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  • Theorizing Region: Film and Video Cultures in Southeast Asia
  • Philippa Lovatt and Jasmine Nadua Trice (bio)

A construct that works both above and below the nation, region is often an implied rather than explicit critical framework in cinema and media studies. This In Focus dossier mobilizes post-millennial Southeast Asian film and video cultures to conceptualize the place of region in the field. Across five essays, contributors theorize region as both a supranational space of collectivity and a subnational sphere of minoritarian and indigenous film practices.1 What kinds of networks can regional thinking engender? What histories does it unearth, and which might it obscure? How have states, industries, and institutions enabled or obstructed these exchanges? In what ways might parallel themes, aesthetics, and modes of production and circulation constitute a regional cinema? With these questions as a starting point, the essays cover a wide range of topics and approaches: filmmaking within contexts of authoritarianism, trans-regionalist aesthetics, industry studies, and ecocinema studies.2

It has now been two decades since the 1997 IMF Financial Crisis swept through Southeast Asia, spreading economic upheaval. Diverse film and [End Page 158] video scenes emerged in its wake. The proliferation of low-cost digital video for production and dissemination, the expansion of local and international film festival circuits, and the normalization of video piracy gave rise to alternative production cultures in metros and provincial capitals, against a backdrop of rising authoritarianism and censorship. Across the region, new film cultures took shape. Over the past two decades, a wave of film scholarship and criticism approached these cinemas from regional perspectives. In English-language academic writing, three anthologies and two special journal issues have traced its formation.3 Two more anthologies are forthcoming.4 The research on Southeast Asian cinema overlaps with much of the work in East and South Asian cinema and media studies, but because its focus is so often based on independent film industries and semi-formalized art scenes, it also fits with scholarship that addresses the spatialities of filmmaking contexts that are in various ways “smaller-scale,” though not necessarily non-dominant within their domestic settings, such as cinemas of small nations, cinema at the periphery, and screen media in the “penumbra of the global.”5 The following essays reflect English-language cinema and media scholars’ moves toward decentered cartographies of cultural production.

Scholarship on Southeast Asian film and video has also traced the shared and interrelated histories of colonialism and the Cold War, particularly through close textual attention to the influential work of global auteurs such as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz, Rithy Panh, and Garin Nugroho.6 These filmmakers have often been seen as narrators of counter-histories, sometimes using indirect means to tell stories of their nations’ violent pasts. Film scholars including May Adadol Ingawanij, Arnika Fuhrmann, and Bliss Cua Lim have considered some of these regional histories through cinema’s [End Page 159] narrative and aesthetic entanglements with locally grounded cosmologies and belief systems such as Animism, Buddhism, and spectrality.7

Inspired by this work, the essays collected here seek to broaden this frame of reference through the inclusion of less well-known filmmakers and by considering aspects of the region’s recent human and ecological histories that have received less critical attention. To do this, we engage with ideas from a range of perspectives, aiming to collectively generate new ways to conceive of a regional cinema that acknowledge and move beyond national histories of trauma and state violence.

The essays share a resistance to territorial conceptualizations of region and take spatiality as their primary mode of inquiry. This allows them to ask how the specific topology and hydrography of Southeast Asia open up other possible ways of imagining and theorizing a regional cinema. Analyzing film cultures in Mindanao and Yogyakarta, both Patrick F. Campos and Dag Yngvesson explore the limits of national frameworks. Campos examines how filmmakers from the militarized, southern area of Mindanao question official, Philippine histories. Meanwhile, Yngvesson’s essay tracks the long history of regional representation in Indonesian filmmaking, examining how current Javanese film practice mediates national, global, and Southeast Asian dynamics in a predominantly Islamic, Indonesian-speaking country. Both Campos and Yngvesson construct...