CRISEA’s Web Documentaries

The Environment
30 APR 2019

CRISEA’s Web Documentaries

Increasingly, we inhabit a world where messages from media and experiences of personal life are both imbued with, and often coalesce into, the same visual images. Thus, undertaking research with - and through - visual recording and the analysis thereof has become a compelling option, especially when research is of an interdisciplinary nature. CRISEA researchers acknowledge that research results presented in the form of documentary films available online, a website-based form of narration or a multimedia object foster cross-cultural and cross-generational communication and are much more likely to have an impact. However, as these forms are more widely seen, than written pieces are read, they need to be carefully crafted. Through such visual documents - constituted as a fundamental part of knowledge - the sensorial first-impact of sights and sounds can engage an audience in a way that written text cannot. With this in mind, CRISEA has planned the production of five web-documentaries, each of which will focus on one of the five research Work Package themes, while taking into account the project’s three transversal themes – gender, migration and security -- in its treatment of material. The producers of the five proposed video productions have been given total freedom to determine the format of their production and the different skills and disciplinary insights they choose to bring to bear on their subject.

WP 1 – The Environment
Working Title: The Flow of Sand

Producer and Director: Monika Arnez

The documentary film “The Flow of Sand” is set, both against the backdrop of increasing Chinese investment in real estate in Malaysia in recent years and, also, the political transition following the May 2018 legislative elections. Futuristic, large-scale land reclamation projects are some of the visible expressions of these investments. Two case studies are explored in the film: ‘Forest City’ in Johor and ‘Melaka Gateway’ in Malacca, both of which have been launched in attractive places by the sea in these two Malaysian states. Moreover, both projects are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and they are built on artificial islands reclaimed from the sea. Yet having been initially hailed for boosting the economy and creating jobs these projects have also subsequently attracted criticism for exacerbating social injustices and for impacting negatively on the environment. 

“The Flow of Sand” thus seeks to reveal the contested nature of these projects showing both these projects’ ambitions and their contradictions. While they aspire to create a pleasant, prosperous and eco-friendly environment in strategic locations, yet this is at the cost of social  alienation, and negative impacts on the ecosystem. By including the perspective of affected community members, particularly in Malacca, this film raises questions about the projects’ deleterious effects such as exacerbating social inequality and the destruction of the environment. In the film images of silt, artificial beaches and dunes are used as visual signifiers, connecting the different ‘flows’ of sand with these social and environmental issues.

WP 2 – The Economy                 
Working Title:  The Industrious Asian – Humans and Gaz in North Aceh (Gaz, GAM and SEZs)

Producers: Silvia Vignato & Giacomo Tabacco

The film explores how Lhokseumawe (northern Sumatra) was socially and culturally defined by gas extraction as the major industrial sector in the region and the impact of the definitive end of a centralized model of development that it has engendered. The main focus is on the intimate and multi-faceted acceptation of a specifically Acehnese culture of industrialization the way in which deindustrialization has impacted on that acceptation.

While the gas fields were still exploitable (1978 - 2005), the centralized model of development thrived, while, given its neo-colonialist underpinnings, provoking in reaction a lengthy separatist struggle for Acehnese independence. Today, the fields no longer yield. In their wake are to found decaying physical structures, local myth-like tales of fabulous salaries and advantageous sub-contracts, intertwined with memories of human exploitation and violence. Today levels of unemployment are increasing and more and more Acehnese seek to migrate. Yet the past experience of this extractive industry has lain the ground for as yet unrealized (and perhaps unrealistic) plan for a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

Parallel to the tale of gas, ingrained with discourses of both hatred and hope, there is a different narrative arising from a different type of industrial effort. Small brick manufacturing, enterprises crafting “ethnic” accessories, and fish drying point to a small-scale, underpaid form of industrialization as the only alternative to farming and migration. The subject will be explored from the perspective of different villages which have been dramatically affected by the history of gas exploitation.

WP 3 – The State
Working Title: States of Belonging

Producer:  Rachel Leow

This short film will explore the tensions between belonging, as expressed as citizenship, and ethnic/cultural belonging among Chinese in Southeast Asia.

