention to the importance of the short film medium. Being a part of Southeast Asia, it is only natural to highlight the stories from the region.
As part of the Library’s focus on short films, a programme we organised around it is the Objectifs Film Club. The Film Club is a quarterly event that highlights a short from the Film Library, and it features discussions between the filmmaker and arts/film practitioners about their films.
We also did an exhibition titled ‘Objectifs Cinema: Now Showing’, to celebrate the richness and diversity of Southeast Asian short films from the Film Library. Selected short films were screened over the course of the exhibition based on a thematic approach. There were public talks with film professionals to complement the exhibition.
Through these programmes, it offers the opportunity for filmmakers and enthusiasts to gather and exchange ideas.
You have curated a number of film programmes such as ‘Women in Film’ and ‘Asian Film Focus’, and was also Programme Manager (Short Films) for the Singapore International Film Festival from 2014 to 2019. What is a trend you noticed in organising these events?
Because the world and people are constantly changing, the stories that people are telling tend to be a reflection of the times. Personal stories continue to be a constant in the film landscape, as it is a rumination of the filmmaker’s self and life.
Objectifs collaborated with S.E.A. Focus on the film screening programme ‘OFF Focus’ for this year’s edition, and will be doing so again in 2024. How do collaborations with art platforms such as S.E.A. Focus align with Objectif’s mission of fostering dialogue and advancing appreciation of visual storytelling?
Collaborating with a partner like S.E.A. Focus is an important part of what we do at Objectifs as it not only allows us to support artistic networks, but to also foster a dynamic and creative environment for both parties.
Building on the previous question, can you talk about the differences and/or the draw of artist-made films as compared to those made by filmmakers?
The wonderful thing about the film medium is that it can offer a breadth of perspectives and there can be many ways to present an idea or story. With the ‘OFF Focus’ programme, it allows us to present works that challenge our understanding of storytelling, and to broaden one’s outlook on films.
What are your hopes for the future of short films in Singapore and the region?
I hope that the short film medium can be seen as an art form in its own right, breaking away from the notion that short films are a “stepping stone” to a filmmaker’s feature film career. Short films are more than that. It allows for experimentation, play and you can take more risks with short films compared to a feature film. And of course, I would wish for more people to embrace and appreciate the beauty of short stories.
This interview has been edited.