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Southeast Asian Independent Cinema

Southeast Asian Independent Cinema

Edited by Tilman Baumgärtel
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Southeast Asian Independent Cinema
    Book Description:

    The rise of independent cinema in Southeast Asia, following the emergence of a new generation of filmmakers there, is among the most significant recent developments in global cinema. The advent of affordable and easy access to digital technology has empowered startling new voices from a part of the world rarely heard or seen in international film circles. The appearance of fresh, sharply alternative, and often very personal voices has had a tremendous impact on local film production. This book documents these developments as a genuine outcome of the democratization and liberalization of film production. Contributions from respected scholars, interviews with filmmakers, personal accounts and primary sources by important directors and screenwriters collectively provide readers with a lively account of dynamic film developments in Southeast Asia.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-900-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. List of Figures
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Tilman Baumgärtel
  6. Introduction: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia
    (pp. 1-10)
    Tilman Baumgärtel

    In May 2010, a beaming Apichatpong Weerasethakul received the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival for his movie Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Loong Boonmee raleuk chat, 2010), one of the most prestigious awards that the international film world has to offer. On pictures from the festival that went around the globe, we see him accepting the award from Charlotte Gainsbourg with a big grin, exchanging kisses with “Best Actress” winner Juliette Binoche, posing for the photographers on the red carpet with leading actress Wallapa Mongkolprasert.

    Apichpatpong is no stranger to the Cannes Film Festival. In...

  7. I Essays

    • 1 Southeast Asian Independent Cinema: Independent of What?
      (pp. 13-20)
      John A. Lent

      To discuss Southeast Asian Independent Cinema is to encounter problems of definition, first, in trying to delineate the region itself, and second, in setting the parameters of independent film. Southeast Asia is a diverse mixture of many languages, cultures, and beliefs pulled together for political convenience; it is a colonial, and later, Cold War construct of Western origins. The region and in turn, its film, are not entities unto themselves; they are inseparable from their Indian, Malay, Chinese, and other roots.

      Similarly, a sole definition of independent cinema is not justified, with filmmakers and cinema scholars using the term in...

    • 2 Imagined Communities, Imagined Worlds: Independent Film from Southeast Asia in the Global Mediascape
      (pp. 21-32)
      Tilman Baumgärtel

      In trying to understand what national cinema is, a great number of film critics have turned to Benedict Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities.” Famously, Anderson, in his book of the same title, claims that nations as such are always imagined communities which give their members/citizens a sense of identity and belonging. A nation, writes Anderson, is “imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”¹ Anderson singles out the importance of the early modern...

    • 3 Hinterland, Heartland, Home: Affective Topography in Singapore Films
      (pp. 33-50)
      Alfian Bin Sa’at

      The history of cinema in Singapore is often discussed as not only discontinuous, but radically disjunctive. A comparison between the studio films that were produced in the 1950s and 1960s and the films produced in the 1990s and thereafter (after a period of almost two decades during the 1970s and 1980s, where there were no feature films produced in Singapore at all), would reveal texts so divergent as to suggest that they were products of two different countries.

      The most glaring difference between these films is demographic. The studio films of the 1950s and 1960s were dominated by Malay actors...

    • 4 Stealing Moments: A History of the Forgotten in Recent Singaporean Film
      (pp. 51-58)
      Ben Slater

      British author Iain Sinclair has a term to describe people who have been sidelined by the mainstream. For him they are the “reforgotten,”¹ a curious label that he applies to several types of “characters.” There are the underground artists, obsessive multi-taskers, information addicts and culture hustlers whose activities are so strange, subversive or experimental that they will always fall well below the cultural radar, but who are known only by those “in-the-know.” They are reforgotten only so much as they have never been really remembered, except perhaps as rumour or as a bit part in someone else’s biography. They permanently...

    • 5 Fiction, Interrupted: Discontinuous Illusion and Regional Performance Traditions in Contemporary Thai Independent Film
      (pp. 59-68)
      Natalie Böhler

      Mingmongkol Sonakul’s feature debut Isarn Special (Kuen pra chan tem doueng, 2002) begins with atmospheric shots of Mor Chit, Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal, around sunset. It’s a busy, bustling place, with people from all walks of life up and about, passengers waiting for their departure and vendors selling food. As a group of travelers sets out on a long-distance bus, so does the movie. The group travels to Nong Bua, a small village in Isarn, Northeastern Thailand. It is the night of the full moon, and as so often, the full moon creates a special mood and announces the extraordinary...

    • 6 Cinema, Sexuality and Censorship in Post-Soeharto Indonesia
      (pp. 69-88)
      Intan Paramaditha

      At the end of 2007, the omnibus film Chants of Lotus (Perempuan Punya Cerita, 2007), directed by four women filmmakers and produced by independent production house Kalyana Shira Film, was severely cut by the Indonesian Censorship Board for showing sex scenes regarded as obscene by Indonesian standards and for portraying a veiled woman involved in a casual conversation about sex. The filmmakers—Nia Dinata, Upi Avianto, Lasja Fauziah, and Fatimah Tobing Rony—believe that the cutting has disrupted the narrative coherence of the movie and that this act of censorship prevents the audience from fully grasping the problems pertaining to...

