Much Ado About Nothing: Southeast Asian Filmmakers on Life with the 'Rona, Part 3


The last (for now!) of our multi-part series which checks in on how filmmakers in Southeast Asia are putting up at home during the lockdown, our journey across the region continues with both veterans and exciting new talents.

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Aacharee ‘Ohm’ Ungsriwong, Thailand

Ohm is a film editor based in Bangkok. Starting her career in 2010 as the assistant editor of famed editor Lee Chatametikool when he edited Aditya Assarat’s Hi-so and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s landmark Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, which was the first Southeast Asian winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival. Ohm has gone on to edit various festival darlings, both features (By The Time It Gets Dark; Krabi, 2562) and shorts (Sunday). In addition, she has also worked with brands such as Chevrolet, Accenture and Agoda on commercial projects.

What is your biggest concern right now?
My biggest concern is that my grandma would get COVID-19. She already has bad lungs so she would probably not make it. Another concern for me is that the inequality is going to be even worse. Some people already committed suicide because they couldn’t find a way out of this economically.

What are you watching or doing right now?
I was watching Parasite with my mom. It’s her first time watching it and I really like looking at her reactions. I also like watching it again and feel the cut. It’s very nice rhythm and the way it uses the music is also very precise. The story resonates what’s happening now as well. It’s an inconvenience for the rich but the matter of life and death for the poor.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I’m so looking forward to seeing the world operating again. I hope we will learn something and build  a better society.


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Danech San, Cambodia

Danech is a filmmaker based in Phnom Penh. Originally trained in interior design, Danech has been working on TV and film production since 2014. She has worked on several films on production and casting with up-and-coming Cambodian production company Anti-Archive, and her debut short film as director, A Million Years, has travelled to over twenty film festivals worldwide.

What is your biggest concern right now?
I’m most concerned now of being exposed to this virus and possibly become a spreader so every time I go outside my house, i have this anxiety. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
I learn cooking, watch films and reading a book called “Note: On the making of Apocalypse Now by Eleanor Coppola”. Recently, I watched Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders and I like the film very much.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
Physically meet my friends and families, going to swim, mountain trekking, and I want to complete my new short film.


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Nadira Ilana, Malaysia

An award-winning filmmaker, writer, and activist born and raised in Kota Kinabalu, Nadira was the first East Malaysian to win the Freedom Film Fest Award for Best Human Rights Documentary in 2012 for The Silent Riot, a politico-historical documentary on the 1986 Sabah riots. A champion for East Malaysian representation in the Malaysian national narrative, Nadirah was an alumna of the Berlinale Talent Campus, BIFAN NAFF Fantastic Film School, Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF)’s Southeast Asian Film Lab and the Luang Prabang International Film Fest's Talent Lab.

What is your biggest concern right now?
It’s been nearly 20 days since Malaysia went under the Movement Control Order (MCO). Just a couple of weeks before that, our then multi-racial government collapsed over one weekend and was usurped by a Malay-majority political coalition. We barely had time to adjust before we had to isolate ourselves and with a new Federal Cabinet, it’s difficult to gauge how everything is functioning. This whole month has been bloody surreal for us as a country, to say the least.

My main concern is for our health and economy; how we can be a democracy now, or even conduct protests in an era of social-distancing. It’s bizarre that with ordinary citizens being forced to stay home, the government is now in total control of our well-being. It’s like a police state - but a necessary one.

Despite that, I am so far fairly satisfied with how things are being handled here compared to some other countries where politicians are still in denial of how gruesome this pandemic truly is. MCO restrictions here are tight. Unlike many, I’m fortunate to have a roof over my head and food to eat. My family are safe although I can’t see them. Now that people have begun to adjust to the situation, work is starting to come in though it’s mainly virtual. As for the virus, it’s changed every rule on how we live and interact. I think things will get worse before they get better but we’ll get through it if we all remain loving and vigilant.

What are you watching or doing right now?
Playing and tinkering while practicing self care. Self-isolation is a kind of sensory depravation so I’m taking advantage of this situation by exploring other facets of myself as a creative. I’ve been recording myself singing and playing on Instagram (@feistgeist) so my guitar is saving my life right now. I was concerned at first about not being able to make films this year so having the chance to explore my musical side has cracked open this whole other world.

I’ve been working on how to maximise the use of my kitchen and garden in case we do start running out of rations. I love recipes that require fermentation so I’ve made my own hot sauce and tepache, which is a kind of fermented pineapple ‘beer’ from Mexico (because, priorities). I haven’t watched as many films as I thought I would because it makes me miss the outside world. I’m meant to be in post-production of my short film, ‘Terang Bulan’ but I can’t do ADR right now because I’m in KL and my cast are in Sabah.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
Hugs and lots of cuddles. I could really use a hug right now.

