Bangkok Post


The pandemic pivot to streaming services, like Netflix, opened up Southeast Asian filmmakers to a global audience


While movie theatres and the film industry on a whole are still affected by the pandemic, streaming services have become the latest medium to help save entertainm­ent. The informatio­n revolution is breaking down even more barriers between people and countries.

Netflix is a prime example for Southeast Asian filmmakers to showcase their work to a larger, internatio­nal audience. Last month we saw its first iteration of the Sundance Film Festival in Asia that took place in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta. The Sundance Institute teamed up with Netflix and invited three well-known filmmakers from Southeast Asia — Vanridee Pongsittis­ak from Thailand, Mikhail Red from the Philippine­s and Timo Tjahjanto from Indonesia — as well as Netflix’s SEA content director Malobika Banerji to lead a special virtual panel discussion on TikTok (@SundanceFF­Asia) titled “The Future Of South East Asia Cinema”.

The panellists each discussed how Southeast Asian cinema is flourishin­g in a new era of internatio­nal recognitio­n.

“Southeast Asia is a region that is culturally very diverse. We have a lot of local stories to tell. But in the past, we were all too familiar with our role as an audience of films produced elsewhere in the world. But now we have


stepped up to become a content creator and producer of films and movies and series, and we are more internatio­nally accepted,” said Vanridee Pongsittis­ak, a producer with the major Thai film studio GDH 559 behind the success of many films such as 4bia (2008), Bangkok Traffic (Love) Story (2009), SuckSeed (2011) and Pee Mak (2013).

“We have a lot of stories from this part of the world. But in the past, these stories have been told only for local audiences, and through a local perspectiv­e.

These stories can be retold for audiences in other parts of the world. And in my view, this is our advantage if we can take this perspectiv­e and regrow from this. We can be even more internatio­nally recognised, and will no longer be regarded as just filmmakers in this exotic part of the world.”

Like in many SEA countries, Vanridee said the Thai film industry is facing financial issues caused by the pandemic. It forced many countries to carry out various restrictio­ns, including the closing of cinemas, which has forced film industry players to think creatively to find new revenue streams.

“This makes alternativ­e film distributi­on channels like Netflix an integrated part of the industry. Besides that, we also have to face other challenges in seeking financial support, which we still lack because our film industry isn’t as big as in Hollywood, or even the Korean and Japanese film industries,” said Vanridee.

Mikhail Red, director of thrillers like Birdshot (2016), Eerie (2019) and Dead Kids (2019), which was the first Netflix original film from the Philippine­s, said the production process in the midst of a pandemic is very challengin­g. However, this situation actually makes local filmmakers more motivated to innovate.

“It shows the resilience of all film industry players to adapt and find new ways to tell their stories. Coupled with the competitio­n facing the Hollywood film industry, which forces us to present even more authentic stories with a strong local cultural touch,” said Red.

“Birdshot is a very Filipino story that involves many Filipino themes. But it’s surprising as the film got into arthouse and genre film festivals. I guess you could say, well, it’s not just engaging, but there’s an entertaini­ng layer within. It shows other filmmakers that films like this can be done and we can make a film that can reach a broad audience not just locally, but internatio­nally, and yet still tell very relevant and important stories.”

Timo Tjahjanto, an Indonesian film director, producer and screenwrit­er best known for horror and action films such as The Night Comes For Us (2018) and

May The Devil Take You Too (2020), says competing in the global film industry is a big challenge for Southeast Asian filmmakers. But support from Netflix has opened doors to new audiences. His latest directoria­l project titled The Big Four will also be released on the streaming service in 2022.

“For me personally, as a filmmaker who was mainly staying in the genre sort of field, I feel like I have some kind of advantage. I feel generally it’s something that most audiences understand regardless of where they come from. For example, if you saw Gareth Evans’ film The Raid (2011), which is almost a uniquely universal story, presented in an Indonesian way,” Tjahjanto said.

“Or how Thailand came up with

Shutter (2004) and all other films from the glory days of the Thai horror genre, you know, we have the advantage of crossing borders, the limitation­s of being labelled exotic and all that stuff.

“I feel that if we are going to engage people outside Southeast Asia, then obviously, we have to use a common sort of language and film itself is already an internatio­nal language. And now filmmakers like Mikhail or myself have several films on Netflix. And it allows people outside of the region to have easier access.”

Tjahjanto said that collaborat­ions between Southeast Asian countries and filmmakers could hopefully expand the market for quality films in the future.

“I believe there’s a similarity in the way we work, whether Indonesian to Filipino or Thai filmmakers,” said Tjahjanto.

“One of my dreams is always to collaborat­e with a Thai crew because I think they have a very interestin­g way of working, which is similar but not the same. I also had experience working with a Japanese crew in the Killers (2014). I feel like now the barriers are slowly getting lowered, you know.”

Banerji said she finds the many cultural background­s in Southeast Asia interestin­g to review.

“At Netflix we believe that great stories can come from anywhere and be liked by anyone. That’s why we are always looking for the best stories from all corners of the world, including Southeast Asia, and collaborat­e with the best filmmakers to ensure that all these stories can be brought to the internatio­nal stage through Netflix,” she said.

“I am very hopeful that, given the opportunit­ies and the moment in time we are in, the next decade is very, very promising for Southeast Asian filmmaking. And hopefully one day we will be on a panel where we’ll have people from Hollywood talking about the great Southeast Asian films which they are watching.”

 ?? ??
 ?? ?? Netflix’s SEA content director Malobika Banerji.
Netflix’s SEA content director Malobika Banerji.
 ?? ?? Timo Tjahjanto’s
May The Devil Take You Too.
Timo Tjahjanto’s May The Devil Take You Too.
 ?? ?? Indonesian film director Timo Tjahjanto.
Indonesian film director Timo Tjahjanto.
 ?? ?? Vanridee Pongsittis­ak of GDH 559.
Vanridee Pongsittis­ak of GDH 559.
 ?? ?? Filipino filmmaker Mikhail Red.
Filipino filmmaker Mikhail Red.
 ?? ?? Mikhail Red’s Dead Kids.
Mikhail Red’s Dead Kids.
 ?? ?? Shutter.

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