A fresh law graduate from Germany in 1983, Michael Pulch travelled to China with a Super 8mm film camera and hand-written guidebooks from previous travellers. The then 24-year-old German filmed the spontaneous trip, suggested by his friend who studied Chinese.
Nevertheless, Chinese authorities, wary of foreigners, prohibited him from staying in ‘un-approved’ villages and hotels. But Pulch found welcoming locals proud to share their culture. He recalls a bus driver stopping his usual route to show him Xi’an’s ancient tombs, to the approval of the local passengers. The trip cemented Pulch’s desire to work in Asia.
Some 20 years later, stationed in Beijing as deputy chief of mission of the European Union Delegation to China, he recovered the amateur film and showed it to Chinese friends excited by a picture of China with quiet hutongs, through the eyes of an outsider to boot.
“Certainly, films reflect the issues people discuss, this is one of the tasks of art,” Pulch says. “It injects curiosity in people of the places featured, the languages spoken and the histories behind them.”
Now serving as EU Ambassador to Singapore, the 58-year-old spent nearly three decades across South Korea, Washington, Brussels, Tokyo and China in his career. These personal experiences lend him introspective moments to the up-coming 27th edition of the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) held at National Gallery Singapore, which spotlights cultural diversity.
Beyond commercial settings, the EUFF attempts to break the perception of being an art house film festival to reach out to a wider audience. For instance, its open with Goodbye Berlin is a coming-of-age comedy about two teenage boys – one German, and the other a Russian immigrant – on a road trip of rebellious independence. Other films include a documentary of an art collector’s appreciation of contemporary Chinese works, and a drama of a former thief reintegrating into society.
“A film festival means different things to different people,” he says. “Films can provide inspiration and discussion between friends and colleagues, but we should not forget that it is also meant to be fun and that’s why we are featuring a range of comedies, thrillers and dramas.”
As the festival celebrates the continent’s rich heritage, the EU marks its 60th anniversary with growing tension amid a refugee crisis in its member states while politicians call for closing off international borders. The unifying human message the EUFF espouses couldn’t have come at a more fitting time.
The 27th European Union Film Festival will run at the National Gallery Singapore, from May 11 to May 21.