    • 7 Independent versus Mainstream Islamic Cinema in Indonesia: Religion Using the Market or Vice Versa?
      (pp. 89-104)
      Tito Imanda

      The relationship between religion and cinema has often been awkward. Whether it was the Catholic Legion of Decency campaigning against certain Hollywood films in the 1930s before the introduction of the Hayes code,¹ or the Indonesian Islamic Cleric group (MUI) protesting to the Indonesian Censorship Board,² religion often tends to regard film as hazardous to society. In Indonesia where the version of Islam is relatively moderate, many religious people still consider film spectatorship as sinful. At the same time, cinema has frequently taken religious life or spirituality as a source of inspiration and of significant stories to tell. Spreading the...

    • 8 Observational Documentary Comes to Indonesia: Aryo Danusiri’s Lukas’ Moment
      (pp. 105-116)
      David Hanan

      In the USA and in Europe in the 1960s there appeared a new movement in documentary, taking various forms and with a variety of different names. In the USA the movement commenced with Primary (1960), a film that followed chronologically John Kennedy’s election campaign. Albert Maysles, who was one of the camera-men who worked on Primary, and later made Salesman (1968), called the movement “Direct Cinema.” In France in 1960 there emerged a somewhat different but related movement, known as “Cinema Verité,” with Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronique d’un Eté, a self conscious ethnology of life in contemporary Paris,...

  8. II Documents

    • 9 Four Manifestos
      (pp. 119-124)
      Khavn de la Cruz

      I swear to submit to the following set of rules drawn up and confirmed by DOGMAN2000:

      1. Shooting can be done anywhere. Props & sets can be brought in. (If a particular prop is necessary for the story, isn’t it easier to bring the prop to the location than the other way around?)

      Make the most of what you have. If you can shoot it here, why shoot it there. 90 percent of The Twelve was shot in Kamias Road, from Metrobank to 7/11, with our house in the middle. The production design was half us (built, bought, brought), half...

    • 10 Why Ciplak ended up being made
      (pp. 125-130)
      Khairil M. Bahar

      Ciplak was never meant to be my first feature.

      Originally, I had a script for a love story between a guy whose one wish in life was to be a writer recently returned from studies abroad and a girl brought up in the traditional Malay way whose one wish in life was to be a musician (you read it here first and everything’s been dated and copyrighted. Don’t even think about it). I went through two to three months of rewrites and pre-production: casting the parts, polishing the script, passing it around for opinions, scouting locations, getting a camera, everything....

    • 11 Singapore GaGa Tours Singapore
      (pp. 131-140)
      Tan Pin Pin

      As I write this, Singapore GaGa’s five-week run at The Arts House has just ended. Due to popular demand, they are extending the run for another two weeks. That Singapore GaGa even had a cinematic release is novel as it is 55-minutes long, not your usual feature-length work which runs at least 70 minutes. Moreover, it is a video documentary about Singapore, one that is experimental in structure. The words “video,” “documentary,” “experimental,” and “Singapore” are not usually selling points in Singapore. More so in the combination of those words, it should not even be seen at all.

      So it was...

    • 12 The Downside of Digital: A German media critic plays devil’s advocate
      (pp. 141-150)
      Tilman Baumgärtel

      The introduction of affordable digital video cameras and the prospect of making films inexpensively and independent of big studio have stirred up a lot of excitement in the Philippine film community. Whereas traditional filmmaking requires huge investments in film stock alone, digital movie making—which accounts for forty percent of last year’s local production—is possible for a fraction of the usual production budget. Therefore many Filipino filmmakers have, by themselves or with the support of the recent Cinemalaya festival or the upcoming CinemaOne competition, started making movies without relying on the resources of mainstream production companies. Some of their...

    • 13 I Sinema Manifesto
      (pp. 151-152)

      Despite its brevity, the I Sinema Manifesto is of crucial importance in the emergence of independent cinema in the Reformasi period in Indonesia after the fall of the Soeharto regime in 1998. No essay on the indie film in Indonesia fails to mention it, and a number of those who signed it went on to become important directors, including Riri Riza, Rizal Mantovani, Nan Triveni Achnas and Mira Lesmana, who co-directed the seminal Indonesian indie production Kuldesac (1999). However, the manifesto was apparently never published in Bahasa, as none of my Indonesian informants was able to point me to a...

  9. III Interviews

    • 14 “An inexpensive film should start with an inexpensive story”
      (pp. 155-170)
      Brillante Mendoza, Armando Bing Lao and Tilman Baumgärtel

      Rarely was there a more unlikely winner at the Cannes Film Festival than Dante Mendoza’s Butchered (Kinatay, 2009). It is a grim, unpleasant story about the killing of a prostitute, filmed mostly at night, with little dialog but a lot of hard-to-bear violence in a festival, where the majority of the jury was female. Yet, Mendoza’s movie won the award for best direction over the likes of Lars Von Trier, Gaspar Noé, Jane Campion, Alain Resnais, Ken Loach, and Quentin Tarantino (who went on to write Mendoza a note of praise for his film). Not since Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady...

