An interview with new CSI Faculty member, Bliss Lim

October 5, 2022 by Denise Ing

Prof. Bliss Lim recently joined the Cinema Studies Institute, and is teaching CIN3008HF - Queer Girls and Racial Others, and CIN451H1S - Queer Asian Cinema. We asked her to tell us a bit about herself.  

What is your background in cinema? What are your areas of specialization, and what drew you to those areas?

I came to cinema through a roundabout route. My BA degree at the University of the Philippines, Diliman was in Comparative Literature, but as a young instructor at UP I quickly found that my students were far more engaged in film and popular culture than say, surveys of European literature, and that same immediacy and relevance that captivated my students drew me in, too. So I like to say that I followed my students to the cinema. That’s what led to graduate school (my Cinema Studies Ph.D. is from New York University) and my last two decades of teaching (at the Film and Media Studies Department of the University of California, Irvine), prior to coming to CSI at U of T.

I work on Philippine cinema and queer Asian cinemas from a postcolonial feminist perspective; I also have an abiding interest in temporality. My first book, Translating Time: Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique (Duke University Press, 2009) wove together transnational horror and Philippine and other Asian cinemas through considerations of time, and post/colonial power. By the time I finished writing that book I was acutely aware of the dearth of primary sources on Philippine cinema. The fragility of that archive, its underpinnings and challenges, compelled me to write my forthcoming book, The Archival Afterlives of Philippine Cinema, which I hope will resonate with the experience of others working on film and media of the global south. For my next book project, I am interested in how Asian media industries “weaponize” queerness. I’m asking: how does queerness – construed as style, content, or real vs. imagined audiences – circulate translocally and facilitate the global hold of Asian media industries?

What are your top three favourite films of all time? Why?

I always smile when I’m asked that question because it’s such an impossible question, I’m always flummoxed by it. People ask me that in airplanes when I’m chatting with my seatmate on a long flight. There are too many films to choose from, too many incommensurate, non-comparable virtues and flaws, for me to select “all-time favorites.” For global horror, I love Tesis (Alejandro Amenábar, Spain, 1996); Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, Sweden, 2008); and Dumplings (Fruit Chan, Hong Kong, 2004). For feminist and queer cinema, I love Daisies (Vera Chytilová, Czechoslovakia, 1966), The Fits (Anna Rose Holmer, US, 2015), and Shinjuku Boys (Kim Longinotto and Jano Williams, UK, 1995). For Philippine cinema, my all-time favorite is Himala [Miracle] (Ishmael Bernal, 1982), from the New Cinema period of the late seventies to early eighties. For more contemporary independent Philippine cinema, I love two films from 2013: Hannah Espia’s Transit and Keith Deligero’s Iskalawags [Scalawags]. And for candy-colored musicals with wall-to-wall sound, there can only be Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg (France, 1964). So there – instead of three films, I’ve snuck in ten, and I could go on.

What films are you looking forward to seeing in the future?

The first thing that comes into mind is a film I want to see again: Ruben Östlund’s newest film Triangle of Sadness, which I watched at my very first TIFF this September. The acting is superb throughout, and I love twist films in general, but the focus on the labor of Filipino seafarers and the showstopping performance of Dolly de Leon, who plays Abigail, make me want to re-watch the film. De Leon was a contender for the Best Actress at Cannes this year, and I hope now that she’s come to the notice of A-list festivals she’ll have her pick of projects. So I’m excited to watch whatever movie she makes next, not just because she’s my friend, but because she’s the greatest Filipina actress of her generation.

Which is your favourite film festival?

My understanding of Philippine indie cinema is indebted to Cinemalaya, which sparked an upsurge of independent digital filmmaking in 2005 that I hope will prove undiminished by the pandemic. That film festival happens annually in July or August in Manila. I am also keen to support the vitality of vernacular regional cinemas outside the capital, which is the focus of Cinema Rehiyon; I’ve never been to that festival but I’d like to experience it. That festival happens outside Manila and foregrounds the archipelagic diversity of Philippine cinema.

Tell us about your courses in 2022/23.

I’m thrilled to be teaching two of the courses I’m most invested in this academic year. This Fall term, I’m teaching the graduate seminar, CIN3008HF: Queer Girls and Racial Others; in Winter, I’ll be teaching the undergraduate course, CIN451H1S - Queer Asian Cinemas. Canonical queer theory and New Queer Cinema of the 1990s was weighted towards gay white male subjectivity; in my classes, I try to dislodge this with a focus on queer of color and trans critique. The now-ubiquitous LGBTQ+ terminology has been generative in many respects, in terms of rights discourses and transnational NGO work. However, such understandings of gender and sexuality, rooted in North American frameworks, are far from universal. In my classes I try to emphasize dynamics of translation and untranslatability as the basis for dissident solidarities, always bearing in mind that all practices and identities are historically specific, situated, and embodied, and that nothing is neutral with respect to race or culture.