Philip Cheah

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Visual Arts (Film)
Asia, Southeast
created on:
February 4, 2008
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Philip Cheah
Philip Cheah. Courtesy of the artist


Statement of the artist for the «Postcard Project» of the House of World Cultures “My puzzle at the moment is: How did we allow ourselves to value everything in terms of money. Almost everything in my country, Singapore, has a price. It´s no wonder that cultural funding all over the world is disappearing. Will this convince people that globalisation is a larger problem than we think? My existential question is that after 20 years of the Singapore International Film Festival, will we see another year?” Philip Cheah, 2007 Before rising to eminence in the Asian underground scene as the Festival director of the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF), Philip Cheah was a social worker on Singapore’s streets. Being among ‘lowly folk’, heeding ‘the voice of silence’ and ‘furthering potential’ has, as he said in an interview, always been part of his job.
Together with Teo Swee Leng he founded the film festival in 1987 to show, for the first time, films which the Singapore authorities had been censoring for political reasons. Since then he has been uncompromising in his search for sponsorship and in his efforts to stop films being censored, wholly or partly:

“From the very first year we ran into censorship – when we had to pull ‘Mephisto’ by Istvan Szabo – and it’s an ongoing problem. We always make it very clear to filmmakers that we don’t stand on the side of those regulations. So the only thing we can do is try and submit the film, and we won’t show films cut.” (see the interview on

The documentary ‘Singapore Rebel’ by Martin See had to be withdrawn under threat of imprisonment, but Cheah has managed to show other films like Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘Saint Jack’ (1979) for the first time after decades of censorship.

Besides organizing the festival, Cheah is a co-publisher of BigO, Singapore’s independent rock-music magazine. He is also a co-worker on Cinemaya, a quarterly film magazine, and a member of the charitable organization NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema). He has co-worked on other publications about Asian films like ‘And the Moon Dances: The Films of Garin’ (2004), ‘Noel Vera`s Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema’ (2005) and ‘Modernity and Nationality in Vietnamese Cinema by Ngo Phuong Lan’ (2007).

In 2005, within the framework of the festival ‘Spaces and Shadows’, he curated the film program ‘Whose Terror is it Anyway?’ for the House of World Cultures in Berlin.
Author: House of World Cultures


Since 1987
Co-founder and Festival director of the Singapore International Film Festival

Curator of the film series ‘Whose Terror is it Anyway?’ within the framework of the program ‘Spaces and Shadows” in the House of World Cultures


Publications (Selection)

Published Written
Essay in: Spaces and Shadows – Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia, (Eds. Martin Hager, Shaheen Merali). House of World Cultures: Berlin, 2005 Noel Vera`s Critic After Dark: A Review of Philippine Cinema (co-editor). BigO: Singapore, 2005 And the Moon Dances: The Films of Garin (eds. Philip Cheah, Taufik Rahzen, Ong Hari Wahyu and Tonny Trimarsanto). Bentang Pustaka: Jogjakarta, 2004


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Postcard Project

(01 March 07 - 31 December 08)

Spaces and Shadows

Contemporary Art from South East Asia

(30 September 05 - 20 November 05)


Singapore International Film Festival