Why and for whom do you write/work today?
Feature by: Alexis A. Tioseco
The question Criticine has posed provides, indeed an interesting opportunity to both reflect upon my practice and ideas as well as to position that reflection more broadly in line with my projected work and my engagement with a number of interrelated disciplines.
I am a writer on Southeast Asian film, a historian of Malaysian cinema, as well as a lecturer and researcher in Film Studies at Monash University, Malaysia. I write for both the interest and engagement of a broad audience – both through academic papers and articles for scholarly journals as well as a critic and commentator for Criticine and the weekly online arts magazine Kakiseni in Kuala Lumpur.
I feel privileged to be able to address a wide audience with my writing and not merely address an academic readership. Indeed that sense of bridging the divide between the academe and the public is a philosophical decision based upon a profound belief in the responsibilities attached to being committed to broad intellectual engagement. I am lucky enough to be employed by a university that supports public intellectualism and public engagement.
While I believe I write for the public I also believe I write for the betterment of film scholarship and film criticism. I have identified a need for better critical and scholarly engagement with the rich traditions and contemporary practices of cinema in Southeast Asia. In recognizing that need it has been a privilege to also actively engage with film practitioners and film industry personnel in an active dialogue about their work and their industry that, again, attempts to break down the image of academics being cloistered within the safe cocoon of the ivory tower.
As a teacher I provide university students from both Malaysia and the broader Southeast Asian area with a strong focus on the fundamentals of Film Studies as a discipline as well as to encourage them to utilize their theoretical understanding of film with a practical and critical engagement with the medium. I am pleased that the department that I work in believes in a marriage between rigorous theory and critical understanding and a hands-on approach to film engagement. Many of my students have commenced work on short filmmaking and others have started to think about new ways of approaching film criticism when applied to the cinemas of their region.
I believe that as a writer and academic I am a part of the industry that I engage with. This sense of partnership needs to be constantly worked on and reinforced – as there is a natural skepticism in the industry about the motives and ambitions of both critics and academics. Having said that, I do believe that I write and teach in order to serve the betterment of film, and of Southeast Asian film in particular. Given the richness of the cinematic legacy of the region as well as the dynamic, original new and creative work being released here, the opportunity to serve film in some way is for me, a particular honor and privilege.
In a nutshell, I write to whoever wants to read about film, I teach to those who are in love with it and are passionate about it, and I hope that somewhere between those two activities, and in bridging all of my engagements with film and the film industry, I further serve the development of film culture. In the end I also do what I do because, quite simply I love it – it is actually as simple as that. I write, teach, watch films and engage with filmmakers out of love.
Benjamin McKay is a lecturer in Film and Visual Studies at Monash University Malaysia and is currently living in Kuala Lumpur. He writes on contemporary South East Asian cinema for Criticine and Kakiseni (Malaysia) and is completing his PhD in Malay film history through Charles Darwin University, Australia.
Khoo Gaik Cheng
Tan Bee Thiam