Is film appreciation dead?

The following was in my draft, I don’t know why I never posted it. It was written long ago. Finally, through some minor tweakings (and grammar correction haha) it is finally for all to see!

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Film viewing is very much alive, but the same can’t be said about film appreciation. Director Nik Amir Nik Mustapha has a point, we’re heading there: cinema culture–where

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more experimental and risqué films are being produced by local studios. But not in a fast enough rate, and the stigmas Malaysian people embed within themselves that local films lack panache compared to their American counterparts isn’t helping–it is hindering the growth of our film industry. Another reason is that it’s difficult to take film (or arts like it) seriously, especially in an environment that does not allow it to thrive to its full potential. For instance, let’s observe education. Schools can be a powerful platform for film appreciation, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve met a 7 or 8 year old who is excited about a big event at their school’s film club. Because there isn’t. I understand some schools may offer film clubs, but they are scarce and so few in between. And often it is reserved for elitist schools, whereas films should encompass every level of society. There shouldn’t be any restrictions or exclusivity. But that does not seem to be the point. This is clearly a rich man’s game, or at least this is what our education have made it out to be. Either that, or an extreme enthusiast’s. I think the next question local filmmakers can ask themselves is how to educate audiences that films have a broader power that goes beyond entertaining. That it can be a catalyst for social change, that it could arouse the mind into accepting or at least consider a different idea or point of view–all very different from serving as entertainment (although there is nothing wrong with that too).

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If film is to thrive, people need to start believing that appreciating films transcends watching movies at the cinemas, probably going home later and if asked if the movie is any good or not they would persuade or dissuade others into going out and catch it while it’s still on. Like besides that mundane and trite culture, a group of people can come together, be it at a school-level, university-level, heck it can even just be a bunch of adults who in their spare time away from work, sit at a table and discuss about movies, intellectually breaking it down; the concepts, the execution, the cinematography, anything that can help expand our knowledge of films alongside screening those greats like Truffaut pic and study how he and his New Wave comrades helped redefine cinema, or the probing works of auteur Frederico Fellini that has a particular interest in making the everyday going-ons to be interesting, or the more challenging cinemas of Apitchapong Weerasethakul, a Siamese auteur whose works are as poetic as it is enigmatic, or the intricate social commentaries that director Abbas Kiarostami presents with his narratives–there is nothing wrong with that too no?

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The problem is that a majority thinks that film’s value stop at its power to entertain. Or if you’re lucky, they’ll discuss the performances of the actors/actresses and whether they accept the message the film is trying to deliver. But often it ends there. My question is this, if football, hockey, golf or even badminton can be discussed passionately, why can’t films? Why do you think this is a problem? Why do you think films are not taken as seriously as other things in pop culture? How can we, consumers, expect filmmakers to take their work seriously, if we do not take local films seriously ourselves.

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Stigmas towards local films, on some titles are warranted, yes. But as a consumer, you have the ultimate power. You dictate what ends up on screen. And if there is that rare gem of a local movie that tries to do something no one else is doing, use your discerning judgment, go out and catch it. Show your support towards those titles and not towards some banal adaptation of a more banal novel with an even more banal title (Dear John, anyone?). But that is not what is happening. It seems that even the most earnest efforts by local auteurs Liew Sieng Tat with Lelaki Harapan Dunia, or more recently Redha all seems to be in despair as evident in their poor revenue reports. I understand how separating entertainment with other elements of films may sound elementary as a true cinephile may indulge in the rich concepts of a Tarkovsky pic and that in itself is entertainment for them, but do Malaysians readily understand that? The problem should no longer be projected towards solely filmmakers. If earnest effort is done by them, then viewers need to meet them halfway, and start showing support if we are to expect our film industry to grow. This means not condescending our own cinema’s potential.