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Asia On Screen 2016: Directors Dialogue

(L-R) UP Prof. Patrick Campos, FDCP's Quintin Cu-Unjieng, Filipino Director Pepe Diokno, Thai Director Nithiwat Tharatorn
by Asia Society
15 September 2016

As part of the Asia On Screen 2016 Film Festival, Asia Society Philippines, in cooperation with the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), held the Directors Dialogue, an event that brought together Thai director Nithiwat Tharatorn and Filipino director Pepe Diokno for a discussion on Southeast Asian cinema, particularly in the Philippines and Thailand. The discussion, held on September 15, 2016 at AIM, was moderated by Professor Patrick Campos of the University of the Philippines Film Institute. Quintin Cu-Unjieng was also present as a representative for the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

Professor Campos situated the discussion with a brief history of Southeast Asian film, calling out examples from Thailand, the Philippines and beyond. Along with this, Campos pointed out the historical similarities among the themes of Southeast Asian films, such as the persistent challenge of rural space, and the difficulties of city living. In discussing these, Campos noted the differences between the cultures and themes reflected in the films, but also the shared stories.

Quintin Cu-Unjieng followed up Professor Campos’ discussion with a background on the current state of the Philippine film industry in relation to its Southeast Asian neighbors. Cu-Unjieng discussed the mutual benefits of countries co-producing films, and the importance of grants and incentives that allow these co-productions to take place. Cu-Unjieng also emphasized the importance of film festivals, as these not only serve as the vehicle for films to connect with larger or regional audiences, but also allow for the members of the Asian film industry to meet their associates and peers and develop long-term relationships that can only better the industry.

The dialogue proper began with Nithiwat Tharatorn sharing that in Thailand, movies that are box office successes usually fall into the comedy, horror, or romance genres. While admitting that his films usually fall into these commercially successful genres, this does not stop Tharatorn from delivering impactful messages through his films. He says this is seen through Teacher’s Diary, where he used romance as a medium to show the difficulties of being a teacher in rural Thailand.

Pepe Diokno acknowledged the same dominance of genre or commercial films taking prominence in the Philippines, but shared that there is a growing appreciation for art house films. Cu-Unjieng then relayed the importance of holding workshops and seminars so that there can be a discourse between the audience and the players in the film industry. During festivals and screenings, audiences should be invited to stay and dialogue with the director so that they can appreciate film as an art form, and not just entertainment.

When asked about government support for their respective film industries, Diokno rued the lack of protection for Filipino films being screened in cinemas. Tharatorn shared that while there is no particular law in Thailand that ensures government funds go towards the Thai film industry, there are grants that assist filmmakers in their projects. Tharatorn and Diokno found common ground in appreciating the South Korean film industry and the work of the Korean Film Council.

After several questions from the audience, the dialogue closed with all panelists acknowledging the importance of film being seen as being crucial to national identity, and the need for more spaces to discuss the issues and development of the film industry.

Text by: Patricia Coronel