    • 15 “Digital is liberation theology”
      (pp. 171-178)
      Lav Diaz and Tilman Baumgärtel

      Many argue that Lav Diaz is the most important filmmaker working in the Philippines today. Roger Garcia, director of the Hong Kong Film Festival, sees him as an “artist-as-conscience,” an heir to Lino Brocka. His monumental epic movies that last up to eleven hours, examine the continuing social and political malaise of his country. Despite moving in and out of film circles since the 1980s, the heyday of Philippine experimental cinema (when he made one now-lost short film), he only started to make movies after pursuing careers as rock musician and journalist.

      He was already 40 when he made his...

    • 16 “I make films for myself ”
      (pp. 179-190)
      Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tilman Baumgärtel

      Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is among the most important avantgarde directors of current world cinema. His films, like Mysterious Object at Noon, Syndromes and a Century, and Tropical Malady, polarize the audience and the critics, since they disregard traditional narrative structures and focus on the visible instead: the rich vegetation of the jungle, the reflections in a brook, the shy interactions between two doting lovers.

      Trained as an architect in Thailand and as a visual artist in Chicago, he has not restricted himself to feature films. As an artist he has experimented with audio and video installations, including his Haunted...

    • 17 “I love making films, but not getting films made”
      (pp. 191-200)
      Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Tilman Baumgärtel

      Pen-ek Ratanaruang, together with Wisit Sasanatieng and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, is among the internationally best-known directors of the Thai New Wave. He studied art history and philosophy from 1977 to 1985 at the Pratt Institute in New York and worked as freelance illustrator and designer with Designframe. After a brief stay in Berlin, he returned to Bangkok and directed several television commercials, for which he won numerous awards—including a bronze medal at Cannes for an anti-dandruff shampoo spot. In 1997, he made his first feature film Fun Bar Karaoke, a pioneering independent movie in Thailand, which was screened at the...

    • 18 “I want the people of Indonesia to see a different point of view, whether they agree with it or not”
      (pp. 201-212)
      Nia Dinata and Tilman Baumgärtel

      Indonesian director Nia Dinata is no stranger to controversy. She has tackled subjects that were taboo in Indonesian cinema before she approached them. Her debut movie A Courtesan (Ca Bau Kan) from 2001 was about the life of an Indonesian-Chinese family in Jakarta in the early 20th century—not exactly an obvious choice only three years after the events of May 1998 when ethnic Chinese (who make up only about three percent of Indonesia’s population) were beaten up, their houses and shops looted and burned to the ground, and hundreds of women systematically gang-raped by mobs. These events ultimately lead...

    • 19 “I do not have anything against commercial films”
      (pp. 213-226)
      Eric Khoo and Tilman Baumgärtel

      On the telephone, Eric Khoo suggested the bar of the Goodwood Park Hotel as a meeting place. The Goodwood is one of the oldest hotels in Singapore, and in its colonial allure it is second only to the world-famous Raffles. Originally the Teutonia Club, a club for German expatriates, it looms majestically over the busy Orchard Road with its shopping malls full of expensive boutiques and fancy restaurants. While I waited at the bar for the director, I admired the beautiful park that surrounds the hotel.

      when Khoo arrived, he just asked for a glass of iced water, and then...

    • 20 The Page and the (Video) Camera
      (pp. 227-244)
      Amir Muhammad and Davide Cazzaro

      When a research project gave me the opportunity to approach the cultural scene of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur (KL), and in particular the most recent domestic films that purely for the purpose of classification I will here call “independent,” I had not yet met Amir Muhammad. Nor had I fully grasped his originality, his simultaneously anomalous and prominent position within contemporary Malaysian culture.¹ The more material I accumulated, the more Amir’s name kept recurring and I realized him to be highly versatile and creative. Born in 1972 of Malay-Sri Lankan parentage, he grew up in Kuala Lumpur and wrote...

    • 21 “I want you to forget about the race of the protagonists half an hour into the film”
      (pp. 245-252)
      Yasmin Ahmad and Tilman Baumgärtel

      When Yasmin Ahmad died on July 25, 2009 in Kuala Lumpur, the film world of Malaysia suffered a tragic loss. The country lost one of its few directors, whose films got international attention, yet are decidedly Malaysian. And the world lost a filmmaker who could take on serious topics such as racism and intolerance with wit, intelligence, and humor. The six feature-length films that she managed to finish (another production was under way when Ahmad died) are as much document of the multiracial society of Malaysia as they are an expose of the institutionalized racism that structures Malaysian society.


  10. Notes
    (pp. 253-262)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 263-270)
  12. Index
    (pp. 271-274)