“Reel Life and Fantasy”: NANG at the SWF
By Daryl Li
Described as “a magazine which covers cinema and cinema cultures in the Asian world”, NANG is a ten-issue project published in English over the course of five years, with each issue taking on a particular theme. At this year’s Singapore Writers Festival, the “Reel Life and Fantasy” event on 4 November 2017 introduced the third issue of the series. The panel of speakers featured Davide Cazzaro, publisher and editor-in-chief of NANG; Amir Muhammad, the guest editor for the issue; and contributors Mina Cruz, Edwin Kho, and Wiwat Lertwiwatwongsa.
Cinema and the Imagination
The event introduced both the magazine in general and its recently published third issue. Challenging the conventions of the film magazine, NANG does not contain interviews or news. Rather, it is invested in rethinking the film magazine and its possibilities, through what Cazzaro called a process of “subtraction”, as they aimed to remove as many familiar elements of film magazines as possible, in order to create something substantially new.
The theme of the third issue is “Fiction”. The first section features authentic posters for each of the films featured in the issue, evoking the feeling of the first encounters with these movies. This is followed by a section in which contributors reimagine or continue the experience of specific films through pieces of fiction – from short stories to comics. In the final section, illustrators were commissioned to create original artwork for the films.
The middle section showcases inventive approaches to fiction, exemplified by Wiwat’s piece, “Finding Dumb Photographer”, which reflects the corrections made to an earlier draft. The piece engages with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A City of Sadness, and traces the creative process that takes place after the end of the film, complete with changes and corrections. Meanwhile, Kho’s piece is a comic capturing memories of watching Malaysian production Fist of Dragon with his mother, and offers a tender look into the experience of cinema as well as an interrogation into the nature of fiction. Cruz, on the other hand, took a literary approach in giving new life to Wong Kar-wai’s Days of Being Wild.
To borrow the words of Amir Muhammad, every person who watches a film “makes their own film”. Even after the credits roll, a film continues to live in the imaginations of moviegoers. The discussion covered topics such as fan-fiction culture, film reception, creative writing, and indeed the issue itself. The panel thus examined the crucial role that imagination plays in film spectatorship, and how active processes of contextualisation and reimagining occur before, during, and after the film. This issue of NANG therefore explores the way that films exist within and between cultures, taking root in our memory, given new life in imagination, stories within stories, fiction begetting fiction.
Across Boundaries and Cultures
In today’s challenging publishing market, it can be difficult to imagine a sizeable market for such a niche magazine, with its narrow focus and insistence on only physical magazines. Further, printed on high-quality paper with vibrant offset printing, production costs of NANG are substantial. The vast editorial task of bridging different cultures and languages also posts a big challenge. The dedication to this project and the insistence on its ideals fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but perhaps this type of idealism is necessary in achieving such lofty goals.
As part of the “ASEAN 50” series at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival, the NANG event did not engage with the issues at stake in discussions about Southeast Asia directly. Nevertheless, it teased out the complexities of regional identities and the possibilities of collaboration across Southeast Asian countries. Perhaps it shows the first step to conceiving a shared ASEAN identity, one built on collaboration, dedication, and idealism. For NANG itself is a microcosm of Southeast Asia – and Asia at large – a testament to the possibilities of cultural exchange and a shared identity beyond borders. Perhaps it all begins from a courage to break out of conventions and a desire to reimagine the stories of our different cultures.
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