to digital technology today and the easing of trade barriers,
it appears that there are more opportunities for Asian films to
travel overseas. That's quite true of course. In the year 2004,
UK DVD sales outran the film box-office and what powered the surge
were the sales of Asian DVDs.
other trend is the dearth of strong local films in Europe. In
2005, excepting the UK, box office figures slumped across Europe.
Germany saw a slump of as much as 20 percent whereas France, Spain
and Italy expect the decline to be more than 10 percent.
box office revenue in the US fell by over five percent. The US
has always perceived foreign markets as its prime pump. The US
has a market of 300 million people but the world has an audience
of six billion. (At least half of a studio's revenue can come
from foreign markets) If the US can look to overseas market to
drive its box office, so can Asia. And indeed Asia has. When Zhang
Yimou's Hero was finally released in the US in 2004 (even though
it was two years old), it swept the box office and was an instant
suggests that while the West has a weakening local product, they
are looking Eastwards to supplement their supply.
a result, fans of American film are starting to protest as well
the weakening local product. They argue that Hollywood is turning
its back on American viewers and producing films primarily for
its profitable overseas market instead. The result is a stream
of formulaic blockbusters that feature spectacle, dumbed-down
dialogue, actors chosen for their international appeal, and little
genuinely American culture. So movies such as "Troy", earned US$133
million at home and a huge US$356 million overseas. The global
traffic is therefore moving both ways but at the expense of local
explains the other trend, the rise in the number of film festivals.
By 2004, there were more than 1,000 international film festivals.
That's almost three film festivals opening every day of the year
somewhere in the world. It's a natural outcome which counters
the imbalance in the markets. This is why so many programmers
are going further out into the world to find undiscovered cinema.
exponential growth of film festivals is also in Asia itself. In
1987 when the Singapore International Film Festival began, we
were among a small handful of Asian festivals - India, Hongkong,
Japan, Taiwan. We were the only South-east Asian festival then
and the first one to start an Asian-centred film competition.
the Asian festivals are a force to contend with. There are easily
over 50 which specialise in different genres from fiction, documentary,
animation to shorts. This means that there are more opportunities
for Asian film to be discovered within Asia itself.
of Asian films overseas
key problem in Asia is the same as that in the West - the issue
of a strong local product. This has been largely cited as one
of the main reasons for the steep box-office decline in the West.
should be remembered that the West has had decades in coping with
the problem. So many agencies have been set up to study and solve
the problem. And the West has pumped in a huge sum of funds. For
example, Eurimages, the Council of Europe Fund for co-production,
distribution and exhibition of European films was set up in 1988,
has 32 member countries and an annual budget of about 20 million
Euro. Another programme, Media, which develops and promotes European
films has a budget of 513 million Euro over six years.
you look at individual breakdowns, you can see a clearer picture
of haves and have-nots. The Swedish Film Institute has an annual
budget of 40 Million Euro. The Czech Film Fund supports local
film with an annual budget of a mere US$2.5million.
Asia too, we have this funding disparity. Some Asian countries
such as Korea, have a far more developed funding strategy. Given
this scenario, how does one compete on an even footing with someone
who has far more resources?
one should then ask, what can I do to strengthen local movies
with no money? There are several Asian examples. Both the Philippines
and the Malaysians have been dreaming that same dream. And it
came true with the digital format.
Of A Filipino Family, by Lav Diaz
Just last year, the Philippines staged a digital revolt. There
was suddenly a slew of over 20 digital feature-length films. Consider
also that the Philippines made the first epic-length digital feature,
the eight-hour long Evolution Of A Filipino Family (2004) by Lav
South-east Asia, no other country produced such a high number
of digital features. Many Asian countries embraced digital for
shorts and documentaries. Perhaps it's the aesthetics of poverty.
Filipinos have so many stories to tell but film was always too
unaffordable. Now digital has opened that door.
the year 2000, the New Malaysian Cinema evolved. It was a small
community of independent filmmakers who worked together as a collective,
meaning that everyone pooled together their resources and shared
their expertise on each other's film production. Since 2003, when
the films started winning awards, the Malaysian film is now firmly
on the world's cinema map.
the two above examples illustrate is that often art precedes the
industry. To worry about the state of the industry without acknowledging
the art would create an imbalance. It is always art that creates
different movements in style that would feed the taste of future
give another example, the Danish Dogma movement of 1995 revitalised
cinema considerably both in the West and the East, by challenging
accepted norms of film language through an alternative aesthetic
in the use of music, cinematography and so on.
take a long time to be made but they are also enduring. If you
allow art cinema to grow, it will create worldwide interest and
allow for a commercial cinema to follow. If you remember India's
art cinema of the '70s, it wasn't called parallel cinema for nothing.
It was allowed to flourish parallel to Bollywood.
To Do Now
many cases, most film industries in Asia do not recognise the
fundamentals of art cinema. That explains why the issues of the
commercial film industry are always addressed with less emphasis
on discussing the art of film.
here is one fundamental. Art needs freedom to grow. The reason
so many art movements become significant is because it dares to
tackle suppressed subject matter, break accepted norms of taste
and to go beyond the conventional.
New Malaysian Cinema, for example, challenged commercial cinema's
formula of action and comedy. The films were quieter, more reflective,
more crafted and had deeper psychological and emotional impact.
These were the sort of films that were shunned by the industry
but when the films started winning prizes throughout the world,
the Malaysian film industry began to offer directing jobs to the
independents, acknowledging that the country had emerging new
second fundamental is a supportive environment. Basically, art
needs to be seen and not hindered. It needs access to public spaces
and given a chance for new tastes to be developed. The new is
always unsettling and uncomfortable and can only be nurtured through
sum up, local product needs to be strong before one attempts to
go global. Local product is normally perceived to be strong when
an independent film wave takes off, the initial evidence is when
international film festivals start selecting such films.
a balance must always be struck. An art cinema only exists in
relation to a commercial movie industry. One cannot survive without
the other. They need each other. This fundamental democracy must
This essay was first presented as a paper titled Problems And
Prospect Of Asian Films To International Market at the 3rd Bangladesh
Int'l Film Festival, March 10, 2006.