Concentrated Nonsense (cinema edition)

Syndromes and Singapore

Two attempts at censorship in Southeast Asia: one directly (a film), another indirectly (a festival).

In Thailand, following a protracted fight against the censorship of his film Syndromes and a Century, Apichatpong Weerasethakul relents and agrees to the demanded cuts, but not without making his disgust heard: the excised scenes will be replaced by silent scratched black leader. This will total 15 minutes of the films 105 minute running time.


“It’s cynical, but actually it’s a statement for the audience to make them aware that they are being blinded from getting information in this society,”

“Maybe there will be a small group of people who want to see my film, and this is the version they can see through the system,”

Syndromes producer Keith Griffith explains in Filmmaker magazine.
Bangkok’s new freesheet Daily Xpress reports.
*thanks to Wise Kwai

In Singapore the government, despite seeming abundance, continues to provide peanut-sized funding to the most important film festival in Southeast Asia, the Singapore International Film Festival, now on its 21st year.

Tan Pin Pin, director of the much lauded Singapore Gaga and Invisible City, was among a group of 25 respected members of the film community that attempted to rally support for the festival by writing a letter to the Singapore Film Commission and Media Development Authority late last year. Their words and request for a meeting fell on deaf ears.

Pin Pin:

Last year, SIFF’s finances were in dire straits and whether it could make it to the 21st edition was in doubt. When we knew SIFF was having difficulty fundraising, a group of us media professionals came together to help. One of the initiatives was to write a letter to the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) to persuade them to increase the funding for SIFF.

Our letter didn’t have much of an effect. Our request to meet them was alas not taken up because it “was not necessary”. The SFC/MDA has made very clear that it is not interested in an independently curated film festival like SIFF. For the 2008 edition, the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) gave SIFF $65,000 (US$40,000).

The show goes on as scheduled, April 4-14, but the festival remains in a difficult position financially. Pin Pin posts the letter, complete with notes from those who signed, and provides an address where monetary support for SIFF may be sent on her blog.

Update: April 9, 2008
Kong Rithdee writes about the release of Syndromes in an April 4 article for the Bangkok Post. Excerpts:

The film will be shown twice a day at Paragon Cineplex for two weeks, starting next Thursday. With every ticket purchased, the audience will receive a limited edition set of postcards bearing still photos of the censored scenes.

Along with the surprise release of this highly-praised Thai movie, which is as fascinating for its odd style as the ruckus that has built up around it, the Thai Film Foundation will organise an exhibition entitled “History of Thai Censorhip” in the theatre hall. Partly a chronicle of Saeng Satawat’s turbulent journey from its world premiere in Venice in September 2006 to the release of the cut version in its homeland 19 months later (see box), the exhibit will also trace the history of movie censorship in Thailand and its connection to the country’s politics since the time of King Rama VII.

“I would like the public to become aware of the problem of censorship and to stimulate a discussion in society,” says Apichatpong. “Even though the Film Act of 1930 has been replaced by a new one, passed last December, the new law, which introduced a rating system, still permits censorship and the provision to ban a movie. That is not an improvement to people’s freedom of expression.”


“I’d like the audience to feel that they’re forced to be in the dark, while the scratches signify an agent of destruction,” he says. “If censorship is still with us, then maybe this is how we should watch the movies.”


Chalida Uabumrungjit of Thai Film Foundation, organiser of the screening and exhibition, says she’s aware of the tricky process of promoting the release of this much-awaited film and at the same time informing the public that it’s a censored edition.

“To show this movie in a big downtown theatre is a statement,” she says. “And I believe that to choose to watch it is also a form of statement from the viewers.” In the exhibit, visitors can revisit the first incident of film censorship in pre-constitution Siam, when Amnad Mued (Dark Power) was originally banned for featuring scenes of a criminal den, but was later allowed to screen by King Rama VII.

The polarised attitudes for and against censorship, Chalida says, have been a constant since the time of the original Film Act in 1930. Back then, there was even a poster campaign condemning cinema as a “lesson on how to become a crook”, with reference to crime movies of the day. But there was also the argument, as posited in a letter to a journal, that “cinema is also a lesson for policemen – on how to catch a crook.”

A Postcard from Paris
March 23, 2008, 11:59 pm
Filed under: postcards | Tags:

Jean-Marie Straub, after the screening of Quei loro incontri (These Encounters of Theirs) at Reflet Médicis on March 11.



