DOCTALK: Observing the Working Scope of Film Programmers

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FFD 2022

The third day of DOCTALK, one of the programs in Festival Film Dokumenter 2022 Documentary, brought a discussion topic entitled Documentary Film & Festival Programming in Southeast Asia. Through this very broad topic, DOCTALK forum managed to summarize the important ideas that intersect with film and the organization of the festival, in particular, the dilemmas and problems often found in selecting the films for film festivals in Southeast Asia. The discussion forum was moderated by Puiyee Leong, Senior Manager Objectif Centre of Photography and Films, Singapore. In addition, there were four speakers in this discussion, which were Jewel Maranan (Film Director dan Director of Daang Dokyu Festival Film), Chalida Uabumrungjit (Director of Thailand Film Archive), Philip Cheah (Film Currator), and Makiko Wakai (Programmer of Asian Current Yamagata International Film Festival). 

DOCTALK’s discussion began with questions about the current situation of documentary films and the role of film festivals to bring them to life. There was a concern that documentaries as a form of film have low audience interest compared to other film forms. The speakers began to express their opinion, mentioning that the presence of film festivals should take over the situation and the role of the film festival should fill the void. The main function of a film festival was to bridge the void between independent film and mainstream film. A mark that indicates the success of festival film as an exhibition space was the audience’s indulgence to watch film that grows over time.

Moderator Puiyee Leong condensed the theme of the discussion on the professional background of the four speakers as programmers, especially in how they do in curating the film. Regarding the ‘sought-after’ aspect of a documentary, the things that they wanted to gain was the subject that can speak for the film. It was not only that, they were also looking for a film that can provide a rare experience for the audience. The speakers agreed that from both aspects that have been mentioned previously, the important one was the individual’s response to a film. A reliable programmer can collect the audience and make them feel attached to the films of their choice. This is the variable that determines the audience’s trust.

It was not only about film programming, DOCTALK discussion also talked about the ethics in film selection since ethical issues arise in the midst of a contestation between a topic and the politicization of the film. What aspects make a film whether or not is considered to be reasonable? It was said that there were subjects that can feel implicated in a picture or one’s idea of a certain character. This question was answered only with a sentence, that ethical standards may change over time. Some films can make the audience uncomfortable for the sake of conveying a certain message. The question is, is it worth it to pay the value of a message with some discomfort and unhappy audiences? If the answer is yes, then the scene should be included.

When the moderator opened the question and answer session, the audience started asking about the affiliation of political sensibilities with film selection. “Morality is a luxury that programmers cannot afford“; there were difficulties for programmers to discuss moral issues in their work practices due to the government intervention in a public event such as a film festival. The government can prosecute a film festival if there is a scene of a film that is not in accordance with the vision of the local government. Film censorship became a topic that was also discussed in DOCTALK this time. There are different policies in Southeast Asian countries regarding film censorship. This influences how programmers conduct film curatorial practices. However, this question closes with one reflective answer, “If a filmmaker could take a risk, then the programmers should take the same risk.”


Reported and written on 17 November 2022 by Davina Damayanti.