Also, song recommendation: Janis Joplin - Get It While You Can.


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Bianca Balbuena, Philippines

The youngest recipient of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) FIAPF Award for her contribution to Asia Pacific cinema and the 2018 Asian Film Commissions (AFC) Network’s Producer of the Year, Bianca is a producer, writer, and the co-founder and CEO of Epicmedia Productions. She has attended the Produire Au Sud of Festival des 3 Continents, Rotterdam Producers Lab, Talent Campus Tokyo, Cannes’ La Fabrique des Cinemas du Monde, EAVE Ties That Bind, Aljazeera Witness Documentary Workshop and the Berlinale Talent Project Market where she won the ARTE Prize for Above The Clouds, her first venture into French co-production. Amongst the many works she has produced, notable ones include Antoinette Jadaone's That Thing Called Tadhana, one of the highest grossing independent film in Philippine box office history; Bradley Liew's debut feature Singing In Graveyards, which premiered at Venice Film Festival Critics Week 2016, and sophomore Motel Acacia, which premiered at the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival; and Lav Diaz’s Berlinale 2016 Silver Bear winning A Lullaby To The Sorrowful Mystery.

What is your biggest concern right now?
The biggest concern I have now is that our President asked for emergency powers and a whopping Php 275Billion to address the pandemic but has not given us his plan and solution. People are dying but his priority is to “arrest and shoot” those who oppose. The Covid numbers in our country are rising and we are only a few days to the lifting of the lockdown. I have a feeling it will be extended. To how long? No one knows. But not only our country but the whole world is crumbling and testing our humanity. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
To be honest, I got addicted to Something In The Rain. It’s a K-Drama available on Netflix. I’m also watching the flicks and series available on our local streaming platform called iWant TV. My entire day is mostly taking care of my child. And trying to cook. Haha.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I’m looking forward to hugging my friends and family members. Big tight hug. And to get a good 2-hour deep tissue massage.


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Nguyễn Lương Hằng, Vietnam

Hằng is a writer, director, and producer based in Ho Chi Minh City. An alumna of the SGIFF Southeast Asian Film Lab, the HANIFF Talent Campus, the NAFF Fantastic Film School, and the Film Leaders Incubator: FLY, she has worked on a variety of productions, the latest of which includes the gay dramedy, Goodbye Mother.

What is your biggest concern right now?
The pandemic is affecting us on all possible aspects of our lives on so many levels, some are not even foreseeable at the moment. Several friends of mine who are social workers are already concerned about the public’s mental health after such a trauma. But what’s most immediate and relevant to me is the livelihood of a lot of our colleagues who work in the film industry as freelancers getting paid per project or daily wage earners. A halt on all productions means an instant cut of income, even while we still need to sustain ourselves and our families. The next 3 months or even more will be particularly hard. Some initiatives are being taken in neighbouring countries, a good example is the Lockdown Cinema Club campaign to raise funds for the freelance filmmaking community in the Philippines. Maybe we could start to do something similar to help our own community in Vietnam. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
Like almost everyone else right now, I have been mostly staying home and suddenly afford the luxury of time and space to consume all the books and movies and music that normally I don’t have enough time to read or watch. It’s also a perfect time to write and go back to work on my scripts. I have also started to read The Plague by Albert Camus, suggested to me by a Japanese friend. The coronavirus has sparked the public’s interest in the book in Japan recently it has become a best seller. It’s just funny how a novel written in the 40s of the previous century is now more relevant than ever in this modern world where we once thought we could control all the diseases. 

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I just can’t wait to meet up with friends in a big group gathering just so we can look at each and every one of us, give each other a hug and enjoy a sweet and simple moment of physical proximity.


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Thảo Hồ, Vietnam

Thảo is a filmmaker based in Hanoi.

What is your biggest concern right now?
My biggest concern is the community’s health, including my family and myself. We are put in a state of dilemma. We have to stay home but at the same time we have to work. I also feel sorry for the people living in other countries in the world as their lives have been ruined by the virus.

What are you watching or doing right now. 
As a filmmaker, writing scripts and watching films are my regular tasks, even in the time of corona. I think filmmakers should make those a practice everyday. These days, I enjoy many websites for free entry such as IDFA, Cinemascope, Cambridge’s online library and so on. I rewatched Tsai Ming Liang’s The Hole. In the film, the world also has a very odd disease, but in the end, there is love. In addition, I have time to improve another language. I feel like the routine of the world has changed a lot but me, not so much.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
I hope the world recover soon and less crazy than before. Many things changed, I would like to see how much cinema changes after this. While in quarantine, I pop up with new ideas that I want to try in the future.


