A new wave of Southeast Asian films are causing a stir at top international festivals, as a growing number of award-winning feature films emerge from the region.
Indonesian director Edwin’s Vengeance is mine, everyone else pays cash won the Locarno Golden Leopard in 2021; by Thai director Jakrawal Nilthamrong Anatomy of time premiered in Venice’s Horizons section last year before winning the grand prize at Tokyo Filmex; and Indonesian director Kamila Andini yuni won the platform’s top prize at Toronto 2021.
They marked an auspicious start for the Southeast Asia Co-Production Grant (SCPG), a one-of-a-kind initiative launched by the Singapore Film Commission (SFC) in 2019 to support regional collaborations. The trio of films were among the eight winners of the inaugural edition.
After its 20th anniversary in 2018, SFC director Joachim Ng says the organization has expanded to support Southeast Asian co-production projects with the aim of “encouraging Singaporean talent to collaborate creatively with their counterparts in the region”.
“We can help Southeast Asian filmmakers get discovered and showcase Southeast Asian stories to the world, like how Europeans collectively support their filmmakers,” he says.
The grant is open to projects by non-Singaporean directors from Southeast Asia with at least one Singaporean producer and one Southeast Asian producer on board. The amount of funding available has been increased to $216,000 ($300,000) per project.
“Funding is always hard to come by and the incentives will make the process easier,” says Lai Weijie, the Singapore-based co-producer of Vengeance is mine, everyone else pays cash, which premiered as an Indonesia-Singapore-Germany co-production. The 1980s action drama had been in development for several years, winning awards at the Asian Project Market in Busan in 2016 and the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum in 2018.
“Private investors still want to wait until the funding is received and see what the terms are,” Lai adds. “When we got the Singapore grant, it helped make it happen, giving private investors a strong incentive to sign up.”
A total of 20 Southeast Asian productions – from Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – have received an SCPG since 2019.
Among the latest completed projects is that of Thai director Sorayos Prapapan Arnold is a model studentwho played Locarno, and Indonesian director Makbul Mubarak Autobiography, which premiered at Venice’s Horizons before heading to Toronto. The first two feature films also received support from the Asean Co-Production Fund (ACOF), which was launched by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) in 2020 to support Southeast Asian cinema. Is the same way as the SCPG.
The FDCP also manages an international co-production fund for international projects made by Filipino filmmakers, whose beneficiaries include Carlo Francisco Manatad If the weather is niceselected in Locarno last year, and Lav Diaz’s When the waves have passedwhose premiere out of competition will take place in Venice this year.
“National and regional funds are new to Southeast Asian cinema,” says Yulia Evina Bhara, Indonesian Executive Producer of Autobiography. “They help strengthen projects not only in the financial aspect but also in the creative aspect, because these initiatives encourage filmmakers to collaborate – which makes financing and collaborating easier and much more fun.”
Through the various grants, Bhara and first feature director Mubarak are working with co-producer Jeremy Chua and composer Bani Haykal from Singapore, Filipino co-producer Armi Rae Cacanindin and editor Carlo Francisco Manatad, and Polish cinematographer Wojciech Staron .
SFC Director Ng is pleased that a growing number of projects in Southeast Asia can obtain funding outside the region. “SCPG was meant to be a nudge and a catalyst,” he says. “Major film projects will attract interest and investment from other parts of the world like Europe and Taiwan.”
Ng is leaving SFC in early September after leading the team for the past 11 years, while Liza Dino stepped down as FDCP president and CEO in July, a role she had held since 2016.
After Yeo Siew Hua An imagined land became the first Singaporean film to win the Locarno Golden Leopard in 2018, the festival created a special platform through the industry program Open Doors for Southeast Asian cinema. From 2019 to 2021, a new generation of emerging Southeast Asian filmmakers have taken center stage every year, dramatically increasing their visibility in Europe. Some 27 producers were selected including Ifa Isfansyah who produced yuni and Kamila’s debut at the 2022 Berlinale Competition Before, now and thenwhich won Indonesian actress Laura Basuki’s Silver Bear for Best Supporting Actor.
Locarno Open Doors Hub, the international co-production platform, presented 24 projects from Southeast Asia in the 2019-21 cycle dedicated to the region, including winners from SCPG and ACOF including Bui Thac Chuyen’s glorious ashes and Amanda Nell Eu tiger stripesboth in post-production, and Petersen Vargas Some nights I feel like walking and that of Pham Ngoc Lan Cu Li never criesboth set to shoot in early 2023.
Many Southeast Asian filmmakers have been invited to other European development labs and project markets such as TorinoFilmLab, EAVE Ties That Bind and the Berlinale Co-production Market where they meet producers and sales agents Europeans. Many of them end up working together, drawing on European funding such as Aide aux Cinémas du Monde in France, the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund and the Polish Film Institute Fund.
In Asia, the Singapore International Film Festival has played a crucial role in reshaping South Asian cinema. After its relaunch in 2014, the festival added the Southeast Asian Film Lab and the Southeast Asian Short Film Competition, providing an annual platform for young filmmakers to meet and collaborate. There was also the former Southeast Asian Fiction Film Lab, co-founded by Raymond Phathanavirangoon in 2016, and Bangkok-based Purin Pictures, which has financed Southeast Asian films since 2017.
Although co-production projects between multiple countries are the way to go, they can be complicated. “Before that, we can still change our minds,” says Singaporean producer Lai, who produced the film for Singaporean director Kristen Tan. Eye Pop, which was set in Thailand with Thai cast and crew, but was not an official co-production. “With official co-productions, things have to be set in stone. The schedule has become more rigid with less room for improvisation. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. »
Autobiography comprises seven co-production countries: Indonesia, France, Germany, Poland, Singapore, the Philippines and Qatar. “The key is to communicate and make the division of labor as clear as possible,” says Bhara. “For example, our French partners are responsible for post-production and our Polish partners are responsible for the cinematography department, so each collaborator does not intervene under the responsibility of the other.”
However, the real challenge lies in “maximizing the funds for the maximum benefit of the creative aspect of the film”, she adds. “As almost all funds come with an obligation to spend, it’s up to me as producer to juggle the funds and set the stage for director Makbul’s vision to flourish. That’s like a puzzle.
Southeast Asian projects have also attracted the interest of Taiwanese donors. At Jow Zhi Wei’s tomorrow is long and Nelicia Low’s Pierce – both supported by the SFC’s New Talent Grant – were filmed in Taiwan while receiving various public funding, including from Taiwan’s International Co-Financing Program, a new incentive from the Taiwan Creative Content Agency, while that Malaysian director Chong Keat Aun Snow in midsummersupported by the SCPG and the Taipei Film Commission, will carry out part of its post-production in Taiwan.