Why South East Asia’s film industry succeeds against all odds

Photo by Dr Nico Meißner.

South East Asia’s under appreciated but vibrant independent filmmaking industry has reels of wisdom for emerging filmmakers according to new research from Griffith Film School.

Dr Meißner, Griffith Film School.

Dr Nico Meißner, Deputy Director of Learning and Teaching, interviewed 27 filmmakers as part of what he says is the first project to explore filmmaking across the region, spanning countries from Indonesia to Myanmar.

By delving into the lives and stories behind the careers of South East Asia’s most influential filmmakers, including Camera d’Or winner Anthony Chen and Brunei’s first female director Siti Kamaluddin, Dr Meißner hopes up and coming filmmakers will be inspired to be more resourceful.

While many of his students aspire to Hollywood, Dr Meißner says the creative communities across South East Asia show it is possible to build a career outside of major film production hubs and away from government funding.

“Laos is probably the least developed in terms of screen culture. But what I found in the country was a real will to create a distinct filmic identity, a new wave of Laos cinema,” he said.

“There’s an interesting fusion of developing this personal, local voice and style, but operating in an international network of festivals, supporters and media funding. I think that is something that especially Australians can learn a lot from.”

“There’s also a deeper reason to think local as US content is overshadowing the unique stories that only these filmmakers can tell with authenticity.”

“When we teach film, we think about preparing students for specialisations in a production department, one person does camera, one person does the editing. In South East Asia I saw what I call ‘total filmmakers’, artists who could do multiple things borne out of necessity.”

Paths Untold: Laos – Mattie Do by Dr Nico Meßiner. Coarse language warning.

“Many countries do not have the support structure like a Screen Queensland or an ABC that can get a screen career started. It becomes necessary to develop your soft skills like looking for opportunities, taking risks, getting out there, believing in your story, networking and building a team.”

As part of the project Dr Meißner created a website which hosts mini documentaries and provides an intimate portrait of the filmmakers encountered.

Independent Filmmaking in South East Asia: Conversations with Filmmakers on Building and Sustaining a Creative Career is available through Routledge. Paths Untold has 27 short films of the interviews in the research project.

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