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Tang Wan Xin, Singapore

Wan Xin is a filmmaker based in New York and Singapore. A graduate of the Puttnam School of Film at LASALLE College of the Arts, her directorial interest lies in issue-based topics and unconventional female characters. She hopes to reveal truths that reality often conceals, and firmly believes in film as a tool for her to raise awareness, bring in new perspectives and to challenge existing ideologies.

What is your biggest concern right now?
People who are homeless, displace, the poor and the vulnerable. Most of them can’t even meet the most basic needs and yet with this virus lurking around, it’s just heartbreaking at the thought of it.  With what is happening, it really registers just how privileged and fortunate I am. For God's sake, I am in a freaking hotel provided by the government doing my quarantine. 

Also closer to home, the stubborn older folks in the family that are still insisting on going out despite so the stringent warning (and yelling). It so ironic how the parent roles have switched. Urgh, wish I can lock up them up or something.

PLEASE STAY HOME GUYS. LET’S NOT BE COMPLACENT. 

What are you watching or doing right now?
I just finished Tiger King. I kinda want to create a special group chat with people who caught it,  just to discuss the madness of it all.

Just before flying back home, I started thinking a lot as my role as a storyteller and the distinction between a narrative filmmaker, a documentarian and a journalist. I just felt so helpless being stuck at home but one day I got inspired by Ozu’s pillow shots and started an Instagram page where people from all over the world share their view from their window: a way to encourage people to stay at home. The responses have been amazing and even touching so far. It made me realised that this is happening everywhere in the world and not just the country you are in. It’s just so insane. It called @thepillowshotclub.

Apart from that, I still have online classes to attend. The good news is that drinking wine in class is highly appreciated. HA!

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
The day where I can sit anywhere and people watch, have awkward eye contact with strangers for a second too long and to have large dinner gatherings with my friends; sharing small plates without any repercussion.

Also, to finally start pre-production and location scout for my next short in Indonesia.


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Don Aravind, Singapore

A veteran screenwriter and director, Don has worked on more than 25 short films, and currently directs for television and commercial content while still maintaining a practice in independent filmmaking.

What is your biggest concern right now? 
At large, the development of this pandemic is something that keeps me up. It has raised so much of questions within  myself from a personal level - spiritually, economically and scientifically. A month back my father was suspected of having the Covid-19 virus and he was in an isolated ward. No one in my family could see him till he was tested. After two days he was cleared, but the fear was real. A close friend’s grandmother was tested positive and he had to be quarantined at home as well. It wasn’t easy psychologically for him and his family as well. At the heart of it, I do hope this crisis ends real soon as it’s not really a safe environment for our elderly and people with existing medical conditions. However, there are pressing issues at large which definitely needs immediate attention from mankind - CLIMATE CHANGE, GLOBAL WARMING.  The world will be different after this ordeal.

What are you watching or doing right now?
I had to binge watch the first season of a TV series which I might be potentially be working on for its next instalment. I am also in post production of a short film I just completed. Besides work, I am using this down time to catch up on books, sleep and family. I am also spending lots of time cycling, it’s therapy for me.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
TRAVEL.


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Nicole Midori Woodford, Singapore

Nicole is a film director, writer, and editor. An alumna of Berlinale Talents, Asian Film Academy, Torino Film Lab and Talents Tokyo, her short films have travelled the festival circuit widely, including Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival and Busan International Film Festival. A lecturer at the School of Art, Design and Media of the Nanyang Technological University, Nicole is currently preparing her debut feature, You Are There, which was selected in the inaugural edition of SEAFIC film lab, the SGIFF Southeast Asian Lab, Torino Film Lab, and Talents Tokyo.


What is your biggest concern right now?
Biggest worry is that globally all of us won’t be able to get out of this one…But most immediate worry is that this pandemic is disproportionately affecting the marginalised and lower income, the ones neglected are the ones most vulnerable to the effects of this crisis. Even here in Singapore we are seeing this happen right now, it has exposed the cracks in our society.

What are you watching or doing right now?
Alternating back and forth between online consultations with my students, team meetings with colleagues and writing scripts. I’ve been trying to have a daily routine so that by end of the ‘work’ day, I have certain things to look forward to like reading a graphic novel (currently Sabrina by Nick Drnaso), working out indoors or cooking dinner with my husband.

What are you looking forward to after this is all over?
To be able to watch films in the cinema again. And of course to see friends and family in person!



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Check out part 1 and part 2 of the series if you haven't already!

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