Unsettling Landscape: Experimental Films by Southeast Asian Women Filmmakers

Sat 1/27/2024 • 7:30PM PST

Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum

Presented by theUCLA Film & Television Archive and UCLA Center for the Study of Women | Barbra Streisand Center (CSW | Streisand Center)

Q&A with filmmakers and UCLA Associate Professor Jasmine Nadua Trice.

Showcasing a collection of recent experimental works by Southeast Asian women filmmakers, Unsettling Landscape focuses on short films and videos that critically engage with questions of land, landscape and the myriad forms of mediation that have been used to capture their image. Like painting and the diorama, the camera has been a tool of colonial authority, historical narrative, and scientific knowledge production, laying the groundwork for unfettered development projects and extractive capitalism. Capturing an image of land through mediation can be an act of complicity, binding it and rendering it legible as scenery, property and territory. Reflexively engaging with such practices of mediation, these works suggest that the moving image also allows space for refusal. Unearthing the deep time of tectonic shifts and Animist belief systems, unraveling statist development narratives and unlearning colonial ways of knowing, these films unsettle the complex relations between lens and land, offering new possibilities for spatial transformation on screen.

Series programmed by Associate Professor Jasmine Nadua Trice, UCLA Cinema and Media Studies.

To Pick a Flower
Philippines, 2021

Shireen Seno’s 2021 video essay uses images from the American colonial archive to rethink histories of imperial extraction. Tracking these archival traces across the archipelago, the video essay re-scales imperial-capitalist knowledge systems, moving from images of women with houseplants to industrial lumber yards and imperial, botanical classification. The filmmaker’s own voice-over conjures the heady, affective relations between humans and their environments, even in the midst of rationalized industrial conquest.

DCP, color, 17 min. Director: ??Shireen Seno.

Landscape Series No. 1
Vietnam, 2013

Filmmaker Nguy?n Trinh Thi describes landscapes as quiet witnesses to history. Moving through a series of still photos culled from a newspaper archive, the video portrays witnesses to newsworthy events framed across a series of landscapes, pointing to the forests and buildings around them: “There.”

DCP, color, 5 min. Director: Nguy?n Trinh Thi.

Indonesia, 2016

Fiksi (Fiction) presents a subjective view of historical narrative, de-emphasizing legibility and transparency. The film is composed of images of dioramas at Indonesia’s National Museum. Indonesian museums flourished post-independence in the 1950s, with official narratives focused on national unity and armed struggle; rather than presenting artifacts, such narratives were often displayed through scenes in dioramas. If miniatures are already a way of rescaling history, in Otty Widasari’s film, closeups further manipulate the scale of the tiny scenes, fragmenting them.

DCP, color, 12 min. Director: Otty Widasari.

The Harbor (Tepian Laut Utara)
Indonesia, 2010

The Harbor was produced through a collaboration between Akumassa, a program within Jakarta-based film collective Forum Lenteng, and Pasirputih, an organization that grew out of a 2008 Akumassa workshop. Collectively shot in the North Lombok town of Bangsal, a small village that serves the gateway to the Gili Islands. The islands are a major tourism destination, an industry that has caused considerable environmental damage. The collective gaze of area residents captures the incoming boats that facilitate the area’s economies. If touristic images depict the islands’ shorelines as “unspoiled” leisure spaces, The Harbor reveals them as everyday spaces of labor.

DCP, color, 18 min. Director: Akumassa.

A Million Years
Cambodia, 2018

A Million Years is a meditation on the deep time of myth and the natural environment, held in opposition to the time of development and infrastructure. In its narrative and aesthetics, the film presents the collision of multiple spacetimes; the temporal poles it references occur off screen — the dam and the crocodile, modernity and Animism. Photography captures a liminal space between.

DCP, color, 21 min. Director: Danech San.

It’s Raining Frogs Outside (Ampangabagat Nin Talakba Ha Likol)
Philippines, 2021

Maria Estela Paiso’s film is the first short by a woman from the Philippines to play at the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as the first film in the Sambal language of Zambales, the coastal city where the film was made and Paiso’s home. Its cacophony of digital images portrays the inner turmoil of Maya, a young woman whose domestic isolation leads to a monstrous, plastic transformation. Oversaturated landscapes, blossoms, insects and the titular rainfall portray the chaos leading us to the world’s end.

DCP, color, 14 min. Director: Maria Estela Paiso.

Lemongrass Girl
Thailand, 2021

A meditative work of docufiction, Pom Bunsermvicha’s film was made on the set of Anocha Suwichakornpong’s feature film, Come Here. A common practice on set, young women in low-level production positions are tasked with burying lemongrass on the location, in order to prevent rainfall that might disrupt the shoot.

DCP, color, 17 min. Director: Pom Bunsermvicha.

The Line
Thailand, 2020

Anocha Suwichakornpong’s metacinematic short portrays the making of an experimental film about the Mekong River. A Bangkok artist shares her perception of Animism with gallery visitors, her film-within-a-film portraying colorful, digitally-manipulated images of the riverfront environment. Meanwhile, the mundane, institutional workings of the gallery workplace unfold, presenting a stark contrast.

DCP, color, 17 min. Director: Anocha Suwichakornpong.

Total running time: 121 min.

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