Volunteering in the time of COVID-19

At the Asian Film Archive (AFA), volunteers are integral to our success. As a small non-profit organisation, volunteers provide much-needed supplemental manpower and expertise to enable us to carry out our work; volunteer participation also helps to anchor the work done at AFA within the community and enables the public to understand the work we are doing. Volunteers helm the front-of-house at our programmes and take on film preservation activities, such as scanning film-related materials, cataloguing films, and hand cleaning and re-canning film reels.

Prior to the pandemic, volunteers would assist with the inspection of film reels.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the consequent lockdowns caused AFA to suspend in-person activities for several months. Since our office spaces could not accommodate the required social distancing safety measures, our volunteers gamely took on the challenge of cataloguing film remotely. Benedicta, an English and Film Studies undergraduate at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, who has a love for early Asian cinema and the films of Suzzanna, the horror queen of Indonesian cinema, joined us at the end of late 2020. She watched so many films that she was recognised for clocking in the most number of hours amongst our volunteers in 2021.

“Cataloguing various short films for AFA through the pandemic has been comforting; it’s allowed me to remain connected to the lives and voices of people I did not have the chance to meet.” – Benedicta, film preservation volunteer at AFA

Once screenings at the Oldham Theatre resumed in August 2020, our volunteers were steadfastly supportive, enthusiastically returning to the theatre and have been incredibly professional in assisting with pandemic-related measures, such as ensuring safe distancing amongst the audience and TraceTogether check-ins. Regina Chee, who has been actively volunteering since 2019 and is an avid filmgoer, was eager to help out at screenings when  regular programmes restarted.

Front-of-house volunteers assisting with screening registration.

“Volunteering here gave me the opportunity to have a peek at how the Archive works behind-the-scenes. Besides, it was an enjoyable way to meet people, staff and even directors of curated films showcased here.” – Regina, front-of-house volunteer at AFA

The ongoing pandemic has compelled organisations to innovate to sustain operations and continue providing services. Similarly, individuals have had to adapt to a transformed environment for both work and play. We are especially humbled by our volunteers’ passion, commitment and their willingness to work with us to preserve and to enable our cinematic  heritage to be enjoyed by  our community.

About the Writer