Miscellaneous Miscellany: Alternative Cinema and Research Films

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Cemetery of Splendour

Two items of interest for this column this week.

Return of the alternative

It’s been a while since our cinemas have screened films that are: 1. not mainstream, 2. not blockbusters, 3. not superhero movies.

Years ago, when I started writing about films in a major newspaper, Golden Screen Cinemas had its International Screens that screened such films, festival winners and films outside of the commercial field that make up an “alternative cinema.” It created a very vibrant, very exciting environment. I got to see films like Run Lola Run, the Sabu film Monday, In the Mood for Love, and Tran Anh Hung’s devastating Cyclo. Even Jafar Panahi’s The Circle was released, with the director himself here to promote his film.

These were films that major distributors would steer clear of, because they are not money-makers.  So, GSC’s effort was very commendable. The millions that it made were channeled into the International Screens, offering a much-needed varied palette.

Then, in the last few years, there was not much of an alternative cinema. Instead, the multiplexes were inundated with blockbusters and superhero movies in 3D, 4D, IMAX and what-have-you. The Cinema of Spectacle took over, and many important films were sidelined and never released because they were less financially attractive to the distributors. And we moviegoers were all poorer for it.

Goodnight, Mommy

Goodnight, Mommy

But this week, there are two important releases at the International Screens, courtesy of Astro Shaw in collaboration with GSC – Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour and the German thriller Goodnight, Mommy. While the latter is perhaps not a new film, the former is still pretty fresh, but the important thing here is, there is once again an effort to bring alternative fare to audiences.

I’ve written recently about the film culture in Malaysia, and this is another essential aspect for a flourishing culture – a varied palette from which film lovers can choose. We have more than enough spectacular Hollywood blockbusters, with whatever comicbook cinematic universes planning their slate till the year when humankind will step foot on Mars. I like some mind-numbing, giant-robot spectacle, too, once in a while, but it needs to be balanced with a good dose of artistic adventure.

Word has it that Goodnight, Mommy played to packed halls over the weekend, so that’s good news. Future releases, as revealed by Astro Shaw, includes Oscar winner Son of Saul, Last Cab to Darwin and Filipino Brilliante Mendoza’s Ma’ Rosa, for which Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress in Cannes.

Cyclo

Cyclo

Much ado about research films

So, there was some commotion on the Internet last week, when it was reported in The Malay Mail that the Film Directors Association of Malaysia (FDAM) had managed to discover a winning formula for making a blockbuster. It seems the association had “identified 55 key storytelling elements with most of them focused on story plots.” You can read the report here.

And the first film that was a direct result of this research is the upcoming Hijabsta Ballet, a film that explores the issues surrounding the wearing of the hijab.

The point of contention here is, the so-called 55 elements needed to make a hit film sound like what storytellers around the world have known for a long time now, judging from what was said by the film’s director (who is also FDAM vice-president), Syed Zukifli Syed Masir, in the report. “Impossible goals” for the protagonist, “point of no return” – these are all very well-known storytelling elements.

In a short discussion I had with Syed Zukifli in an online movie group, he talked about wanting to “arrest the decline” in local cinema box-office takings. However, in the Malay Mail report, he declined to give away what those 55 elements are.

For those interested in further discussion on this, watch this vlog by those crazy guys at the Fat Bidin Film Club. Yes, they take the mickey out of the whole thing, and it’s pretty funny stuff.

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