When it comes to developing and financing a film, it remains as tough as ever for first-time independent filmmakers in Southeast Asia to get their features made. On the brighter side, after a film is made, film professionals of the international arthouse circuit are beginning to pay more attention to our region. In recent years, it feels as if a spotlight has been shone on this side of the world. It remains to be seen how long that attention will last or if it will translate into a more permanent international audience. But for now, things are looking up for Southeast Asian filmmakers.
Regional film festivals are an essential element in the ecosystem of independent films. Not only do they highlight regional works, they often also serve as a discovery platform for young rising filmmakers. This year, I’m honoured to be a jury member for SGIFF’s short film competition. This is a special appointment for me as my very first shorts 10 Minutes Later, Fonzi and Sink were all discovered at the festival, before they started venturing overseas. Many film festivals also run development labs which further nurture filmmakers and their work, and connect them with potential collaborators who would be difficult for them to seek out on their own.
“Regional film festivals are an essential element in the ecosystem of independent films”
Outside festivals, too, regional co-productions are becoming increasingly common between nations of Southeast Asia. Take Pop Aye, for example. It was initiated by Singaporeans, but there were only five of us on set. The project was set in Thailand, and the rest of the 70-odd cast and crew were all Thai. They were absolutely crucial in the making of the film and till this day, I’m completely humbled by the effort they put into it. Through co-productions, Southeast Asian filmmakers all play equal parts in raising the profile of our region.
I have often been asked about how Singaporean filmmaking compares to the “global stage”, and personally, I have always found that term a little nebulous and ill-defined, feeling more like a faraway paradise conjured by our small-nation anxiety.
If we had to pinpoint a global stage in filmmaking, what is it exactly? The American model? The European model? Even between these two industries, there are a lot of differences. In broad strokes, American and European filmmaking industries are larger and more established, but they too face issues and limitations of their own. Perhaps it’s time we stop thinking of them as the only stages that matter.
With each work that I put out, it’s important that there is an element of risk to it. By forcing myself into unknown and unexpected realms, the process becomes an appealing mystery for me to uncover and the solution will invariably be fresher – that allows my work to stay alive and for me to stay excited.
Illustration by Stuart Patience
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This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine