What is Asia? It seems a simple question, yet the answers vary depending whom – and when – you are asking. Our focus on documentary in Asia in this issue is not, to quote one of our contributors, intended to survey the field “comprehensively or with neat generalisations.” Nor do we try a subsume such a varied continent and field of practices under a tendentious label like the “Asian documentary.” Rather, we have tried to spotlight a cross-section of filmmakers, filmmaking and festivals across Asia, in order to bring to light directors, nations and events whose work has generally received scant attention in the world of Western cinephilia. Our focus is an attempt to place both documentary and the Asia region squarely in the field of cinephilic (and scholarly) interests.
Senses of Cinema has, in fact, been at the forefront of coverage of China’s burgeoning independent documentary world, publishing some of the earliest English-language commentary on this work way back in 2003. 1 Happily, one of the writers from that first pair of articles – Bérénice Reynaud – has returned in this issue to provide an updated survey of the Chinese field. I have also written an article on the Chinese documentary Under the Dome (2015), a film that attracted an astonishing 300 million clicks in a week (!) after it appeared online earlier this year.
Another of our regular contributors, Ma Ran, writes on three key – and in some ways unique – East Asian documentary film festivals in Japan, China and South Korea that have played an important role in generating an audience for documentary cinema in Asia and fostering networks across the region. Markus Nornes reviews Wages of Resistance (2014), a new film that draws on the work Ogawa Shinsuke, the Japanese activist filmmaker of the 1960s and ’70s who went to found Yamagata, one of the festivals discussed by Ma Ran. Although little known in the West, Ogawa was a crucial figure in the development of documentary as a politicised, critical practice across East Asia.
Moving further afield, Shweta Kishore and Ann Rutherford provide insights into documentary practices in India’s diverse independent realm, while Olivia Khoo charts the reception and banning of Tan Pin Pin’s new film about Singapore’s dispersed community of political exiles, To Singapore, with Love (2013).
Elsewhere in this issue, among other things, we take another look at Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) in Ned Schatz’s beautiful reflection on memory and the moving image, while Ivan Kreilkamp offers a new reading of Asghar Farhadi’s About Elly (2009).
Senses of Cinema has been going through a lot of changes recently, with the departure mid-year of long time editor Rolando Caputo and, at the end of 2014, the departure of an even longer-term editor, Adrian Danks. Since June, Tim O’Farrell and I have been on a steep learning curve handling the journal’s features section, while Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has been doing an outstanding job reading incoming proposals, and commissioning and editing our “C-theque Annotations.” We would all like to salute the work of Rolando and Adrian and their long years of service to Senses of Cinema, as well as the tireless efforts of Michelle Carey, who remains the longest serving editor on our five-person team. The editorial board is rounded out by Daniel Fairfax, in his ongoing role as our Books Editor.
The focus on documentary in Asia in this issue signals a more focused and curated approach here at Senses, and a new effort to provide coverage of little explored fields of cinematic endeavour. The journal is still, as always, a work in progress, but we hope you enjoy the fruits of our labour thus far.
- Charles Leary, “Performing the Documentary, or Making it to the Other Bank,” Senses of Cinema 27 (July 2003), http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/feature-articles/performing_documentary/; and Bérénice Reynaud, “Dancing with Myself, Drifting with My Camera: The Emotional Vagabonds of China’s New Documentary,” Senses of Cinema 28 (October 2003): http://sensesofcinema.com/2003/feature-articles/chinas_new_documentary/ ↩