While traipsing around the film festival circuit the past few weeks, I caught the public unveiling of a new website, AsiaPacificFilms.com, while attending the Hawaii International Film Festival. The brainchild of Jeannette Paulson Hereniko, formerly the founding executive director of HIFF and a founder of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (or NETPAC for short), AsiaPacificFilms.com is basically an online cineplex, loaded with a library of nearly 200 feature-length works from throughout continental Asia. For a nominal monthly fee, feature-length films can be viewed via streaming technology on a laptop computer or broadband device such as a flat-screen television connected to some sort of online service plan. The splashy presentation of yet another streaming/VOD delivery stream, when juxtaposed against a traditional, communal delivery mode of movie watching such as a film festival was once again a glimpse into the possible future of film distribution and presentation.
At first glance, the website itself was attractive-looking. The films I looked at during the site’s free trial period (AsiaPacificFilms.com becomes pay-to-play on November 1, affording unlimited access for a flat monthly fee of less than $10US) reflected a virtual Asian Pacific-centric version of a Criterion Collection, with many titles either inaccessible or unavailable to most audiences. With a plan to ultimately provide in excess of 500 or so titles to the collection, the concept of AsiaPacificFilms.com is an ambitious one. It also represents a next logical step of sorts in realizing the founding goals of NETPAC, specifically, to expose audiences in the Western Hemisphere to the diverse cinemas of East Asia, South Asian, continental Asia, and to a lesser degree, aboriginal and ethnic Pacific Island nations. The streaming technology of the site certainly mollifies various licensors concerned with online piracy issues, though you never know about the ingenuity of online hackers these days. And, the diversity of content would seem to insure a broad range of viewing experiences for cineastes and novice film buffs alike.
Given the presentation of a new, online mode of movie watching experience and the issues raised by the “I’m a Good Downloader” campaign I encountered the week before in Busan, I was left to ponder once again the question of the whole film festival interface’s continued (threatened?) pertinence to both artists and audiences, and to the comparative delay in conceiving a one-stop destination for uniquely Asian diasporic cinema. As I expressed after the presentation to Anne, a fellow filmmaker and cinematographer based in Honolulu, I’ve long lamented NETPAC’s lack of a two-way “dialogue” when it comes to promoting works by makers of Asian descent regardless of whether they were born, raised or work in North America, Europe, or Latin America — as well as makers from various Asian Pacific countries. I have to believe that this is an institutional mind-set, and that various enlightened individuals do indeed see the importance to keeping a trained eye on what yellow and brown people are creating in the First World. In speaking about my own direct experiences: Philip Cheah, a longtime NETPAC cog and past program director of the Singapore International Film Festival programmed major elements of the APA “Class of ’97″ at the 1998 edition of SIFF, and has since kept an eye out to include new and unique APA voices in subsequent festivals. And VC alum Tikoy Aguiluz has done likewise with his Cinemanila International Film Festival, inviting me to curate a couple of programs for short works as well as a showcase of Armed With a Camera productions for the 2002 festival.
But does this sense of discovery and inclusion extend to other NETPAC members and associates who organize their own festivals? The late producer and film distribution magnate Wouter Berendrecht once proclaimed in a panel discussion some years back that a market for works by Asian American makers does not exist anywhere throughout east Asia, and while that revelation may be quite discouraging to APA producers, in reality that statement makes perfect sense. What cinephile back in Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, Bangkok, Manila or wherever would give a rat’s ass about filmmakers like Christine Choy, Loni Ding, Justin Lin, Chris Chan Lee, Helen Lee, Renee Tajima-Pena, Ham Tran, Wayne Wang, Richard Wong, Bruce and Norman Yonemoto, or a whole legion of filmmakers like them — filmmakers whose lives, experiences, and stories find no identification whatsoever with teenagers and schoolgirls from Tokyo to Seoul, tekkies who labor in Manila, Singapore and Mumbai who just want to escape into their favorite movie character, or farmers and laborers from Istanbul to Taipei utterly disinterested in how people live in an imperialist country like the United States?
On numerous occasions I’ve told myself at some point, I’ll sit down with Jeannette and come to some deeper understanding as to how cultural workers and producers of APA cinema can find a participatory voice within something like NETPAC. Do we even need to be included? And does that inclusion obscure the coming reality of the online library/festival that a destination like AsiaPacificFilms.com foreshadows? No doubt, many in our creative community are indeed exploiting the web as a presentation destination as seen through the numerous self-produced webisodes popping up nowadays. But hey…weren’t we all just pre-occupied with making features?!?!?
Hey folks, remember me talking about APA webisodes just now? Here are a couple that are rolling out now from folks whose work I admire. Grace, who stars in and edits MANIVORE is a member of our program committee and the “queen” of the social networking universe here in Hell-A. And Chris, who conceived and produced MEGABOT, seems to star in just about every significant APA film produced these days. Check out their work, and let them and their collaborators know what you think.