Dear Harry, Kevin, Andrew and Nitesh,
There have been a lot of very interesting topics broached, I apologize for having missed out on the discussion as it was happening. While Kevin and Andrew are in Berlin now, I was, at the time, at the (always interesting!) International Film Festival Rotterdam (quick tips for those that haven’t seen them: Lav Diaz’s opulent Melancholia, Uruphong Raksasad’s stunning Agrarian Utopia, and Jia Zhangke’s magnificent 24 City).
It’s truly a fascinating, perhaps critical, moment to discuss the direction the cinematic experience will take, isn’t it? The situation, like the technology, seems to be changing so rapidly. At times I shake my own crystal ball and inquire about the future. The response I get isn’t prophetic, but instead a challenge: think not about circumstances beyond your control; focus your energy instead on what you have the capacity to do. It’s always tempting to play fortuneteller, but I try my best to listen.
While I understand that a deal that Netflix makes opening their complete library for immediate access at home may have huge ramifications on the distribution system in North America (and perhaps beyond it as well), I’m more worried, at this moment, about whether it's ethical to write a regular column recommending films available in the local pirated market, or about what can be done to salvage the disastrous Philippine film archiving situation (which Noel Vera writes a little bit about here).
While talk of the criticism crisis persists and people are constantly getting laid off, which is certainly painful to read about, at home, as I research more, I’m increasingly frightened by how little literature has already been published on Philippine cinema, in such small quantities, and how unlikely a reprint of these rare books will be given the current climate of publishing and reading in the country—let alone the printing of new books outside of grants from cultural institutions. (Noel Vera’s Critic After Dark was published by Philip Cheah of the Singapore International Film Festival. Copies had to be hand carried from Singapore to Manila and delivered to bookstores for them to be available to readers here.)
I worry, perhaps in vain, as much about the lack of interesting films shown in 35mm prints, as I do about the amount of cell phone use by the audience at screenings of local alternative cinema in independent arts spaces.
I think constantly about the importance of reading about cinema, and the privileges, not only of many western countries, but even ones in the region like Singapore, that have fully functioning, up-to-date, open to the anyone for minimal fees, public libraries: and our lack of that here in the Philippines. Most international libraries (both modestly and well up-to-date) are attached to Universities, which rarely allow one not affiliated with them to take books out.
And other times I think about ideas: the trip I made to Indonesia last July, and two different, but equally fantastic and inspiring set-ups: of the group of Hafiz and Forum Lenteng in Jakarta, and of Ariani Darmawan and her Rumah Buku in Bandung.
For $50 dollars each a month, Forum Lenteng, a collective of video artists (a number of them journalism graduates from a nearby University, which shows in their films) rent two spaces: the first a small room where they edit their videos and keep a main hard drive, the second a video and literature library with a small TV. The films in the library include copies both pirated and original, the books authentic as well as photocopied (a common practice in Manila as well, the photocopying of books), but all are labeled and catalogued methodically, and open to whoever pops in. (A side note: four films from the Massroom Project of Forum Lenteng, who prescribe to the copyleft philosophy, were posted on the website Ubu.com; they count among the supporters of their films, if I’m not mistaken, Nicole Brenez and Olaf Moller).
In video artist Ariani Darmawan’s Rumah Buku (library here) the set-up is a little more upscale—it combines a library, indoor screening room, outdoor garden screenings, and a small shop—but no less firm in spirit and commitment. The venue, which is extremely cozy, with inviting tables and couches, fills the absence created by a lack of a local library on the arts. Anyone can enter, linger, and read the books on-site, but only members can take out books (for a small fee, if I recall correctly in the neighborhood of $1). The price is meant to be filtered back into the purchasing of new books, or to help reimburse the cost of purchasing that one.
I mentioned Adrian Martin and the Godard quote in my first letter for our exchange, because the idea of this goodwill means a lot to me. I travel (usually only when invited), and I write and teach, but so often this alone seems inadequate. I can’t escape thinking that I’m in a position of privilege where I sit, and that there remains so much more to be done. I dream about starting a DVD label, like Andrew’s or the erstwhile extreme low frequency of Travis Wilkerson (who released two brilliant titles that I know of: John Gianvito’s The Mad Songs of Fernando Hussein and He Who Hits First Hits Twice: The Films of Santiago Alvarez), but for neglected films from the Philippines or the region, to say nothing of the prodigious and underappreciated short film output. I dream about starting a publishing company for books on cinema, perhaps an extension of Criticine, and to publish volumes of older writing on cinema from the region, a percentage of which will surely to be in translation. I dream about starting a library, similar, perhaps, to the ones of Forum Lenteng and Rumah Buku, to share the books and films I’ve accumulated in my travels and over the years. I’m lying, I don’t just dream, sometimes I sit down, make notes and plan. To me, living in this part the world, these are some of the issues in film culture that matter at the start of 2009.
Kevin, for best of the decade, I’d have to nominate Lav Diaz’s 11-hour Evolution of a Filipino Family. Now how to see it, that’s another question!