Foster S-E Asian cohesion, identity through films


Danesh Daryanani

Published: 4:00 AM, July 28, 2016

When I first read the motto of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) — One Vision, One Identity, One Community — I brushed it aside. Ten disparate nations cannot possibly achieve this, I thought.

I did not realise how little I knew about my neighbours’ psyche until I watched films from their national cinema. My knowledge of Asean was formed through news, political rhetoric, trips and pop culture, but I learnt more about my neighbours this year through film than in all my 51 years.

The National Gallery Singapore has a programme called Painting with Light. Each month, over 10 months, two films from an Asean country are presented — one film from the past and the second, a recent one.

There is something special about film as an art form. With a painting, you observe. You may make an effort to understand the context by reading about the artist and the cultural or political climate when the art was made.

You come to a reading of the art through your own world view. This is right; this is how art is viewed.

Film is different. As with any art, you bring yourself into it. But film is not static. You observe, and then you become an unknowing eavesdropper led into the story. Before you know it, you are emotionally engaged. You start to relate to the struggles and the joys of those on screen.

Unlike the case with films from outside the region, as a Singaporean, I can relate to Asean films. We all had to grapple with national identity, nation-building and pressure from foreign influence.

Through these films, I hear the ground, understand the people and appreciate their cultures. I realise that although our circumstances are different, our emotional journeys have not been too different.

The films explore national identity, displacement, hope, loyalty and love. These issues confront all Asean people. Each Asean country has dealt with and continues to deal with these themes.

A national identity and an Asean identity are not mutually exclusive; we can have both. Having this realisation, I was surprised Asean does not use film to foster “One Vision, One Identity, One Community”. But Asean was ahead of me.

In 1989, the Programme for the Enhancement of Asean Cooperation in the Television, Radio, Film and Video Areas affirmed the role of these media in bringing “political stability, economic growth, social justice, greater regional cohesion and the development of human resources to their full potential”.

I am glad the National Gallery is not simply displaying art but is also fostering local and regional community. Such film programmes should be required viewing for Asean leaders.