Ari Purnama: The Historical Poetics of Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinemas: Film Styles, Modes of Production, and Social Conditions (1997-present) (2012-2016)

Ari Purnama: The Historical Poetics of Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinemas: Film Styles, Modes of Production, and Social Conditions (1997-present)

University of Groningen, Department of Arts, Culture and Media— This research is a part of The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG)
Prof. Dr. E.J. (Liesbeth) Korthals Altes
Dr. Julian Hanich
September, 2012—August, 2016

This research project investigates fiction filmmaking in five Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines, since 1997 up to the present. The core focus of the study is to look at the interplay between aspects of film style, modes of production, and social conditions that surround the filmic works by approaching it from the ‘historical poetics of cinema’ framework. As such, the project examines the creative choices that the new generation of Southeast Asian filmmakers made and the enabling circumstances that accommodated their choice-making actions given the following constraints that they face in these historically and politically complicated nations: cultural taboos; strict government censorship; lack of infrastructure; non-existing government support; monopolized production and exhibition practices; competition with Hollywood films;  technological limitation; artistic traditions. The study tackles a threefold inquiry. First, at the stylistic level, it asks: How is the filmic medium (film style) employed to transform thematic materials? Second, at the historical-contextual level, it asks: What is the interplay between the films’ stylistic features and the contexts where the films are located (e.g. infrastructural conditions, regulatory frameworks, artistic conventions, critical reception, cultural traditions, and social dynamics)? Third, at the comparative-theoretical level, it asks: Are there shared commonalities and regularities among the films? What can these commonalities and regularities tell us about contemporary Southeast Asian fiction films in aesthetics terms? Moreover, what can they tell us about the artistic accomplishments of contemporary Southeast Asian fiction filmmakers and their positions in the globalized cinematic cultures today?

The study has several objectives. First, it seeks to generate fine-grained explanations on the poetics of these seemingly “culturally distant” and “exotic” films. Second, it attempts to expand and advance the scholarship of Southeast Asian cinemas by incorporating an objects-centered and historically sensitive approach to film study, i.e. ‘the historical poetics of cinema’, as its conceptual and methodological framework. Thirdly, it aims to contribute to the theorizing of Asian Cinema as a broader field of inquiry, and to generate knowledge about the complexity of film artistry and creative practices in Asian cinematic cultures.