Act 1: Images of ‘the state’ with the intention of elaborating some of the ways they impact daily life. This will comprise still photographs/video shots of any of the following: voting; passports; immigration lines; crossing country borders (e.g. the signs that demarcate them); prisons; arrests; censuses; identity cards; policemen; government speeches; civil marriage ceremonies (e.g signing registrars); registration papers that have both local names and Chinese names; multilingual official documents; law courts. Accompanied with a scripted voiceover commentary about the gulf between belonging as a state identity versus an ethnic/cultural sense of identity, drawing on Benedict Anderson on ‘bounded’ vs ‘unbounded serialities’. (Estimate: 2-3 minutes)

Act 2: A montage of short clips (can be self-filmed) of people answering two questions: ‘What does “being [a citizen of Southeast Asian country X] mean to you?’, and ‘What does “being Chinese” mean to you?’ (Estimate: 2-3 minutes)

Act 3: Interviews of academics concerning broader historical trends in the complexity of relations between the PRC and Chinese in several Southeast Asian states, highlighting the problems of belonging precipitated by decolonization in the 50s and 60s. These interviews may be interspersed with some historical footage. (Estimate: 5 minutes)

Act 4: Belonging across state lines. A brief conversation with members of a fifth-generation Chinese family settled in Malaysia but in search of roots in ancestral family in Shenzhen. (Estimate 5 minutes)

WP 4 – Identity
Working Title: Malay Identity on the Move

Producers: Jan Van der Putten & Alan Darmawan

Below is a short list of objects and events that we covered in the very rough cut of the documentary we have made in September last year. I have had an interview with the Sultan of Bintan who resides in Tanjungpinang and his brother the poet, but unfortunately the recordings of the interview with the sultan need to be redone.

  1. Opening: some images of the islands and the town of Tanjungpinang, which is the main focus of the whole project.
  2. Gurindam: Tanjungpinang is called Kota Gurindam (town of gurindam poetry) which refers to a certain poetic form originating in the area made famous by a 19th-century author. This poem has been transformed into the written and musical icon of the town and used to promote it and to epitomise the people’s Malay identity. It is a highly moralistic, relatively short and aphoristic poem that is taught in schools, sung at festivals and time and again used in contests. This part begins with interviews with teenagers in the street expressing their opinions and to cut over to a contest for school children held in Tanjungpinang. (9 minutes)
  3. Language: Transition to language and its importance for Malay identity. This is introduced by (locally) well-known cultural workers who express their opinions about the connections between the Malay language and identity. The film shifts from the town of Tanjungpinang to the island of Penyengat where a wedding ceremony is taking place. Wedding ceremonies are highlighted as a form cultural expression for they are considered very important in communal life by the people living there. This transition is made by proposing some impressions about the revered 19th-century poet referred to above (5 minutes)
  4. Festivals: There is a transition from the wedding ceremony to the performance of a certain ritual which is imitated by young children in a cultural festival in the back of a pickup truck. A short clip of an interview with one of the organisers of such cultural festivals is used to transition to the next sequence, namely a transition to depictions of Malay identity and modern life. In the previous images and commentary will have been depicted the stereotypical, folkloristic type of cultural expressions propagated by the Malaysian authorities as representing Malay identity. In the next sequence is shown the reading of the poem Fairytale of the Sand (Dongeng Pasir) and, in the visual background, images of the deserted sand quarries, juxtaposed with the construction of new administrative centres in the provinces. (about 5 minutes)
  5. Islam and a round off: Here will be added to the recorded interview with the newly-appointed sultan a round off with closing statements of one of the cultural workers in the area.

Speaker(s)
Arnez, Monika

Monika Arnez obtained her PhD from the University of Cologne, Germany, in Indonesian and Malay Studies. She teaches undergraduate and ... [read more]

Darmawan, Alan

Alan Darmawan studied human  geography and social anthropology at the State University of Medan, where he was actively involved ... [read more]

Leow, Rachel

Rachel Leow is University Lecturer in East Asian History at Cambridge University, and author of Taming Babel: Language in ... [read more]

Tabacco, Giacomo

Giacomo Tabacco has completed his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Milano-Bicocca in 2017. His doctoral research ... [read more]

Vignato, Silvia

Silvia Vignato is Associate Professor in anthropology at the Università di Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB). Beside a monography about Indonesian ... [read more]