An Inside Look Into the Minds of Filmmakers
Asia Society Philippines, in partnership with Ayala Malls Cinemas, the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP), and Security Bank, brought back the Asia on Screen Film Festival for 2018. Along with it returned the Directors Dialogue, which had Southeast Asian directors Anysay Keola from Laos, Saw Teong Hin from Malaysia, and the Philippines’ own Sheron Dayoc, in a forum about their creative processes and breaking social barriers with their films, moderated by Lourd de Veyra.
The forum opened with a video message from Singaporean filmmaker Boo Junfeng, who gave insights about making films with political statements in a country like Singapore, and asserting that the film industry as a whole seems to be going in the right direction towards genuine and enjoyable cinema.
Topics that were touched upon during the conversation ranged from individual political motivations in screenwriting to government restrictions on movies in Laos and Malaysia, with the individual background of each director bringing unique perspectives to the dialogue.
Keola talked about what it was like to make a film in the one-party socialist republic of Laos. He shared about how the government initially rejected his most recent film Above It All, the first Laotian film to deal with LGBTQ+, but was later approved upon making some key edits that softened the conflict. Saw followed up with an anecdote about his featured film You Mean the World to Me, where the final release of the movie was delayed in Malaysia due to disagreements about the language it was shot in. Given that the film was semi-biographical, he insisted on having the movie shot in his native tongue of Penang Hokkien, despite the government and production house’s requests to have it shot in Mandarin.
The whole panel recognized the limitations of social statements in countries with restrictive governments, which led de Veyra to ask: which was more important to the writers—the statement or the story they want told?
Dayoc, who mentioned that the Philippine government is quite supportive of local cinema, said that the vision for a picture must be “a marriage between our intent [to make a statement] and our passion to tell stories,” with which the other two directors agreed. He explained how it is a mix of personal preference and recognition of the complicated nature of social issues. In his case, it was the issue of Rido—blood feuds in Muslim Mindanao—and other intertwined complex issues like gender equity and armed conflict as a whole in his film Women of the Weeping River.
Keola and Saw reaffirmed the significance of emphasizing issues by elaborating on interconnected complex themes in Above It All and You Mean the World to Me; the former addressing LGBTQ+ on one end and social inequality issues with women and the Hmong people on the other, and the latter dealing with family values and mental health.
The forum ended with a quick Q&A, which had the directors and de Veyra delineating the fluid definitions of commercial and art house films. The full panel agreed that art house films are more focused on narrative of the human condition, while commercial pictures work more towards escapism for viewers.
The Directors Dialogue served as the first event of Asia on Screen 2018, immediately followed by the Opening Night, where Women of the Weeping River was screened.
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Text by Claudio Lopa