Wahyuni Hadi, left, and Raymond Phathaavirangoon. Nation/Anant Chantarasoot
Wahyuni Hadi, left, and Raymond Phathaavirangoon. Nation/Anant Chantarasoot

Making Asian films count

Art February 06, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

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A discussion looks at ways to make local films better known among a wider audience

Filmmakers from different countries gathered last week at the Amari Watergate Hotel to discuss the present and future of Asian film on the world stage.

Organised by the World Film Festival of Bangkok and sponsored by the Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB), the talk was moderated by festival director Kriengsak “Victor” Silakong, The panel featured Singapore producer Wahyuni Hadi and her Thai-Taiwanese counterpart Raymond Phathana-virangoon. 

Hadi is a co-producer of the Singaporean film “Ilo Ilo”, which won the Camera d’Or award at the Cannes International Film Festival, and executive director of the Singapore Film Festival.

Raymond, who is based in Hong Kong, has worked on projects from different countries including Pen-ek Ratanaraung’s “Head Shot” and his yet-to-be-released “Samui Song”. He too has strong ties to the film festival circuit and is involved with the Hong Kong and Toronto events, as well as Critic’s Week in Cannes.

The past couple of decades have witnessed an increased interest in Asian films by international film festivals, with Iran, South Korea and China leading the way. Thailand too has been under the spotlight since the late 1990s, with works by so-called “New Wave” directors Nonzee Nimibutr, Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek all making their mark. In 2010, Apichatpong Weerasethakul become the first director from Southeast Asia to win the top prize at Cannes while Filipino filmmakers Brillante Mendoza and Lav Diaz have enjoyed recognition at Cannes, Venice and Berlin.

But can the films being made today also become popular on the world stage? 

Raymond thinks not, pointing out that the golden era of new wave films from Thailand and the Philippines appears to be over. This, he says, is reflected in the current festival line-ups

“The discussions I’ve ha with festival programmers indicate that the films submitted from Southeast Asia filmmakers are really not good,” he said. 

“The new wave era has ended but the next generation of directors cannot replace their older peers.”

Hadi agrees but says that local film festivals can help solve the problem. 

She believes that festivals not only embrace filmmakers and their movies while creating a community but also help create a committed local audience.

“At the Singapore Film Festival we try to screen mainly movies from the Asean countries and organise activities that encourage filmmakers to share and exchange ideas,” she said. 

“And it’s also important to build a community of film lovers because if we do not embrace our own cinema, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so?”.

All three agree that young filmmakers need to take their time and grow into the art of filmmaking. “They need to take it slow, try to get funding from different places and then work on their script, story and production,” Raymond said. 

“What they shouldn’t do is go the ‘indie handheld’ route and submit these works to festivals. They won’t be picked up because the sound or the production quality is not good enough and that causes the film disappear,” he added.

And while film festivals are undoubtedly a good conduit for new directors, solid management in terms of PR, marketing, sales and distribution is also vital to bring films to wider audiences so they can earn money that will allow them to continue their work.

While Hadi did not disagree with Raymond, she feels that having a local representative or distributor and a showcase through a local film festival will help these filmmakers connect with the world.