Design is a very intimidating subject to explain to people. But when you disguise it as entertainment, it works – people have a natural attraction to it,’ says Felix Ng, 31, the director and curator of A Design Film Festival (DFF). Featuring documentary films focused on design and its subcultures – architecture, fashion, pop culture, performance art, technology, photography, product design and more – the festival was the first of its kind in Asia (and second in the world) when it launched in 2010, thanks to a joint collaboration between local creative multidisciplinary studio Anonymous, the now-defunct arts patron Old School and local independent cinema Sinema.
‘The creation of the festival was very accidental,’ says Ng of DFF’s freestyle beginnings. In 2010, it screened eight films to an audience of 1,800; 2011 saw those numbers doubled, with 16 films – along with a tour that brought the festival to cities like Berlin, Taipei, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. In 2012, DFF made its inaugural appearance in Portland, Oregon (while skipping Singapore).
Now that they’re back, there are a few changes in store. ‘This year is a lot more exciting,’ says Germaine Chong, 28, co-founder of Anonymous along with Ng, who are the sole organisers for the festival. ‘We’re doing everything on our own, so we have this inside joke – we say this is the first year we’re really going legit.’
Due to the closure of Old School, the festival venue has been moved to School of the Arts (SOTA). From venue arrangements to exhibition licenses and film ratings, everything this year is ‘done with extra care’, as Ng and Chong are learning how to organise a film festival for the first time, in their fourth year run. ‘We’re hoping to move beyond the small community that we usually stick to. We want to get more people involved, to participate, understand and enjoy,’ says Chong. ‘Film is a very simple medium to follow and digest.’ Adds Ng: ‘Design is rarely talked about in the consciousness of the public. But when you combine design and talk about it in film, it becomes an interesting medium you can use to reach out.’
The festival offers a spotlight for the works of designers from all over the world. While there’s no specific theme (aside from design), films are selected based on three overarching ideas: craft versus technology, an issue that compares modern advances to traditional techniques; a multi-disciplinary approach, where the faint line between disciplines are crossed within design; and social issues. Besides that, they also have to be relevant, current and enjoyable. ‘You can go with an open mind and learn something new,’ says Chong. ‘These films reflect what people care about nowadays. They don’t want to be hidden from the truth – they want to know what’s going on, so they can do something about it.’
So what can be expected from this year’s DFF? A well-rounded experience with careful thought put into the little details – twelve top-notch documentaries (all making their Asian or Singaporean premiere and narrowed down from a list of 40) preceded by a specially-created, film-inspired mix of electro beats, a public service announcement by creative agency Kinetic and opening titles by Musuta.
The DFF Patron Pass is also making its debut this year. There are 60 $300 passes, which offer the best seats to every film screening, entry to the opening dinner with collaborators and sponsors, and a credit on festival collaterals and promotional platforms. ‘Coming back this year was actually very risky for us [in terms of cost]. We felt it would be possible to find people who could pay a bit more to chip in,’ explains Ng. ‘That’s why we created the Patron Pass: to allow the community to try and help us keep it sustainable. We had to go “indie”, in a way.’