The Potential Perils of an all-Netflix Future
BY Philbert Dy
November 29, 2023

Over at CNN Life, John Patrick Manio reports on an online panel hosted by the Sundance Film Festival Asia titled, “The Future of Southeast Asian Cinema.” Panelists included Filipino filmmaker Mikhail Red, Indonesia filmmaker Timo Tjahjanto, Thai Producer Vanridee Pongsittisak, and Netflix’s Southeast Asian Content Director Malobika Banerji. A lot of the talk seems to have revolved around Netflix’s place in the region as a content distributor, bypassing the theaters and providing a viable means for film industry creatives to get paid for their work and get it seen by people.

Even before the pandemic closed down theaters in the Philippines, a lot of Filipino films struggled to get seen. The cinema owners, often citing the low turnout for certain kinds of films, were generally resistant to showing a lot of our local output. Given that, Netflix does seem like a very attractive means of distribution. But Manio expresses some healthy skepticism:

“It's important to discuss the catches and questions in this discussion. Netflix can only accommodate a handful of personalities. Would Netflix be the new mainstream commercial monolith that extends only to a few new individuals? There is a huge difference between being the future of SEA cinema and being the future of select SEA filmmakers.

Would Netflix be exclusive to aspiring genre filmmakers? The Sundance panel consisted only of genre filmmakers — what about those who do documentaries, the avant-garde, short films, and “arthouse?”

And then there's the elephant in the room: Netflix's current roster of Filipino films is mostly composed of those produced by big studios that have already enjoyed mainstream success. Do new filmmakers still have to put on a big fight against the majors in this space? Or are we reading everything all wrong because this platform was designed for the major players in the first place? These questions were not addressed in the panel.”

Manio offers several compelling counterpoints to the general view that the online streaming giant is somehow the solution to the long-standing problems in Filipino film distribution. He rightfully points out that a discussion on the future of Southeast Asian Cinema that centers on the platform seems to exclude a lot of people that actually make films. This point seems crucial: it doesn’t quite seem healthy to have an industry that’s only aiming to get on Netflix.

Read more: How Netflix can help Southeast Asian cinema

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