The 6th Annual Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference was held in Ho Chi Minh City. Due to the amount of work and energy it takes to organise these gatherings (mostly done by a group of dedicated volunteers spread throughout the globe), we decided after Manila 2008 that we would hold our conferences bi-annually instead. As a result, and perhaps also because of growing interest in the field, we received over 80 abstract submissions for this year’s conference. In order to accommodate as many quality papers, the conference was spread out over 4 full days, sprinkled with short film screenings and one feature-length film and two panels with film producers and directors.
The conference went smoothly and was by many accounts, a huge success. We had about 118 people in attendance. Many participants appreciated the intimate and informal nature of the conference: since there were no concurrent sessions, the panels were well-attended and fostered an atmosphere of collegiality and closeness. The proximity of the accommodations to the conference venue also helped ensure relatively high attendance in the morning sessions—though the late night World Cup matches were probably our biggest competitor. Although we had to relocate to another venue a month before the event, everything fell into place when we secured the alternative venue.
The conference kicked off with Adam Knee’s plenary speech on the complexities of the term and field of cinema in “Southeast Asia.” Knee outlined the problematic of the term as a historical Cold War construct for the region but at the same time also pointed out similar social themes that cinemas from the various countries in the region share: among them rural versus urban concerns, gender and sexuality, as well as the impact of political and traumatic events. This was inevitably reflected in some of the individual papers. This year however there were no papers on cinema from Malaysia (one had been selected from the submissions but the presenter could not come), and although participants were treated to excerpts and short films from Vietnam, as well as a few papers on Vietnamese cinema, unfortunately we did not get as many local Vietnamese students attending as compared to previous years (though we had two Vietnamese academics from Hanoi attending).
Nevertheless most people came away with the knowledge that indie filmmaking here was beginning to catch up with other parts of SEA. Marcus Manh Cuong Vu introduced us to YxineFF, the first online Short Film Festival for the Vietnamese Speaking Community, and the strong presence of Vietnamese and Vietnamese American filmmakers who are making films in Vietnam testified to a burgeoning interest. In fact, the filmmakers‘ panel which featured Sherman Ong (Malaysia), Pepe Diokno (Philippines) and filmmakers like Victor Vu, Doan Minh Phuong, Charlie Nguyen and Nguyen Trong Khoa attracted a surprising number of local Vietnamese (including media) who showed up for this wrap up session.
For me as organiser and someone who had only missed one conference (Manila), it was good to see interesting papers that focused on the history of cinema in the region (as part of circuses, as Nadi Tofighian’s paper shows), film aesthetics (Philippa Lovatt’s paper on the work of Apichatpong Weeresethakul—fresh from his win for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives in Cannes) and a serious study of Filipino indie filmmaker Raya Martin’s works in relation to history. This year’s focus on theory and practice saw the use of theoretical concepts like the Parergon (Teh) and Derrida’s specter (Manzanilla) and from Christian theology (Zulueta). Brett Farmer’s paper introduced the concept of “vernacular queerness” in Thai cinema which might easily be applied to cinema in the Philippines too. In future, however, we would like to have conversational dialogue sessions on theory, nationalisms and cinema rather than straight paper presentations as we have been doing with the academic panels.
Gaik Cheng Khoo – ASEACC organising committee member
At this conference, we paid tribute to the memory of two larger than life contributors to contemporary Southeast Asian cinema who passed away in 2009: Malaysian filmmaker Yasmin Ahmad (July 2009) and fellow ASEACC organiser and film critic Alexis Tioseco who was murdered together with his lover, another film critic Nika Bohinc in early September.
This year though, sadly, two weeks after the conference wrapped up, we lost another ASEACC organiser, film writer and lecturer Benjamin McKay, in Kuala Lumpur. He was 46. I had invited both Alexis and Benjamin to the first conference in Singapore in 2004: Alexis in 2004 had been a writer for a website indieFilipino.com but he went on to start up Criticine.com, became a well-travelled film programmer, critic as well as film lecturer.
Benjamin, then a PhD student working on his dissertation on Malay cinema of the 1960s at Charles Darwin University(Australia),
moved to KL and lectured at Monash there. His Malaysian cinema course was packed to the brim with loyal (and I’m sure royally-entertained) students. Benjamin consistently contributed articles on Malaysian cinema.
He played a major role in organising ASEACC in KL (2006) and Alexis, in Manila (2008). Both will be sorely missed: Alexis for his passionate struggle to highlight the region’s art cinema, and Benjamin for his wit, vim for life and critical recognition that popular cinema for other reasons also merits study. We hope the affectionate dialogue between them continues in a place unencumbered by the coils of mortality.