DIFF MEETS: Philip Cheah

Sun Oct 06,2013

Hi Philip. What are you up to at the moment?

I’m working trying to watch films for DIFF. There’s a lot to watch.

How many films are you going to be watching this year?

So far, I’m watching something like 160-180 titles. And my colleagues are watching other films too so you can imagine the scale of how much we’re just chomping through.

You must have honed your film watching skills to a fine art now. Do you have a particular tactic when you’re faced with such a number to view?

I think normally when you get to this age, the max you can do a day is about six features before your brain just becomes mush.

How did you become involved with DIFF?

What really drove me to DIFF was that I started getting interested in the idea of Arab cinema being a part of Asian film and then I realised that a lot of Asians don’t really watch Arab cinema and a lot of Arabs don’t’ realise that they live in the spectrum of Asian film. So during my time working at the Singapore International Film Festival I started to do programs on Arab cinema, and that’s how I got to know Masoud [Amralla Ali Ali – DIFF’s Artistic Director]. It’s interesting for me being in Dubai trying to build a cultural bridge to local Arab audience on Asian film.

Are there similarities between Asian and Arabic cinema?

It’s difficult to say becase Asian cinema is so diverse. But I think the similarity is in the notion of patience, because Asia tends to be very spiritual and philosophical at heart and I think that cuts across Arab culture as well.

When you’re programming for DIFF, do you also take into account the large and varied Asian audience living here I the UAE.

Actually, that’s the natural base audience for what we do. That’s why, for example, Indian cinema is so popular in the festival. I’m still waiting for the film buff Arab audience. I believe that it exists and I’ve met a few of them. But I know that that’s always where the tree grows from. The film buff culture is the seed and that’s the one that we need to keep maturing and then the size will grow.

What sort of challenges do you face in trying to choose the films to screen at the festival? It must be difficult to get everything in.

That’s really a brainsmasher. Last year I was so sad that a lot of the things that I really liked we couldn’t fit in and I’m anticipating that that’s going to happen again this year. It’s getting so much harder because the annual production in Asia is increasing. There are more interesting directors emerging. And we have very limited slots. The only thing that I comfort myself is that just as there are so many more films in thee world today, there are so many more film festivals as well. So if it doesn’t go in here, it’ll go in somewhere else. The sea is endless and the new waves have to break somewhere.

Can you tell us some highlights over the years

The highlights are the directors who we establish at DIFF. For example, there’s a young Kazakhstani director by the name of Adilkan Yerzhanov. We broke him with his short film, we got this in and then we broke him with his first feature. His second feature was taken by another festival somewhere in the world, but now we hope to have his third. These are the exciting things. Last year we broke a Singaporean documentary on North Korea and it became the most highly watched film in the Dubai Market. The screenings were sold out. That was a film that we didn’t really have any expectations for, but it just caught on. So these are the things that you always are very happy about.

What do you do outside of DIFF?

I’m work for several other festivals. I do the South East Asian film festival here in Singapore, I work for the Shanghai film festival, the Jakarta Asian film festival. Then I’m also on the nominations council for the Asia Pacific Screen Awards. The list goes on. I’m also a big toy collector, mainly just movie related stuff like Star Wars. I love collecting vintage Action Men.

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