A… moving house or: introduction and notes to NANG
What follows is an edited version of the introduction to the NANG project. (First published in the pilot Issue 0 of the magazine [pp. 9–11])
Let me begin with a confession: I did not set out to become a publisher, at least not until a serendipitous encounter with the world of publishing — or, more precisely, today’s independently created print titles — gave me the ambition to try my hand at it. My own background is in Asia-related film festivals, film criticism and research, and despite my long-standing affair with magazines and books, I never thought I would make them. Now, after being bitten by the passion for publishing, I cannot think of doing anything else. These are, as it so happens, most interesting times for both publishing and cinema (however we come to define them); what I love most about the former is also what I love about the latter: the giving-shape to things, the bringing-together of skills and ideas, the intersection of craft, creativity and technology, and the attempt to establish a “contact,” a moment of interaction and exchange.
So it will come as no surprise that the present magazine, a first “symptom” of sorts of that passion, marks the beginning of a cinema-related publishing project, and an admittedly ambitious one. Briefly put, the aim is to expand (the idea of) what a cinema magazine can be today, and to do things differently in order to go far beneath the surface of what is presented to readers.
It would be customary at this point for me to explain why this new magazine ought to exist… But that is not something for me to decide; and I have always subscribed to the idea that any good project should speak for itself. Instead, I think some proper introductions (and a few notes) are in order:
NANG. I first came across the Thai word nang a few years ago and it caught my attention for a number of reasons. Aside from its lightness, simplicity and a certain stickiness associated with the sound of the word, I like its rich background and the way it traveled through the centuries, bridging one of the oldest forms of storytelling (shadow theater) to early screen entertainment up to cinema and moviemaking today.
To develop a cinema magazine devoid of what, traditionally, publications in this area are expected to contain: news, reviews, recommendations, columns and reports. Rather, to offer a sustained, in-depth focus on a geographical area (namely Asia; more on this below) and to structure — or, better yet, rethink — each issue around a specific theme.
To work on a pre-planned program of 10 issues to be published twice a year; each and every issue to be created by and in collaboration with different guest editors and contributors based both within and outside Asia. I have often been asked about the decision to publish “only” 10 issues. One off-the-cuff answer might be: as every true storyteller would tell you, a story should always have a beginning, a middle and an end — no matter how anticipated or abrupt. Here is a second, more complete answer: personally, I object to the idea of a magazine (and therefore the making of a magazine) whoseraison d’être becomes its own longevity… a magazine as a “container” that somehow has to be filled and available at a given moment. The independent nature of this project instead allows us to concentrate all our efforts into making 10 unique issues and then, among other things, to take stock and see where publishing and cinema are at, and what they may look like in the years to come. After all, at that point we will have reached the beginning of this century’s third decade.
Guest editors are part and parcel of this project and I am humbled that a number of professionals whom I profoundly admire have agreed to come on board. Editors are granted all the creative leeway they need in the choice of theme and construction of issues, without fear of making mistakes (we will make them in one form or another anyway). The brief that editors receive is, well, brief, but admittedly demanding at the same time: to follow their fascinations; to have fun in the process; to make sure contributors have something to say (and that they say it in engaging, effective, accessible ways); to give equal attention to text and imagery; to enjoy reading what is to be published; and lastly, a formalist challenge of sorts: to stick exactly to 120 pages in length in order to dedicate the same amount of attention to each theme.
