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Spotlight on Southeast Asian Shorts
Posted by Jillian Tan, Bachelor of Arts (Creative Writing) at RMIT University and MIFF 2016 Intern.
At the third annual conference of New Southeast Asian Cinemas in 2006, Monash University film professor David Hanan reported witnessing an ‘explosion’ in Southeast Asian filmmaking. Since then, films from that particular region have been increasing both in numbers and in calibre—showcasing great talent and potential from a new generation of up and coming filmmakers that are attempting to capture the traditions and idiosyncrasies of their countries, as well as the universal narratives that take place within them.
Among the inundation of short film submissions to the Melbourne International Film Festival this year, an uptick of films coming from the Southeast Asian region no doubt called to attention this much neglected niche in Asian film. Following in that vein, we have programmed five short films in a dedicated Southeast Asian Shorts programme to reflect the capacity of filmmaking originating from a part of the world that is much closer to home than we often imagine.
First in line is Taiwanese-Philippine filmmaker Rina B. Tsou bringing us her film Arnie, that follows the eponymous Philippine seaman who is currently docked at the port of Kaohsiung in Taiwan but wishes to propose to his girlfriend back home. Tsou features recurring shots of fish out of water and on the cutting block, forming a pertinent metaphor on the state of foreign workers who are separated from their homeland in order to provide a higher standard of living for their loved ones back home. Yet this physical separation places a toll on love, as Tsou expounds through the relationship between Arnie and his girlfriend as things take a turn for the worse.
Similarly, In The Year of Monkey by Indonesian Wregas Bhanuteja explores another facet of desperation in the face of poverty. A woman, needing money, brings her co-worker out back and offers to sell him a match for ten million rupees, but the match is in fact for looking at her vagina. Though risque, Bhanuteja never leans into tasteless sexualisation. Examining gender roles and women’s subjugation to the phallic, the film takes a heavy situation and injects it with humour and sensitivity. On the other hand, Raymund Ribay Gutierrez’s Imago dives headfirst into sombre territory, focusing on a female midnight funeral agent in the Philippines who waits by the Accident and Emergency department of a hospital as she looks for dead patients in order to solicit money for a burial. Unfortunately, the only corpse she gets for the night is of a stillborn baby. The film is blunt in its depiction of this unusual line of work, subtly bringing morality into the question and again reflecting on what people do both for survival and to care for a loved one.
Wherein actions speak louder than words, independent film visionary Pimpaka Towira presents her stylistic visual think-piece entitled Prelude to the General. Two women—one younger, one older—cross paths, the former imparting a warning to the latter, who harbours a secret. Towira’s short film is an excerpt to her work-in-progress feature film called The General’s Secret, centering on a young woman who is in pursuit of an elusive truth from the general’s old masseuse. Here she makes a statement about the oppressive atmosphere within Thailand, where it is ‘it is not possible to speak about everything’, forcing the people to keep secrets about themselves and their country. Kamila Andini, well known for her critically-acclaimed 2011 debut The Mirror Never Lies, also examines another form of oppression, this time in the domestic arena. In her film Following Diana, Diana has to overcome the words of family and relatives in her journey towards redefining herself after her husband presents her with a chart revealing his plan to take on a second wife. Andini tackles what it means to be an independent woman in a society that privileges and values men over women, mapping out both causes and consequences in an attempt to question traditional ways of thinking.
You can catch Southeast Asian Shorts programme as a part of the 65th Melbourne International Film Festival, running from 28 July 2016 to 14 August 2016.