Have you ever wondered about how globalization is an insidious force that compells everything in its path to conform? Over the last decade, it seems clearer that even the new art cinema has been globalized. Cinematic cliches and formulas have become required practices in art films across the world, from the Philippines to Kazakhstan and Latin America to Europe. Different cultures, but the same formalistic language—slo-mo ambient rhythms, long meaningful takes, and absurdist, yet poetic moments are just some of the familiar tropes.
Part of the reason for this can be traced to how the film industry has used the agricultural model in harvesting new films. With fixed funding quotas and contracts designed to protect the national interests of funders, filmmakers are sometimes under the illusion that they are independent when they fight their way in, only to agree to these terms.
Today’s highly organized farming system shields itself against market volatility by being highly mechanized with high subsidies. In a similar way, the film farming system ensures that nationally funded products are supported by nationally funded film festivals, picked up for distribution by domestic companies, and distributed at a high price to external markets, even to the filmmaker’s country of origin.
A globalized film market economy flattens the diversity that informs so much of culture. It’s enough to make you wonder where the heart of cinema has gone to.
As Murakami Haruki reminds us in his book, 1Q84, “There is nothing in this world that never takes a step outside a person’s heart.”
Or as Bob Dylan sings on Maggie’s Farm, “I try my best / To be just like I am / But everybody wants you / To be just like them.”
Philip Cheah is a toy and vinyl record collector junkie as well as a film critic. He is the editor of Big O, Singapore’s only independent pop culture publication. He is Vice-President of NETPAC (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema). He is the program consultant for the Southeast Asian Film Festival, the AsiaPacificFilms.com website, the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival, the Shanghai International Film Festival, the Hanoi International Film Festival, and the Dubai International Film Festival. He is co-editor of the books: And the Moon Dances: The Films of Garin, Noel Vera’s Critic After Dark and Ngo Phuong Lan’s Modernity and Nationality in Vietnamese Cinema. In 2004, he was awarded the Korean Cinema Award at Pusan International Film Festival for his contribution to Korean film. In 2008, he was awarded the Asian Cinema Prize at Cinemanila International Film Festival, for his contribution to Asian film. Cheah’s participated in the Asia Conference for Promoting Asian Cinema (ACPAC) at YIDFF ’91, and on the NETPAC jury at YIDFF ’95.