A… moving house
A magazine so created is undoubtedly an experiment and I hope that the spirit of sharing and inquiry, the energy created by a collective effort and the (dis)harmony of the whole will become its defining traits. When thinking about collective effort, a unique custom often came to mind, one that albeit rare is still to be found across parts of Southeast Asia and Oceania. It entails the collective manhandling of a village house by fellow villagers who, in case of need, self-organize to move the entire structure from one location to another. The plot of a beautiful film by Malaysian director Liew Seng Tat, Men Who Save the World (2014), rotates around this very custom and, in an almost Fitzcarraldo-like effort, actors and extras enacted it during the shooting. It is a pleasure to be able to reproduce below two production stills from the set of the film as I cannot think of a more apt metaphor for the way in which NANG is to be created: it will be carried by several people each with their own expertise and experience, teams will take turns and work together, and new energies will — hopefully — come and help along the way… Usually, and despite the physical demands of the move, the actual custom is an agent of aggregation and a festive occasion for the village involved: I hope the same will be true for NANG.
Asia(s) (and cinema[s] in Asia[s]/Asian cinema[s])
The excessive and assertively plural title of this section wants to make its point self-evident. Asia, and cinema in Asia, are not singular and fixed but rather plural and fluid (not to mention that what defines “Asia” and “cinema in Asia” in the first place is far from evident or universal). To simplify considerably what are hotly debated topics, we will think of Asia as the vast land and sea regions stretching from Yemen to Japan — the world’s largest and most populous continent, as many of you will already know — while at the same time pushing inquiries beyond nation-states and cultural boundaries and keeping in mind that frames of reference are always matters of convenience and artifice. The kind, character and scope of NANG’s (idea of) cinema and cinema culture in Asia could not be more open and expanded — the special feature which makes up a large portion of the present Issue is, I believe, a powerful illustration of this — while at the same time eschewing any pretense toward comprehensiveness. (A short note on semantics: cinema in Asia and Asian cinema will be used interchangeably. Overall, however, preference tends to go to the former particularly when thinking that the latter is often reduced to a catch-all marketing label or a shorthand descriptor for a cinema that is associated with certain feelings of “Asian-ness.”)
Print and format
I won’t delve into the print/digital debate here. NANG will appear in print-only editions simply because I think that the undisputable beauty, tactility and permanence of the print medium (and the experience of reading in print) will best amplify the voice of the visual and textual materials which will make up every issue. I hope that prospective readers will enjoy engaging with what they hold in their hands (print is not a fetish, pages lends themselves to be dog-eared, underlined, turned and, well, read!). We madeNANG to be as handy and as inviting-to-read as possible and we hope you will feel that it is as much yours as ours.
As for print and paper, I stand by an old saying that goes: “if you are going to have a bath, get wet; if you’re going to write in ink, let it be a good black ink,” a reminder to avoid doing things in half-measures. This sent me to Sweden, and I have been extremely fortunate in that the good people at both Göteborgstryckeriet and Arctic Paper have decided to support the production of this project. The passion for what they do is contagious and I profoundly admire their commitment to quality and innovation. Working with such esteemed companies in the field also allows us to minimize the environmental impact of our magazine operations: Arctic Paper’s Munkedal mill, established in the late 19th century, stands today as one of the most environmentally-conscious paper mills in the world; paper used is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC); Göteborgstryckeriet’s Hybrid Print Technology has one of the smallest ecological footprints among existing methods; and materials such as inks and glue are as environmentally sound as possible.
Without a reader, a magazine — indeed any text—just isn’t. I hope NANG will “talk” to you and that we will be fortunate enough to have you, fellow readers, along for the trip. Issues of NANG will be sold online via nangmagazine.com and through select retail shops worldwide. Please get in touch with any thoughts, questions and queries you may have.
It will not have escaped your attention that this magazine is published in English… This is not meant as a political, cultural or linguistic statement but has rather to do with accessibility. English is the language with which we prepare and make this magazine in the first place, and the language that will allow NANG to be accessed by readers across as many parts of Asia as possible and around the world. We do not however “impose” English on our contributors and we encourage them to prepare and submit their pieces in the language they feel most comfortable with.
Now, speaking of endings and beginnings… if you will excuse me, there is a house that needs to be moved! Thank you for reading, and thank you to each and every one of our contributors and collaborators.
—Davide Cazzaro (Publisher & Editor-in-Chief)