Tingin ASEAN Film Festival Coverage 2017 Part 1: Or Why This Landmark Film Festival Makes a Convincing Case for Its Existence

Featured image is taken from Davy Chou’s Golden Slumbers, one of the movies selected for the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival.

If you live at major cities in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila, there’s no shortage of film festivals running in your nearest malls, cinematheques, microcinemas, & premiere local universities.

We’re not just talking about private Filipino independent film festivals like CineMalaya & Cinema One Originals, or film festivals organized by the government like QCinema International Film Festival, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipino Cinema), & the Metro Manila Film Festival. There are also film festivals that feature films specific countries, regions, & classic movies – done with the help of foreign embassies – which are often free to the public. We have the famous Japanese film Festival Eiga Sai, the Silent International Film Festival, & a film festival featuring countries from the European Union called Cine Europa; and as of writing, United Kingdom is still part of the film festival, amusingly enough. Not to mention there are even film festivals showcasing movies from certain countries in Europe, like the Italian, Danish, & Swiss Film Festivals.

For film buffs like me, it can be exhausting. Even Dr. Patrick F. Campos – an independent critic, a famed scholar of Southeast Asian cultures, faculty member at the University of the Philippines, & the main moderator of the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival – is aware of this. During one of the open forums scheduled for the film fest, he talks of “film festival fatigue,” & if there is a need for another film festival in a ridiculously crowded market. In fact, the Danish Film Festival & the much-awaited QCinema International Film Festival will begin the week after the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival.

Nevertheless, the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival makes a convincing case for its existence. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Philippines’ membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) & since the Philippines will be hosting this year’s ASEAN summit, the National Commission of Culture & Arts organized the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival: Southeast Asia Through The Eyes of Cinema at Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong last Oct. 11 – 15, 2017. It aims to capture the state of Southeast Asia through each of the country’s movies. It will showcase movies from all ASEAN nations selected by their respective governments, & a Tastemaker’s Section, a group of ASEAN movies selected by actor & producer Piolo Pascual, producer & screenwriter Moira Lang, & Dr. Patrick F. Campos himself. There will also be forums led by various scholars, producers, & artists.

This is a huge deal. Foreign Southeast Asian movies are a rarity in our country. There are Southeast Asian movies featured in other film festivals like CineMalaya & QCinema, & a few weeks ago we got the excellent Bad Genius from Thailand, but they feel like aberrations more than the norm. Our current market features more American movies compared to local ones. We also get Japanese movies if they are based on famous franchises, & a few Korean movies headlined by Korean stars familiar to Filipino audiences for their marketability.

Judging by this film festival, this is a ridiculous travesty. We are missing out on a lot of cinematic treasures from our neighbors, thanks to a mostly non-existent distribution methods.

The movies featured here are proof. These movies either tell stories that are indigenous to the area told in inventive ways or indigenized versions of familiar genres – some of which are done for the first time in their own countries – where we can see well-known tropes tweaked for their local audiences. It’s an eclectic bunch, from a playful documentary about Cambodia’s Golden Age of Cinema & the rise of the Khmer Rouge to the first feature-length horror movie in Brunei – which was made in 2016! – demonstrating the variety & breadth the region has to offer. Even if some of the movies included in the film festival are lackluster, it’s always interesting because this is what their corresponding governments deemed worthy to represent their countries & the cultural, historical, & political contexts they come from are fascinating in itself. These movies are also very hard to find through legal & illegal avenues, which means this festival may be the only chance we’ll get to see them.

Grouped together, they form a cohesive whole that connects & contrasts each other & the countries they came from. As Dr. Patrick F. Campos posits in the first open forum called Overview of Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinema, the idea of a Southeast Asian Cinema isn’t that far-fetched. The birth of contemporary cinema of most Southeast Asian countries began in the 1990s, started by small film collectives making short films with digital cameras, while slowly gaining momentum & acclaim for local & international audiences. Southeast Asian countries also have similar cultures, social mores & class structures, from our conservative values to the practice of enslavement that focused more on debt bondage. All countries have featured some form of communication even before Westerners colonized the region through business & trade. And strikingly enough, our shared histories of violent dictatorships; messy political upheavals; class struggles; communist uprisings; exploitation & discrimination of women & minorities; migrations from urban-rural areas & vice versa, that continues to reverberate throughout our region.

And he’s right. Watching these films as an adult middle-class Filipino living in the city, all of these stories feel like crossing an uncanny valley, without the discomfort inherent in the concept. They are familiar enough to resonate, but full of details that make them slightly alien to me & my culture.

This is important. According to the ASEAN’s founding document called the ASEAN Declaration, one of the organization’s aims is “to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of South-East Asian Nations.” The Tingin ASEAN Film Festival helps with this goal, allowing audiences to view Southeast Asian movies with some of the artists & filmmakers present for Q&As & join open forums addressing the needs of the region. It fosters unity through cultural development & exchanges, allowing us to delve into the issues that are important to us & help each other out. The word “tingin” is reflective of this, as it both means “look” & “vision” in English.

While making movies in itself will not solve our problems, it does plant the seeds for us to work hard for a brighter future. It humanizes the problems we’re not familiar with, and as cheezy it may sound, it highlights the old, tested idea that we are much more alike with our neighbors than we realize.

Currently, there are no plans to have another iteration of the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival, but it would be a huge mistake to end it immediately. The whole festival is proof that even with 50 years of ASEAN, we still have lots to learn & share with our neighbors.

The second part of my coverage of the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival will feature the films I’ve seen from the festival. Unfortunately, I missed a few movies in the lineup, but I have seen almost all of them, & they are illuminating & fascinating in different ways.