Landscape, Memory, History: Topographies of Southeast Asian Independent Cinema

Dr. Natalie Böhler

Habilitationsprojekt, gefördert vom Forschungskredit der Universität Zürich (Nov. 2013-Okt 2014)

Since the late 1990s, independent cinema is continually emerging across large parts of Southeast Asia. Many of its recent films are strongly marked by depictions of landscape as shifting, unstable and uncanny; they are imaginary topographies that are hybridized, unclearly situated and thus spatially, culturally and psychologically disorienting.
As narrative elements, these topographies mirror concerns with recent developments. As the region’s postcolonial nationalisms are increasingly juxtaposed with supranational alliances – namely the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) –, Southeast Asia witnesses shifting boundaries, increased migrations, and a growing importance of transnational relations. The economic expansion and heightened mobility raise concerns with natural resources, the environment and sustainability. Due to the rapid political, sociocultural and economic changes, traces of the precolonial past, remnants of colonial modernity and the postmodern exist side by side, creating complex historicities and identities.
This project aims to examine how recent cinematic topographies of Southeast Asia deal with identities situated at crossroads between the national and the regional, and between pre- and postmodernity. Using sequence analyses, landscape aesthetics, narration and postcolonial theory, it aims to study how history and memory are inscribed into these cinematic depictions of landscape, and how regional cinema deals with present-day reconfigurations of identity. Since independent cinema often addresses problematic issues in this area, where public free speech is restricted, it serves as an instance of critical commentary. The project aims to contextualize the political stances of these films with the material and discursive conditions of film production and reception. Thus, it examines the depiction of cinematic topographies as a complex cultural practice.