(original size) 

Cinema du Reel 3: Interview with Lav Diaz
March 10, 2008, 6:06 pm
Filed under: Articles, festivals, interviews, philippine cinema | Tags: ,

This interview appears in French in the Cinema du Reel catalogue

The Agony and the Ecstasy:
Fragments of discussions with Lav Diaz on Death in the Land of Encantos
Part One: July 2007

Alexis Tioseco: One of the first films that you made was a documentary on street children. Though I haven’t seen the film, I remember well when you spoke to me about it in a conversation a few years ago. Recalling the work you told me, in a very emotional tone, that should you have the chance you would want to destroy it. You said that it was that film that first brought you to the United States, and that it was difficult to reconcile how you had benefited from the work with the fact that the lives of the subjects hadn’t improved. Now, with Death in the Land of Encantos, you are straddling the lines between documentary and fiction. You started out shooting documentary footage of the people of Bicol and their stories after the typhoon but decided to write a story around it. At what point did you decide to use fiction, and what made you decide to do this?

Are you weary of the ethical dimensions of making a documentary on such a tragedy, and feel it is only fiction that you can tell their stories? Do you still wish to destroy the early documentary on street children?

Lav Diaz: After reading a Philippine Daily Inquirer story about the aftermath of Reming (Durian is the international name), the strongest typhoon that ever hit the country in living memory, I decided to shoot some footage, not intently a full blown documentary; just record images of the tragedy, interview people, survivors, and give it to an NGO, the UN mission here, or any agency, foundation or institution that needed some footage. Maybe they can use it. I wanted to do something. I thought I could contribute with my camera. I was disturbed by the apathy of people outside Bicol. It was no big news to them even though they learned from the news about the tragedy. Ah, talaga, maraming patay. Maraming nalibing ng buhay. Grabe pala, ano (Oh, really, many people died. Many were buried alive. It’s terrible, no). Period. And they’d go back to the contemporary Pinoy inanities like what was happening with the national pastime Kris Aquino, [daughter of former president Cory Aquino and TV host of game shows] and her new husband and her pregnancy. I myself didn’t realize the magnitude of the calamity until I read some accounts.

And I am really attached to Bicol. The last shoot of Ebolusyon ng Isang Pamilyang Pilipino was shot in Ligao and Guinobatan, Albay, and Rawis in Legazpi City in November of 2004. And a big part of Heremias, Book Two, about seventy five percent was shot there August to October in 2006. Some of the shooting sites and places where we stayed during the production were really ground zero during the typhoon; villages like Guinobatan, Daraga, Arimbay, Sto. Domingo, Padang, Pawa, Rawis, Cagsawa.

When I got there, it was hell. The smell of death was everywhere. All you could see was utter disarray, devastation, destruction, insanity, pain, sadness, unbearable suffering. Villages were gone, hundreds of people were buried alive, hundreds were missing. Pompeidom, worse than Mayon’s 1814 onslaught. It became a point and shoot exercise because everything was a part of the tragedy; it was just everywhere. You shoot in silence, trying to make sense out of the devastation. By then, a documentary was taking shape and initially, there was a subconscious thread that I was following, visiting the places where I shot the two films, and visiting friends. I was like… this was where we shot this scene, and we put the camera here. Now, the trees are gone, the road is now a river. The lead actor walked here, we followed him. The road is gone, it is now covered with sand and huge rocks, unbelievably huge rocks, some are bigger than nipa-huts [small homes constructed out of bamboo], and you wonder how the typhoon was able to carry them down. Many dramatic scenes happened in this house, now half of the house is gone; the owner says they almost drowned. I am reenacting the camera movement, imagining the characters are still there, and I am doing a take two or three of a certain scene. It was a very depressing exercise. I was thinking of doing juxtapositions—scenes from the two films and the remnant of the calamity in the locations where we shot them and of course, the whole tragedy as expressed by people we interviewed and those who got involved in the two productions. This became the initial mise en scene of the work, a shoot-edit exercise that’s taking place in my head.

