SGIFF Q&A: Director of “Southeast Asian Cinema – When the Rooster Crows”

The documentary “Southeast Asian Cinema – When the Rooster Crows,” a selection at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival, provided a visually and verbally rich look into four national film industries through the eyes of filmmakers Brillante Mendoza (Philippines), Pen-Ek Ratanaraung (Thailand), Garin Nugroho (Indonesia) and Eric Khoo (Singapore).  Director Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso answered questions about the film in a post-screening Q&A session.  This transcript was edited for clarity.

Moderator: What were the first few Southeast Asian films that you every encountered, and what led to making this documentary?

Lombroso: It started because I started to see Southeast Asian cinema coming to the Western countries, like in Berlin, and Cannes Film Festival – and started to win very big prizes. Obviously, Brillante Mendoza…all of them and many others. Different, new filmmakers. And this took my attention. And I say, because…in 2010 I was in South Korea.  It’s a wild time in South Korea – this wave of Korean cinema, no? All these films from Korea, Southeast Asia, are coming to Western countries, then they disappear. And, all of us, we don’t know anything about these countries. What is the history? It is very important to know the history. What kind of society? Religion? Where are the data coming from? How is that point of view? Where is this coming from? Why this movie, it’s nice, and wins a prize? [Because] it showed a different point of life. And for me this was important to come back, to meet the directors, come back to know much more of the history of these countries. Make a documentary, no?

I think this is very important to me, to capture this history. Because this is really the history of films, history of cinema that has never disappeared. [These are] not commercial films. Commercial film disappears in a few months and leaves nothing. This kind of director, this kind of cinema, they change the world…That’s why I came here and captured, with this documentary, all these things…The directors look at reality, and from reality, they paint their point of view, and they make fiction. For me, I come in from fiction, and then come back to the reality. This is really important for me. To do this process…through the eyes of these directors.


Moderator: I have to say, for me, I found that the way you captured the city scapes was very filmic. The music was beautiful. It was the world of cinema. It felt like, as you go to these cities, you had shots that made you feel like, “Ah, something is going to happen next.” You know, it was like, could this be a start to another new film. And I really appreciated that. And I think that some people, myself, I think watching a film like this, you discover that much more about these filmmakers. Was there anything in particular, that, you know, after you interviewed, you would have seen the films, before you meet the director, then finally, by featuring them in a documentary like this, was there anything that any one of those directors said that took you by surprise?

Lombroso: Well, I was more surprised about their cinema. The surprises for me, was because, I came in from Italy, and watched these movie before…the realities really connected to the world I saw inside the movie…

That’s the beautiful thing. It’s really similar, at the same time, it’s really different. But, that’s my, the procession from one country to another country, you don’t have to understand where you are. That’s my feeling on the passage. And also, people talk. You don’t have to know, “Who are these people?”…How do you say, in Korean, it’s the paradox of contrast.

Woman in Audience: The choice of the title…

Lombroso: The choice of the title, it’s “When the Rooster Crows.” We think a lot of this title. And the focus on was on at least two motivations: The first is the voice of the director. The voice, the surprise that the voice of the director is coming worldwide. This is is a symbolic way. The other thing, is the sound. In Southeast Asia, the sound of the rooster, is everywhere.

Man In Audience: So I see that you are, trying to capture the history, of Southeast Asian cinema, but what else do you try to capture and communicate to younger generations of filmmakers?

Lombroso: For the younger generations of filmmakers, many people ask me why you chose four directors.  It’s quite difficult to choose four directors, because it’s huge and a lot…for me, this is an introduction of Southeast Asian [cinema]. It’s an introduction, to give, to understand, which director opened the window up to world cinema. And so, I think, it’s which part of the sense of their world, because they came from a really, really bad region. You think [in] 1960, and they start to fight, all the censorship. The censorship of the people. The censorship was really, really strong. And you see the courage of them, in Korea, in Malaysia. Not to mention, it’s human, to create a new language, also.

Garin, he would go there and say, “Your system is wrong, I don’t like it.” He risked his life. He would risk his life all the time, and would laugh a lot. And they said, “Listen, you’re crazy. Why you risk your life? What are you doing?”. And there was not an answer at that time…they say, “We have to tell these things.” And where we are now is thanks to them…they have a lot of work to do also. Still, no? Because the situation is not really clear, and this is more important for the new filmmakers…be polite or try to push a little bit? But in this way, “push” means try to weigh, to try to go home, to open more possibility of their stories. This is really important. I think this is important.

Woman In Audience: Regarding the censorship, all four directors are facing the same kind of censorship. Do you feel that it’s a characteristic of the Southeast Asian films?

Lombroso: I studied it a bit before in research, then I talked with the people, and discovered, yeah, censorship was in the past, but is still [prevalent] now…some of the countries are really developed countries. Thailand had a problem this year. Now, Indonesia, their new president, there’s lots of hopes for the new president.  Change, change, change. This change, I think, brings a new wave. I don’t know if it’s going to be better, or it can be bad.

