MANILA: What the future holds for ASEAN cinema

Present at the closing night of the first Tingin ASEAN Film Festival are (from left) Maya Quirino, festival project manager; Babyruth Villarama, forum speaker; Som Khemra, representative for Cambodia’s Victim; Teddy Co, NCCA commissioner; Aung Ko Latt, director of Myanmar’s Kayan Beauties; Syahrul Fithri Bin Musa, assistant director for Malaysia’s Wayang; Sasithorn Panichnok, actress in Thailand’s The Island Funeral; Noor Alimin bin Haji Garip, producer of Brunei’s Waris; Remton Zuasola, director of the Philippines’ Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria; Mattie Do, director of Lao PDR’s Dearest Sister; Vongchith Phommachack, representative for Lao PDR’s Khuannang; Annie Luis, head of NCCA International Affairs Office; and Patrick Campos of the UP Film Institute. —Photo by Seigfried Sanjuan/NCCA                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 .

MANILA, Philippines — What does the future hold for ASEAN Cinema? This was one of the questions explored at the first Tingin ASEAN Film Festival recently mounted by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) to expose Pinoy audiences more to Southeast Asian films.

Film directors, talents and representatives from neighboring countries gathered for the weeklong screenings and forums at the Shang Cineplex.

Tingin also served to highlight the 50th anniversary of the country’s ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) membership and at the same time, chairmanship this year. “The Philippines has very low awareness of being part of ASEAN but Filipinos love to watch movies. Film is the most accessible art form or media. We want to penetrate the market and reach more people through movies,” said Annie Luis, who heads NCCA’s international affairs office.


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The films, which were split into the Official and Tastemakers sections, were carefully curated by the NCCA, with the help of its ASEAN counterparts and industry “tastemakers” — actor Piolo Pascual, producer Moira Lang and UP Film Institute’s Patrick Campos. The line-up included Remton Zuasola’s Ang Damgo ni Eleuteria(Philippines), Jonathan Chen’s Ilo Ilo (Singapore) and the omnibus film Three-Fold Mirror: Reflections featuring cross-border stories directed by the Philippines’ Brillante Mendoza, Cambodia’s Kulikar Sotho and Japan’s Isao Yukisada.

Organizers were happy with the outcome of the Tingin filmfest. Maya Quirino, festival project head, told The STAR, “Most of the screenings had around 150 to 170 people attending. For a first-time festival of mostly independent Southeast Asian movies, that’s a good number. We had moviegoers come up to us and say this should have been a two-week-long festival. It was encouraging. We hope that this becomes a regular festival, an event that moviegoers, students and cineastes look forward to each year.”

Tingin also held forums tackling such concerns as what lies ahead for ASEAN cinema. Among those who shared their thoughts were Aung Ko Latt, director of Myanmar’s Kayan Beauties; Syahrul Fithri Bin Musa, assistant director of Malaysia’s Wayang; Sasithorn Panichnok, actress of Thailand’s Island Funeral; Zuasola; and Bagu Prihantoro Filemon, cinematographer of Indonesia’s Solo Solitude.


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More conversations, cooperation and collective goals on film development were hoped for, with suggestions that ASEAN unite as a film market.


Tingin Filipino Tastemaker Piolo Pascual (second from right) with the festival staff

Said Campos, who moderated the forums, “As ASEAN faces the challenges of the new century, the future of Southeast Asian cinemas as mirror, beacon and megaphone remains even more urgent. The time is now ripe as well to actively and collectively define an independent regional cinema that breaks down borders.”

Zuasola, for his part, said, “Lately, I’ve been to a number of film festivals and forums around Southeast Asia focusing on films from this region. One common observation among peers is that more often than not we just bump into each other at film festivals in Europe or other countries outside ASEAN.

“It is this ironic situation that has led to an awakening among our neighbors, that in order for us to grow together we need to talk to each other more, establish an open communication line and create avenues for films from ASEAN countries to be seen by each other.”

There are many exciting ASEAN filmmakers who make movies even without the assurance of an audience, Quirino also noted. “Filipinos know more about Hollywood than they know their ASEAN neighbors’ films. But to start growing the local demand, you need to make it easy for people to catch an ASEAN film.”

Quirino believes that Internet streaming services will give ASEAN cinema a fighting chance while film festivals, however niche they are, can definitely help. “But the future of ASEAN cinemas depends on an interplay of factors that include government support, distribution, the ASEAN economic integration, the appetite for ASEAN cinemas and so on. We just need to keep at it.”

Meanwhile, being the filmmaker representing the host country, Zuasola had the opportunity to spend the most time with the other ASEAN reps. He likened Tingin to a grand reunion of long-lost relatives who got to swap stories about the challenges and developments in their respective film communities.

What he learned from his peers was that “the situation of the film industries from each country cuts across a wide spectrum ­— (you have) countries that produce hundreds of films each year to another country that only has around 20 films produced in its entire history.”

Zuasola further said, “Despite the challenges Filipino filmmakers face every day, we are still considered by our ASEAN neighbors luckier because our censorship is not as stringent compared to theirs.”

According to him, other countries are quite strict on the depiction of sensitive topics like politics, religion and LGBT stories. “One country doesn’t even allow couple (characters) to hold hands on screen. But like the rest of Asia, things are starting to change.”

He cited as an example, Lao PDR, which “previously didn’t allow the depiction of ghosts and monsters in their films for fear of instilling wrong beliefs among the people (but) has embraced Mattie Do’s horror film Dearest Sister or Singapore, (which is) known as an ‘image-conscious’ country, has recently supported K. Rajagopal’s A Yellow Bird, a film (showing) poverty and hardships of the minorities living in Singapore.”

For him, the Tingin roster of films only proved that despite the diversity in culture, members of the ASEAN have so much in common as people.

“And if viewed from afar,” Zuasola added, “films from this region have created a distinct flavor, with a very unique, stylistic execution and closely related dramatic values that are truly Southeast Asian.”

Courtesy: The Philippine Star 


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