Southeast Asia's film industry is still in its initial stages of development and therefore, cannot be compared with other nearby countries such as Korea or India.
However, it doesn't mean that it's not making progress -- compared with 10 years ago. The industry has slowly evolved into a better one, not only in terms of the number of films produced but also in quality.
Therefore, the Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) has reason enough to screen movies made by directors from Southeast Asian countries -- Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand -- in its event this year.
A section of JiFFest, called "A View from the SEA" (Southeast Asia), showcases 10 long films in addition to 18 short ones -- all from Southeast Asia.
Among the films are Wonderful Town (2007) from Thai director Aditya Assarat, who is a frequent winner in international film festivals. The film, which tells the story of what happened in a Thai district after the 2004 tsunami, received a Tiger Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival this year and also won the Special Jury Award in the Las Palmas Film Festival in Spain.
Vietnamese film Little Heart (2008) tells the tragic story of a village girl who is forced to become a sex worker in the capital to earn money for her poor family. Directed by Nguyen Thanh Van, the movie has won awards this year from an Asian Cinema promotional network and at the Hawaii International Film Festival.
Stealing the show this year are two Malaysian movies made by independent filmmakers. The first one is Susuk, which has drawn not only praises but also controversy in its home country due to its explicit content considered taboo in the predominantly Muslim country. The film won awards at this year's Malaysian Film Festival.
The second Malaysian movie, titled Punggok Rindukan Bulan, made by 27-year-old director Azharr Rudin, tells the story of a man and boy who are waiting for an important woman to enter their lives.
The screenings of Southeast Asian films at the festival not only allow their audiences to take a closer look at current situations happening in other countries, but also provide vivid examples showing how the region's film industry is truly on the move.
Nowadays, people deem Thailand as the center of the region's movie industry, with many filmmakers considering the country a haven to shoot movies in and a great venue to hold an international film festival.
However, the eyes of the film world cannot remain closed to the development of cinema in other nations, including Indonesia which with the help of local independent filmmakers, seems to have slowly woken up from its long sleep of the 1990s which saw year after year of only imported movies.
More than 100 Indonesian movies were released this year, reversing the condition of 10 years ago when the number of local movies released per year could be counted on one hand.
The same can be said for Malaysia -- the industry has been robustly progressing with the number of new movies released this year doubling to 30 from its annual average of 15.
The new stars on the block appear to be Vietnam and Singapore, whose cinema industries have been booming in recent years.
The Vietnamese film industry got its kick-start with the rise of art house films in the late 1990s, the directors of which have gone on to receive international recognition in a number of global film competitions, with names such as Nguyen Thanh and Tony Bui.
The mini-boom year in Singapore cinema began with the movement of independent short films, spearheaded by one of its popular activists Royston Tan.
-- Ika Krismantari