We can see, it’s true, this creates a problem of creativity. Because you stop the creativity, the industry of cinema, of art. I think it’s important to let them, to show this one it’s important, because you have an example. And, it’s the only way to give an example. To give the possibility to see a movie or art. To the new generation, we say, “To show is possible. It’s possible”. Not like,, the angry filmmaker, everybody’s angry. But you see, in the movie, they see the separation. Separation is a kiss. The censorship is worst. But the separation is coming out. So there is the possibility to coming out. China also. There is a way. But you have to find, you have to want you need to want, this kind of way to come out. This is really important.

Moderator: I have a question. A lot of these, actually all of these filmmakers, they sort of got their careers launched, because they were noticed at foreign/international film festivals. And then they sort of come back to the country, and people are curious. And that’s a recurring story for all the countries, right? In Southeast Asian cinema, particularly art films. Do you feel that, I mean, you know that some of them alluded to it, this idea that it’s art house cinema vs. commercial films. That, this idea that… It’s a question of choice, a choice of, are you for going for box office, or do you choose that okay, maybe the people in your home country don’t really watch your films? Do you feel that there’s still a lot of frustration?

Lombroso: There is no frustration for these directors who shoot independent [films]…you shoot the way of life. And, this is incredible, because this is happening here, happening in Europe, happening in America. Everywhere.

[However,] commercial movies are in theaters. Independent movies are not in the theater. The people, the audience, the 90 percent, want to go to the theater to have entertainment. To not think. Because their life has a lot of problems, and they don’t want to come in a place where they show other problems. This is the face of reality. This is a common thing. Because, really, these directors have a real problem with the distribution in their country. Brillante Mendoza, I was in his office, and he won Cannes. Now he is considered one of the best directors in Asia. Nobody wants to distribute him. We have a lot of problems with the distribution. So it’s not important if you’re famous or not. But this is the life of the independent cinema. In the Philippines, it’s starting…

It’s incredible, still now, in the school, they don’t teach cinema history. No cinema history. And this is, how can the people come out and they say, “I want to see a movie of something in the past.” They don’t have the culture, this is the real problem. If we put it in the school, and you study the history of cinema, so when you sit in the theater, you have another consideration of film, you know? So I think this is the problem. A world problem.

Man In Audience: I’ll ask as an analyst, based on your knowledge and all your research, and the three years you spent making this film, do you feel that there’s more of a inflow of Southeast Asian cinema going, not just around the region, but throughout the world?  Or do you think this region has the potential of making even more quality films, from both the independent side and the commercial side?

Lombroso: I think now, the future is going much better. I think, because, you know, now there are many facilities that promote, help promoters of, Southeast Asian cinema. Like first, there is Busan. Busan, every year, they found in Southeast Asia they have a lot of things. This is important, because Busan is one of the best festivals in Asia.

But the other side is Berlin. Berlin, three or four years ago, they [also] opened to Southeast Asia. So they, have this talent campus. It’s dedicated to new filmmakers…this is important, because this opens Western countries to Asian countries, the possibility of three new filmmakers to make a movie.

The distribution is really difficult. It’s really difficult everywhere. I told you, this director is famous, and he has a problem with his distribution. I’m from Italy, and the Asian films in Italy, we have, in a year, one or maybe two, no more. So, normally, nobody knows about Asian film. France, more. Much more. Because they’re very connected. They have co-productions a lot. Germany, a little bit. A little bit. The U.K., a little bit. So it’s complicated. But I think slowly, give it time, it’s started. That’s important. It’s started. This is a positive thing.

Actually, in the film, Pen-Ek, there was that section, where he mentioned he was making a documentary about democracy in Thailand. And I read that – I don’t know whether the decision changed – he made a decision not to show the film. Because usually, all his films, would premiere at an international festival, but he chose not to show that documentary abroad, because he’s concerned that the impression would be that it was foreign-influenced, you’re making it for other people who criticize Thailand. But I was curious, because he kind of touched on it, and then you can’t see any shots.

I asked him, “Can you give me some footage of that?”, and he said, “No. I don’t want this coming out from Thailand, because it’s very complicated, Thailand”. And he said, “I need to be able to make the second one.” And, this is nice, because he has started to produce now, so maybe next year it’ll be coming out. For years, it’s very important, because I think it’s a situation of our government inside, and for the people, I want this to touch the Thai people. It’s not important for worldwide. This is something able to help inside our country. And this is nice. It’s nice because you can see the intelligence of the directors. You know, I don’t want to go worldwide and show my country and the mess of my country. Or the democracy and the conflicts of today. He doesn’t care. He really wants to talk with the people. And this is the independent cinema, no? You communicate directly to the people. This is an important way to talk.

“Southeast Asian Cinema – When the Rooster Crows” made its world premiere at the 2014 Busan International Film Festival and was also a selection at the 2014 Singapore International Film Festival.

Video: “Southeast Asian Cinema – When the Rooster Crows” Q&A – Dec. 5, 2014 – Singapore International Film Festival
video by Yuan-Kwan Chan / Meniscus Magazine
Director Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso answers questions at the screening of his documentary at the Arts House.