Old ties, new friends at the 'reborn' Asian Film Symposium

About 6-7 years ago, in the Guiness Theatre at the Substation, a little memorial service was held for Alexis Tioseco, film critic, editor of Criticine and regular face at the annual Asian Film Symposium. Alexis was killed in a burglary in his home in the Philippines. Being one of the most prominent voices then, a little bit of the Asian Film Symposium went away with him when left us. The Asian Film Symposium was then an important platform for independent filmmakers from the region to come together to compare notes and learn about the trends and movements in filmmaking in each of our countries. The works screened were always raw and edgy, something you would hardly be able to catch in any other mainstream cinema. And there was a sense of brotherhood among the curators and filmmakers who created a regional filmmaking ecosystem and created more opportunities for filmmakers in the region.

In the absence of the Asian Film Symposium over the years, the Singapore film scene has taken off quite a bit with the success found in both commercial and independent films. While the scene had become more exciting in a different way, nothing could quite substitute the 'cross-polinatory' camaraderie that the Asian Film Symposium achieved. 

Indeed, the Asian Film Symposium (AFS), organized by Objectifs and The Substation, returned this year to a spectrum of expectations. The old-timers would be yearning for the huddling with old friends again. New fans of independent films in Singapore would be eagerly looking forward to the opportunity of sampling a smorgasbord of cinema from different countries. 
Already, the scale of AFS this year was a little different from previous years based simply on the fact that more countries have taken part. This year’s symposium saw the participation from 8 countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and host Singapore, altogether contributing to new dynamics from the previous 5-country editions in the past. Also, the Southeast Asian region has been politically and economically volatile, contributing to the evolution of cinema and trends in the respective countries. 
This made the theme of 'Pop culture', the official theme of this AFS edition particularly, pertinent and revealing. Discussed at a dialogue session (picture above) during the AFS, with a panel of filmmakers and curators from about 6 countries, it seems pop culture can be both emblematic of a country's underlying psyche or something counter to it, like an form of escapism. The dialogue session (coincidentally all-male) showed how much in common the different countries have in relation to pop culture. But when speaking to the individual filmmakers and curators after the session, nuanced and difference start to surface.


On this topic, the Taiwan shorts program (picture above), curated by Taipei International Film Festival curator Kuo Ming-Jung (shown on Saturday 12th September), offered some interesting observations about pop culture and history. A mental jog across all the Taiwan shorts screened revealed a common motif, 'the school student', which was further emphasised during the post-screening Q&A. Curator Ming shared about how many Taiwanese films like 'the Apple of my Eye' or 'Girlfriend, Boyfriend' have used school life as a predominant feature in the films. It is interesting how this rings a bell as well to the Singapore audience when we think about Singapore films like 'Ilo Ilo' and 'I am not stupid'. It seems Singapore is equally fixated on students but in very different ways. Among the films of the other countries, love and friendship seem to surface quite often. As Thai curator Sanchai Chotirosseranee (picture below) says, 'Love is quite a popular theme for Thai films, both features and shorts. It seems very easy for the audiences to connected and and be universally interested.'
Meanwhile, in Vietnam, it is anything goes. Vietnamese film curator Marcus Manh (picture below) calls the current filmmaking scene in his country the "Hundred Flowers Movement", represented by a diversity of genres and voices, from independent cinema to big budget commercial projects. He shares 'The Vietnamese box-office is no longer a Holllywood dominated one, it is occupied by Vietnamese films of comedy, chick-flick or horror genre. More and more cineplexes are being built in a fast speed, not only in big cities but also in provinces where there is little entertainment opportunities for the folk, especially the young generation of 16-25 years old. A system of film rating is being enhanced, in which the Singaporean one has been taken into account as benchmark. In my opinion, this development is taking place for at least another 5 years before it will reach its peak.'

Lessons from Singapore? Perhaps in another 5 years, Singapore will need lessons from Vietnam. 

Enjoy the rest of AFS in pictures.....

Team Vietnam: filmmaker Do Quoc Troung with film curator Marcus Manh
Filmmaker Davy Chou from Cambodia
 Team Philippines: Film curator Shireen Seno and filmmaker Jade Castro

Objectifs founder Yuni Hadi with Team Malaysia (from left) Taufiq, Bradley Liew and Tan Chui Mui
The Singapore grassroots - film writer and producer Lee Chee Tian, film curator Aishah Abu Bakar, manager of Substation's 'Moving Images' Vincent Quek, film producer and educator Juan Foo and film pogrammer Chew Keng Kiat

Stay tuned for our reviews of a selection of short films from the AFS in an upcoming post.
For more information, check out: objectifs.com.sg/afs2015

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