Back to Manila after a week of shoot, I watched the footage. It was harrowing. I couldn’t sleep. I decided to take a different approach, a mixture of documentary and fiction. I already had a story in my head and wrote an outline. We contacted three theater actors, Roeder, Perry Dizon and Angeli Bayani; two local non-actors, the painter Dante Perez and Sophia Aves, played major roles. I just told them we’d do improvisation. I selected four people to work with me for the sound, design and stills. I was the cameraman. It was just a small unit. The first weeks, we used a tricycle [to get around] but eventually [we] got a cheap van. I was writing the script while we were shooting. I wrote the script at night, usually at dawn, and before breakfast, they were reading the scenes for the day. I chose the buried village of Padang as the central location of the story. We shot the film in six weeks within the months of December and January. I added more scenes this May, June and July in Pila, Laguna and Makati. I’ve been in the cutting room the last three months. The film could run seven to eight hours to nine hours. Initial reactions to the work? The Hubert Bals Fund of the Rotterdam International Film Festival gave post production support. Toronto invited it with two scheduled showings; one will be an installation in an art gallery. Venice might get it, too. But I am not sure if I can do a final cut by August. Again, I am struggling and battling with its structure and content. It is becoming a fierce aesthetic battle because the story keeps evolving and, again, I am a slave to the discourse: theory versus common sense, intellectualizing versus being simply tactile, romanticizing versus just being honest about it The form is constantly changing that is why I couldn’t stop shooting, I couldn’t stop viewing and viewing and re-cutting the initial cut and I am dead tired, numbed and bored. I actually erased the whole first cut, a seven-hour version, in utter exasperation and anger and started from scratch again. But I am not complaining. The deed did me good. I was able to exorcise myself from being trapped in a post-pit of robotic editing.

Adding fiction became an imperative as I wanted greater discourse; the enigma of the majestic and imposing Mayon volcano, which was one of the major actors in Encantos by the way, offers a great metaphor for beauty, nostalgia, love of country, corruption, power, humility, death, destruction, redemption, truth, the thesis of suffering and pain as the greater truths of existence. The decision to include fiction is an aesthetic decision. And [it is] very personal, too. Even though I believe that a straight documentary would be very, very strong, my dread of doing it goes back to the documentary on street children and the still unfinished Sarungbanggi ni Alice (Night of Alice). Again, I felt like I was an intruder, a trespasser— an opportunist capitalizing on other peoples’ miseries. I didn’t want to go through that guilt trip again. Also, I wanted to experiment on form and have better control in the direction of its content. I wanted to balance it. Doing fiction puts you on so many levels—an observer, a critic, a philosopher, an empathic creator, a participant, the suffering poet, the man who loses everything. You are creating characters and their stories. Adding fiction somehow pushed my camera’s perspective in a different position. Shooting the documentary parts was like going to the battle zone. This was reality. No ifs and buts. You could be selective with your shots, with people whom you will speak with, but this was reality. You see things but then you wouldn’t know what’s going to hit you. The experience of immersion, or the pain of immersion, has the characteristic of the unknown. You have no control over it. At times it was so immediate and we could not control it. We’d be weeping in an instant. With fiction, there was some control. You write the treatment, the dialogue, have discourse with the actors, do rehearsals, chose the angles. You prepare. But during dramatizations, especially when the actors are truly immersed, then it would be a totally different dynamic. Just the same, you’d be weeping in an instant if a scene hits you.

Also, with fiction you destroy all the cushions of the man with an irresponsible camera that records, turns his back, goes home, edits the scoop and waits for the next calamity, for the next scoop, who treats recording miseries as just a job, because you are actively engaging with it.

The documentary on street children? Do I still wish to destroy it? No. I’ve come to terms with it albeit I’m still haunted by the memory of the street children that I interviewed. The year was 1992. Where are they now? It is now 2007. Did they survive at all? I cringe at the thought. You think of reality and it’s horrors. Hunger. If they are still alive. You think of questions: have they become criminals? The system is still so corrupt and feudal. You can still see hundreds of street children. Poverty is still the biggest issue in our country. Neglect is still a big issue. Irresponsibility remains a big issue. Apathy has gone to cancerous proportion. The sons of the motherland are still killing the sons of the motherland. The motherland is becoming a vast wasteland. The cross remains. The pinoy pathos is getting darker.

And I don’t know if that documentary is still extant. I haven’t heard or I haven’t seen the people who commissioned it.

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Cinema du Reel 2: Presentations
March 7, 2008, 10:17 am
Filed under: festivals | Tags:

Update: The following special presentation schedule was released by the festival:

Friday 7
4pm Winter Soldier,
Winterfilm, 96’, 1972
Presentation : Nicole Brenez

8.30pm Lions love (…and lies),
Agnès Varda, 110’, 1969
Screening followed by a debate with Agnès Varda

Sunday 9
4pm One Step Away
Ed Pincus, 60’, 1967
Presentation : Ross McElwee

5.15pm Pictures from life’s other side
Jim McBride, 45’, 1971
Screening followed by a debate with Jim McBride and Bernard Eisenschitz
(The debate will take place in the forum at level -1)

