Silent cinema was, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, and some good work has been done in recent years to move early film historiography away from Western Europe and America to reach each corner of the globe that the medium touched.
The Bioscope will endeavour to follow suit, so it is a pleasure to have this conference report from Stephen Bottomore on the recent Origins of Asian Cinema conference, held at Osian’s, New Delhi, 21-22 July.
The conference began with welcome remarks by Aruna Vasudev, Festival President. Nick Deocampo, Conference Convener then laid down the conference theme, discussing its concerns and introducing the panel discussants. The themes of what followed included: the arrival of motion pictures and early film conditions in Asia; early filmic practices; Western and native film
pioneers; Asian cinema’s ‘founding fathers’; early cinema’s resonance in Asia and the relevance of its history and practices to Asians; the role of archives and festivals in writing film history; and how Asians indigenised the foreign medium.
The list of participants included the following:
Session 1: WEST MEETS EAST: EARLY CINEMA AND ASIA
Charles Musser (USA); Stephen Bottomore (UK); Nick Deocampo (Philippines); Kim So-Young (South Korea); there was also a presentation on early Turkish cinema.
Session 2: BUILDING HISTORIES/CREATING IDENTITIES: ARCHIVES AND FESTIVALS
Bel Capul (Philippines); Tan Bee Thiam (Singapore); Ashley Ratnavibhushana (Sri Lanka).
Session 3: COLONIAL ORIGINS: EARLY FILM CONDITIONS IN ASIA
Peggy Chiao (Taiwan); P.K. Nair (India); Tadao Sato (Japan); Earl Jackson (Korea); Budi Irawanto (Indonesia).
Session 4. FILM AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE: THE RISE OF NATIONAL CINEMAS
Hassan Abd. Muthalib (Malaysia); Anchalee Chaiworaporn (Thailand); Ngo Phuong Lan (Vietnam); Houshang Golmakani (Iran); Zakir Hussain Raju (Bangladesh).
Perhaps the single most useful paper was Deocampo’s which offered an overview of the origins of cinema in Asia, stressing the colonial context in many countries at the time. Most other presentations, if they were of a historical nature, consisted of a general introduction to that country’s early film history. Exceptions included Bottomore on the early travelogue maker, Burton Holmes; Musser on the importance of national filmmaking in the Philippines, notably in 1912; and Chaiworaporn on the importance of royalty in the origins of Thai cinema. The session on archives and festivals included some of the most dynamic presentations, and this suggested that there is new life in film archiving in Asia and a desire to celebrate the region’s moving image history.
Particularly interesting moments for me included:
- the description of a socially-critical article published in Korea in 1901, in which the author used cinema as an example of vibrancy, in contrast to the sloth of real people;
- a description by the Thai monarch of a Kinetoscope film seen in one of Edison’s machines in Singapore in 1896: of a cockfight. This would be one of the first appearances of these peepshow machines in Asia (the very first was probably in Calcutta in the winter of 1895/96);
- the chance to hear veteran scholars, P.K. Nair and Tadao Sato, give succinct summaries of their countries’ early film history.
This was the second meeting on this theme of early cinema in Asia: a previous conference was held a couple of years ago in the Philippines. It is planned to publish a volume of essays on this theme, some of which will be based on these conference presentations.
Grateful thanks to Stephen for the report, which gives evidence of vital and enthusiastic activity in the writing of Asian early film history, and I certainly look forward to seeing the volume of essays. Osian’s, by the way, is a new arts institution in Delhi, which combines auction house, film centre, art fund and a Centre for Archiving, Research & Documentation.