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SEAxSEA: The Southeast Asia x Seattle Film Festival

January 12, 2018

This week, our MA student Adrian Alarilla writes about the film festival he’s organizing with the Center, The SEAxSEA Film Festival, that explores Southeast Asia in its diversity, emphasizing underrepresented communities and youth-produced visions of the past, present, and future.


“It’s not given to people to judge what’s right or wrong. People have eternally been mistaken and will be mistaken, and in nothing more than in what they consider right and wrong.”
― Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

In this, the inaugural year of the Southeast Asia x Seattle Film Festival (SEAxSEA), a running theme throughout our film program, but most especially with our two main attractions, is War and Peace. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), this theme came organically to us through the submissions we received this year, which probably speaks a lot about the contemporary state of affairs in Southeast Asia. In Adjani Arumpac’s “War is a Tender Thing,” the filmmaker reflects on the religious conflict in Mindanao (one of the longest-running conflicts still going on in the world today) vis-à-vis her own heritage as half-Muslim and half-Christian. “The Peace Agency,” in the meantime, centers around Lian Gogali and her grassroots women’s organization as they try to maintain peace and rebuild Poso, Indonesia.

Of the short films, Chaweng Chaiyawan’s “So-Khin” follows the plight of Burmese migrants caught in the middle of political unrest between three southern Thai provinces. Quyên Nguyen Le’s “Nước” attempts to find the meaning of home when one is so distanced from one’s parent’s experience as a Vietnam War refugee. And “Listen” by Min Min Hein explores the art of dissent under Burmese military rule.

Although not all of the films feature war and peace as tangibly, it is still felt quite strongly, as in Larry Tung’s “From Leonard to Leona: Ah Kua No More,” which follows the inner struggles of a transgender Singaporean artist and activist who felt she didn’t belong not only in her body, but also in her own country. “Dreams of Cambodia” is Cyntheara Tham’s own short video diary documenting her journey of self-discovery as she visits Cambodia. And Zhen Yee Khor’s “Culture Shot” is a short profile of a band composed of a multiracial group of friends brought together by the love of music.

Southeast Asia is a region of countless ethnicities, religions, and political systems, many of them spilling over the artificially-created national borders that are artifacts of our own colonial past. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that war is such a big part of our shared history. But we believe that through dialogue, through the sharing of each other’s stories, we can begin to understand each other better, and we can move closer towards peace and reconciliation. In the process of putting together this program, we realized just how much these films from different countries in Southeast Asia spoke to each other, not telling each other what was right or wrong, but simply sharing their experiences. We hope that this film festival can help with that dialogue, and help us learn more about Southeast Asia.

The SEAxSEA Film Festival runs from January 24 to 26, 2018, 4:30-7:30pm each day, at Thomson Hall 101. Admission is free, as well as popcorn and drinks. We hope you can drop by, watch films with us, and celebrate the diversity of Southeast Asia. For more details, please visit the film festival page here, or email us at