8pm Portrait of Jason
Shirley Clarke, 99’, 1967
Presentation : Yann Lardeau

8.30pm Air dan Romi (Feuille sur un oreiller)
Garin Nugroho, 83’, 1998
Screening followed by a debate with Alexis A. Tioseco and Garin Nugroho

Monday 10
5pm Time of the Locust (13’,1966) and Last Summer won’t happen (63’,1968)
Peter Gessner,
Pacific Film Archive Copies
Presentation : Irina Leimbacher, Film Studies Department, Berkeley University

Rex Bloomstein, 98’, 2005
Screening followed by a debate with Marie-Pierre Duhamel Müller, _ Emmanuel Finkiel, Jean-Michel Frodon, Ariel Schweitzer, Annette Wierviorka

Wednesday 12
12pm The Axe in the Attic
Ed Pincus et Lucia Small, 110’, 2007
Screening followed by a debate with avec Lucia Small and Irina Leimbacher
(The debate will take place in the forum at level -1)

8pm The Last Communist
Amir Muhammad, 90’, 2006
Screening followed by a debate with Alexis A. Tioseco and Amir Muhammad

Friday 14
12pm Les prisons aussi
Hélène Châtelain, 92’, 1973
Presentation : Anne Toussaint – with de Helene Chatelain

10pm Café-ciné with Elisabeth Lequeret, Irina Leimbacher, Marie-Pierre Duhamel-Muller
Snax Cfé – Free entrance

Saturday 15
11.15am Addoc debate : “Le plan et sa durée, la séquence et son souffle” with Chantal Akerman, Lav Diaz, Claire Atherton, Daniel Deshays, _ Denis Gheerbrant – Free entrance

1pm Filmer en prison, le cadre en question : “Sirrh”, “fragments d’une rencontre” with Caroline Caccavale, Marc Mercier, Kamel Regaya, Anne Toussaint

5.30pm The Cool World
Shirley Clarke, 105’, 1963
Presentation : Frederick Wiseman

6pm Autohystoria
Raya Martin, 95’, 2007
Debate with Raya Martin and Alexis A. Tioseco

Sunday 16
12pm La via del petrolio
Presentation : Bernard Eisenschitz (to be confirmed)

7pm Zmatek
Evald Schorm (35’, 1968)
and Sprizneni Volbou
Karel Vachek (85’, 1968)
Presentation : Helena Zajicova

Monday 17
4.15 pm Voyager, visiter : émerveillements et frissons
Presentation : Serge Bromberg

4.30pm Collection des archives française du film du Centre National de la Cinématographie
Presentation : Beatrice de Pastre – Archives françaises du film

Tuesday 18
7.30pm King Kong
Peter Jackson, 180’, 2005
Debate with Cyril Neyrat, H.Aubron and Y.Lardeau


Also of Philippine interest, two screenings and an anecdote:
1) Burton Holmes in the Philippines
10’ c. 1913
From 1896 to 1946, the Philippines were under American rule.
Friday March 14th 1.45pm, Cinéma 1
2) Bontoc Eulogy
Marlon Fuentes, 57′ c. 1996
At the world faire in St Louis (Missouri) in 1904, Filipino “savages” exhibited as specimens.
Sunday March 9th 11.00am, Centre Wallonie Bruxelles
Thursday March 13th 1.45pm, Cinéma 2

Andecdote: Festival director Marie-Pierre Duhamel-Muller has in her possession an audio recording of an interview by Marco Muller with Lino Brocka– one of the first international interviews conducted with Lino. Must try to bring back a copy.

Cinema du Reel

Blogging from the Hong Kong airort, in transit to Paris.
I’ll be attending Cinema du Reel, a documentary-hybrid festival held in collaboration with Centre Pompidou. This year’s festival includes the section In Southeast Asia, featuring a tribute to Lav Diaz (screening two films for the first time in Paris), and focuses on Garin Nugroho, Amir Muhammad and Raya Martin. The schedule for films in this section is below:

