I was invited by my buddy Michael Lim (Singapore Film Society) to a screening of Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso’s When the Rooster Crows, a documentary on diversity and richness of Southeast Asian Cinema. The documentary highlights four indie film-makers viz. Brillante Mendoza (Philippines); Pen-Ek Ratanaruang (Thailand); Eric Khoo (Singapore); and Garin Nugroho (Indonesia).

Ostensibly, I was supposed to contribute to a post-screening panel discussion with Lombroso and Michelle Goh (who acted in Eric’s Mee Pok Man and still looks fresher than the first time I met her 20 years ago!) but really had nothing much relevant to say, except that Eric was a buddy of mine too.

Since I got to watch the movie free of charge, I thought it’d only be fair to share a little review. Conceptually, I loved the way that Lombroso approached the movie not merely as a standard documentary but as a film in its own right. Thus, there was a narrative running through its 88 minutes (that’s a very Eric Khoo number, by the way) that not only featured the subject film-makers and their films but also the context of their muse (their countries of origin).

The manner in which one segment segued into the next seamlessly added to this overall effect and emphasised Lombroso’s observation that even though the four countries highlighted are often differentiated from one other, there were many similarities as well. In particular, in the obstacles that each independent film scene faced in their own countries – whether it be social or political. What was evident was that each scene, as represented by each film-maker, dug deep into the human soul – the belief, the creativity and the fighting spirit – in order to produce works of film art that resonated beyond their respective shores.

One of the obvious takeaways was that each film scene needed to support one another so that South East Asian indie film could be developed and nurtured. Thus, perhaps a more vibrant regional film scene – one that cross-pollinated across boundaries would be a solution to the usual gripes about lack of local support.

For me personally, there was an allegory to be drawn with the music scene here – that we needed to reach out to the music scenes regionally and not be too myopic about confining the building of a fan base to the hard ground that is Singapore. Definitely something to chew on.

More information about the Singapore Film Society may be obtained from its official website.

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