BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Tiny Lit Fest (TLF), a series of micro-events celebrating Bruneian literature, officially kicked off on Tuesday, returning for the third year in a row.

From December 6-12, festival partners will be holding 18 micro-events, including author dialogues, writing workshops, book panels, and spoken word and theatre performances.

Sarah Ghazali, director of the Tiny Lit Fest, said organisers had to make drastic adjustments to festival plans after a second wave of COVID-19 infections forced Brunei into a partial lockdown four months ago. 

“When things went haywire in August 2021, we were left with two choices – forgo Tiny Lit Fest until next year, or to see the kinds of magic that we could create from the comforts of our own home,” she said during the launch of TLF 2021 on Tuesday. 

Even though restrictions on public gatherings have since loosened, the festival will still stay online.

“Luckily, fifteen organising partners agreed to be onboard despite time constraints, switching from Plan As to Plan Bs, even considering Plan Cs, but always, always with a plan in hand.”

Sarah told The Scoop that with many experiencing Zoom fatigue after three months at home, there were concerns that people might not be as willing to join virtual events, let alone a week-long festival.

“When plans were then made to open up, we were also mindful of the impact to TLF, when planning by then was already in full swing.

“But we’ve been amping up online promotions, hoping to tap into wider target audiences by doing virtual interviews on television and radio, by joining podcast and youtube chats, as well as paying for promoted ads and reaching out to schools.”

Authors and book vendors take part in the Tiny Lit Fest in 2020. Photo: The Scoop

So far, marketing efforts and outreach seems to have paid off, with 170 people attending the first TLF panel discussion organised by Sultan’s Scholars alumni on Monday night.

Even though COVID travel restrictions mean that international authors won’t be able to participate at the festival in person, TLF will still be hosting a virtual dialogue with award-winning fantasy writer Zen Cho this Friday – sure to be one of highlights of the festival. 

“I think the past few months have been really tough for people in Brunei, and everyone is just looking to decompress in the final month of the year,” Sarah said.

“We hope that we can help people do this, through the many micro-events hosted in the coming week.”

The cast of “Case file: The Unsettled Souls” perform as part of the Tiny Lit Fest 2020. The festival has been a crucial platform to promote the arts and creative industries in Brunei. Photo: Faiq Airudin/The Scoop

This year, TLF 2021 is supported by the Australian High Commission and Brunei December Festival, and sponsored by Progresif, Ctrl+ Creative and Nollybook. 

Chintana Vongpaseuth, the acting Australian High Commissioner to Brunei, said that the challenges of the pandemic and lockdowns has given many the opportunity to find positive creative outlets.

“I am very glad to see the continuous growth of Brunei’s creative industry – ranging from the arts to literature – and the Australian High Commission hopes to see this growth continue.

“Our commitment to the promotion of freedom of expression has never been stronger and we believe literature continues to be one of the main venues to allow youths in both our countries to be more empowered and fully explore their potential,” she said during the festival launch.

The launch event was followed by a panel discussion on literature and mental health, featuring speakers Dr Hannah Ming Yit Ho, assistant professor at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, UBD, and Fauziyyah Hanani Hj Abd Manap, a psychologist at the Ministry of Health. 

Dr Hannah Ho of UBD speaks during a panel on mental health and literature as part of the Tiny Lit Fest 2021.

Festival partners for TLF 2021 are: Akhmal Aiman, Books Beyond Brunei, Bruneians Read (B:Read), Diverse Lit Circle, Heartwrite Co, Kathrina Mohd Daud, Khairunnisa Isa, More to Bloom Mindfulness, Parebelle Studios, Persatuan, Alumni Sultan’s Scholars, Professional Writing Academy, The Brunei Writers, Tina Afiqah, and 247 Studios.

The festival is also supported by Nollybook as the official bookseller and The Scoop as the official media partner. 

Stay up to date on festival happenings at @thetinylitfest on Instagram and Twitter. Tickets are still available for TLF 2021 events here. The full calendar of events is available here