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Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia

Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia
May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay, eds.
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Since the late 1990s, a vivid new sphere of cinematic practice in Southeast Asia has emerged and been identified as independent. What exactly does this term mean in relation to the way films and videos are made, and the way they look? How do issues of festival circulation, piracy, technology, state and institutional power, and spectatorship apply to practices of independent cinema throughout the diverse region? The authors who speak in this volume—contemporary filmmakers, critics, curators, festival organizers—answer these questions. They describe and analyze the emerging field of Southeast Asian cinema, which they know firsthand and have helped create and foster.

Glimpses of Freedom is the outcome of a project collaboratively conceived by a new generation of scholars of cinema in Southeast Asia, inspired by the growing domestic and international visibility of notable films and videos from the region. Contributors include internationally esteemed independent filmmakers, critics, and curators based in Southeast Asia, such as Hassan Abd Muthalib, Alexis A. Tioseco, Chris Chong Chan Fui, and John Torres. International scholars such as Benedict Anderson, Benjamin McKay, May Adadol Ingawanij, and Gaik Cheng Khoo contextualize and theorize Southeast Asia’s “independent film cultures.” The interaction between practitioners and critics in this volume illuminates a contemporary artistic field, clarifying its particular character and its vital contributions to cinema worldwide.


May Adadol Ingawanij is a senior research fellow at the Centre for Research and Education in Arts and Media, University of Westminster (London). She has published articles on Thai and Southeast Asian cinema in a range of academic and general publications, including Inter-Asia Cultural StudiesRepresenting the RuralThe Ambiguous Allure of the WestCriticineVertigoAan JournalZ Filmtidsskrift, and Segnocinema.

Benjamin McKay was a writer, critic, and academic based in Kuala Lumpur. On July 18, 2010, he died of a cardiac arrest. Benjamin had just completed his PhD research on 1950’s and 1960’s Malay cinema and, as a lecturer in Film Studies at Monash University Malaysia, he was much loved by his students. As a critic, Benjamin wrote a monthly column for the Malaysian magazine Off The Edge and was a regular contributor to Kakiseni and the Southeast Asian cinema online journal Criticine.


Benedict Anderson, Cornell University; Tilman Baumgärtel, Royal University of Phnom Penh; Angie Bexley, College of Asia and the Pacific (Australian National University); Chris Chong, independent film director, Malaysia; Hassan Abd Muthalib (artist, writer, and film director), Universiti Teknologi MARA Malaysia; Eloisa May P. Hernandez, University of the Philippines, Diliman; May Adadol Ingawanij (ed.); Gaik Cheng Khoo, Australian National University; Mariam Lam, University of California–Riverside; Benjamin McKay (ed.); Vinita Ramani Mohan, Access to Justice Asia LLP; Alexis A. Tioseco (1981–2009), film critic, curator, and lecturer, Philippines; John Torres, musician and experimental filmmaker, Philippines; Chalida Uabumrungjit, Thai Film Foundation and Thai Short Film and Video Festival; Jan Uhde, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada; and Yvonne Ng Uhde, editorial board, KINEMA journal, University of Waterloo.

What the reviewers are saying

For the past decade, I have been trying to understand the region’s cinema and decide whether it has unique traits or if it’s in a perpetual identity crisis. Was there really a new movement around here? “Independence” seems like a utopian word amid the economic and political struggles in Southeast Asia, but many of us practice independence, partly out of necessity. This book is a significant contribution in both answering my questions about the cinema around me and revealing to me a glimpse of the future.—Apichatpong Weerasethakul, filmmaker and winner of the 2010 Palme d’Or, Cannes International Film Festival (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives)

A key strength of the volume is that not all contributors chose to adopt the conventional academic language or format to get their point across. … These varied ways of talking about indie cinema in Southeast Asia all add up to make Glimpses of Freedom a generally accessible book, one that is both timely and necessary … —David C.L. Lim, writing in Pacific Affairs

[T]he texts boasts a lively diversity, including among them theoretically grounded commentaries, close readings of films, personal reflections, anecdotes, and interviews. … Engaging, ironic, and peppered with revealing cultural insights … [A] complex set of readings that successfully conveys the cultural diversity of the region and the historical vicissitudes it has undergone.—Ho Rui An, writing in the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies

… not only a dynamic dialogue of varied voices and ideas, but also a vital archive that documents and preserves pioneering work from the hugely important but frustratingly ephemeral cultural spheres of South East Asian independent cinema.—Brett Farmer, writing in South East Asia Research

[W]hat is demonstrated throughout the volume is that certain social, political, and cultural frameworks distinguish the development of Southeast Asian independent cinema as having various commonalities … one gains an understanding of the way artistic producers have fashioned regional modernities and alternative geographies of exchange and representation in Southeast Asia, an incredible phenomenon given its numerous scales of diversity and difference … the texts are of immense value in attempting to give these terrains of visual culture due attention.—Pamela Nguyen Corey, writing in the Journal of Asian Studies

The articles … give comprehensive insight into the various levels of alternative cinematic practice and off-beat film experience … The book colorfully exposes the ways in which Southeast Asian independent cinema and its producers … try the common order. … the issues raised across the different chapters give a comprehensive view into social, political, and economic struggles throughout the region. …[It] succeeds in accurately putting across the crux of the independent film culture: a spirit that combines critical thinking with optimism … —Katinka van Heeren, Trans TV (Jakarta), writing in Bijdragen

This book is certainly valuable for the richness and diversity of perspectives that it presents on the emergence of independent films in Southeast Asia. The chapters enjoy a light touch, editorially speaking … The variety of styles and formats makes reading the book a delight.—Kenneth Paul Tan, writing in Sojourn


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