-Friday 7th at 4.30 p.m. : “Lost”, “Friday”, “Kamunting”, “The Big Durian” by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Friday 7th at 6.30 p.m. : “Dongeng Kancil tentang kernerdakaan”, “Layar
Sebuah trilogy politik”, “My Family, My Films, My Nation” by Garin Nugroho (Petite salle)
-Saturday 8 th : “18MP”, “Lelaki Komunis Terakhir” by Amir Muhammad. (Petite salle)
-Sunday 9th at midday : “Mona”, “Pangyau”, “Checkpoint”, “Apa Khabar orang
kampong” by Amir Muhammad. (Cinéma 1)
-Sunday 9th at 8.30 p.m. : “Air dan Romi”, “Daun di atas bantal” by Garin Nugroho. (Cinéma 2)
-Monday 10th at midday : “Air and romi” and “Daun di atas bantal” by Garin Nugroho (Cinéma 1)
-Monday 10th at 2.30 p.m. : “Dongeng Kancil tentang kernerdakaan”, “Layar
Sebuah trilogy politik”, “My Family, My Film, My Nation” by Garin Nugroho (Cinéma 2)
-Wednesday 12th at 2.15 p.m : “Mona”, “Checkpoint”, “Apa khabar orang
kampong” by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Wednesday 12th at 8 p.m : “18 MP”, “Lelaki Komunis Terakhir” by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Friday 14th at 6.30 p.m : “Ang Isla sa Dulo ng Mundo” by Raya Martin (PS)
-Saturday 15th at 6 p.m : “Autohystoria” by Raya Martin (Petite salle)
-Saturday 15th at 8.30 p.m : “Lost”, “Friday”, “Kamunting”, “The Big
Durian by Amir Muhammad (Cinéma 2)
-Saturday 15th at 1 p.m : “Death in the Land of Encantos”by Lav Diaz (MK2)
-Sunday 16th at 4 p.m : “Maicling Pelicula Nang Ysang Indio Nacional” by Raya Martin
(Cinéma 2)
-Sunday 16th at 11 a.m : “Evolution of a Filipino Family” by Lav Diaz (MK2)

…and also screening in the International Competition is Tan Pin Pin’s Invisible City!

Raya, Garin, Lav and Amir will be in attendance (though Amir will arrive on the 11th, he needs to vote!). I will be introducing Raya’s films, and moderating a debate afterwards; the festival is still determining whether there will be debates after Lav Diaz’s and Garin’s screenings. If you’re in Paris, do come! If you know friends who are, do invite them!


From their website:

Since 1978, the Cinéma du Réel international documentary film festival has been an outstanding international meeting point, where the public and professionals discover the films of experienced authors as well as new talents, the history of documentary cinema as well as contemporary works. The festival programs some hundred films for its various sections, screened at the Centre Pompidou, the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles, the MK2 Beaubourg film theatre, the Paris City Hall and several other theatres in the Ile-de- France area.

International Competition
28 French and international premieres, as well as encounters and discussions with the filmmakers.

French Selection
28 French and international premieres, as well as encounters and discussions with the filmmakers.

Retrospectives and Special Programmes

A selection of films where commitment and the driving forces of socio-political movements (against the Vietnam war, for Black empowerment or… for a different way of life) are translated into cinematographic vitality, narrative inventiveness, reinventions of documentary and fiction The programme includes tributes to Shirley Clarke and Jim McBride.

In South-East Asia
From Kuala Lumpur to Manila, from Bangkok to Jakarta, documentary films lend images and sounds to long-buried stories, as witnessed by the works of filmmakers such as Garin Nugroho, Amir Muhammad, Raya Martin. The programme includes a tribute to Lav Diaz, the great Filipino poet of cinema, whose powerful films blend documentary and fiction into a lyrical experience.

Images / Prison: visions from inside
In several European countries, film—especially the documentary—has become a focus for workshops on filmmaking, projections and writing, organised within penal institutions. Here we attempt to understand what they mobilise within their makers and the spectators who watch them on the “outside”.

Figures of tourism : for a history of the “view”
It is well known that one part of the world makes a spectacle of the other part, and this does not date from the advent of digitalisation or miniaturisation of “picture-taking”. From the beginnings of cinema to the present day, what is being played out is a history of the “never seen” and the “already seen”. Modern tourism, with its desire for “authenticity” and “discovery, is the central theme of many films bearing the impossible dreams of the “first times”. Filmmakers take possession of tourist images, re-examine and re-compose them. The tourist as a character and tourist images as material for critical analysis guide a programme that mingles documentary and fiction, past and present, films and videos by plastic artists… to call into question the contemporary “view”.
In partnership with MNAM (Collections Cinéma et Nouveaux Medias), and in association with MK2 Beaubourg and ACRIF.

The Theatre of Reality
La Tentation du Paradis
by Vivianne Perelmuter and François Christophe, with Bruno Putzulu.
The staging of a semi-improvised piece of theatre; the play writes itself in the moment : a lost tourist, images of islands, the ghost of Christopher Columbus, tropical storms…

Special screenings and events Bernardo Bertolucci’s “La Via del petrolio”, Hartmut Bitomsky’s “Staub” etc