Instead of going with a traditional selfcontained theme, this year’s Focus will complement our selection of Southeast Asian films across the different sections. While curating the films for this year’s Festival, we recognised a recurring trend in the preference of today’s audience: unusual narratives that suggest mystical and subjective sensibilities while incorporating imaginative fantasies, dreamlike impressions and folkloric memories as evident in The Science of Fictions, The Tree House, Krabi, 2562, and many more.

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In this light, it felt timely to position the Focus programme alongside these films as we revisit and re-explore Southeast Asian cinema through a subjective prism, in search of benchmark films about the recent past that will set the tone, or even a standard for imaginative and dreamlike storytelling that draws on national and personal myths and memories.

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) was a natural selection for what we endeavour. Intrinsically about storytelling with its beginning of ‘Once upon a time…’, it unfolds unexpectedly by chance as it draws on an old Surrealist concept; the exquisite corpse. It is a collection of words or images that are assembled, with each contributor unaware of the entire picture of the preceding part. Mysterious Object at Noon follows its own logic while mutating into different forms that is both an oral history in the making and a collective dream drawn from subjective stories.

Seminal Singaporean omnibus Lucky7 (2008) coincidentally adopted the same concept of the exquisite corpse as its guiding principle. This time, seven young directors write and direct films that respond to only the final minute of the previous film. The result is a kaleidoscope of fragmented stories that segue from genre to genre, and reveal deep-seated anxieties towards creativity, fantasy and repression.

Acclaimed Filipino director Raya Martin’s debut film offers another Surrealist concept: cinema itself. A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2005) begins with a story to fill a sleepless night. What reveals itself to be a faux silent movie is a meditation on national myth, colonial power and revolution, and the effects of chance on history.

Finally, Cambodian master Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture (2013) recounts indelible mental pictures that are images from memory modelled as re-imaginings. Such masterful presentation becomes all the more visceral with stark artifice.

As a whole, these films point to a unique way of storytelling that is peculiar to the region. They put forth juxtapositions of what is real and unreal, objective and subjective, memory and imagination, myth and reality: all of which conjure their own resonances. Be it surrealism or magic realism, each of these films contribute to the exploration of a collective consciousness, or perhaps subconsciousness, that pervades Southeast Asian cinema. What we have is film and storytelling as a kind of dreamscape.