Independent Thai movies again ruled the roost while more-mainstream offering failed to excited
Independent films once against out-classed mainstream movies in 2015 with two small films winning big at overseas festivals and the latest oeuvre of Palme d’Or 2010 awardee Apichatpong Weerasethakul delighting audiences in Cannes.
The prizes started flowing in January, when Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s “Vanishing Point” won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, along with “The Project of the Century” by Carlos M Quintella from Cuba and the Peruvian experimental comedia tragedia “Videophilia (and other syndromes)” by Juan Daniel F Molero.
The Rotterdam festival has long been an important landmark for Thai independent cinema, which gave the Tiger Award to Aditya Assarat’s “Wonderful Town” in 2008, Anocha Suwichakornpong’s “Mundane History” in 2010 and Sivaroj Kongsakul’s “Eternity” in 2011.
Jakrawal, who works as a film lecturer at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, made his first appearance at the festival in 2008 with his thesis project “Patterns of Transcendence”. In 2010, he participated in a Rotterdam project that had Asian directors in Africa, collaborating with local filmmakers. The result was the hybrid documentary “Unreal Forest”. His “Vanishing Point” was released in Thailand after a one-off screening in a down-at-the-heels porn cinema in Bangkok.
There was a Thai presence at the Cannes Film Festival in May, when Apichatpong, the only Thai winner of the festival, screened “Rak Thi Khon Kaen” (“Cemetery of Splendour”) in the Un Certain Regard category, which he won back in 2002 with “Blissfully Yours”. Film pundits appeared surprised that “Splendour” had not been selected for the main competition – the norm for films whose directors have won the much-coveted top prize – but Apichatpong was unperturbed, gratified no doubt by a standing ovation that continued for 10 minutes.
Thai film fans, however, were in for a disappointment when Apichatpong decided not to show the film at home. In an interview with Indiewire, he explained that with the situation in Thailand so unstable and the law so arbitrarily used, he would be putting himself at risk and thus preferred to head straight to South America to make his next film.
Cheers rung out once again in October when female director Pimpaka Towira swept the Tokyo International Film Festival’s Asian Future Film Award for her second film “Maha Samut Lae Susaan” (“The Island Funeral”), the first Thai film to do so.
A project eight years in the making, Pimpaka almost give up work on “The Island Funeral” on several occasions due to time and funding constraints. Partially shot in Pattani with 16mm film, the film was praised by a jury made up of Olivier Pere of Arte France Cinema, Jacob Wong of the Hong Kong International Film Festival and Japanese director Tatsushi Omori (“The Ravine of Goodbye”) for its strong cinematic language in showing the landscape and politics of the country.
“The Island Funeral” is scheduled for release in Thailand next year.
In another score for independent filmmakers, Korean-American director Josh Kim saw his film “P’Chai My Hero” (“How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” selected as Thailand’s entry to the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This was the second occasion on which a non-Thai director directed the Thai entry. The first to hold the honour was Oxide Pang for his debut feature “Tha Fah Likhiit” (“Who’s Running?”) in 1998. “P’Chai My Hero” is the second Thai indie film sent to the Oscars. Apichatpong’s 2010 Cannes winner “Loong Boonmee Raleuk Chat” (“Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives”) was the other.
Unlike the Hong Kong native, who worked at Thailand’s Kantana Film Labs for years prior to making his directorial debut and who speaks Thai well, Kim knew little about the Kingdom. His interest in making the film was piqued by Chicago-born, Thai-raised writer Rattawut Lapcharoensap’s tale of orphaned brothers growing up and the Kingdom’s military draft, which is based on a lottery system making it very different from the US, where service is voluntary and South Korea, where it is mandatory. Kim moved to Thailand three years ago to learn the language and in 2013 released “Draft Day”, a short documentary focusing on two transgenders on draft day.
Success at the box office is something every director yearns for and they never give up a chance to find that success. Indie writer-director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit is no exception, and this year saw him crossing to the mainstream with “Freelance .. Ham Puay Ham Phak Ham Rak More” (“Heart Attack”). Made under the umbrella of GTH studio, the film was a box office smash, earning Bt88.1 million. Nawapol made it known that he was able to retain a large amount of creative freedom while making the film, thus proving to both indie filmmakers and sceptical studios that such collaborations are not only feasible but can also be profitable.
While the imminent parting of ways of the partners in GTH means that no further opportunities will be coming that way from that particular studio, it is hoped that both new and existing production houses will take the Nawapol experience as a positive sign and award more young filmmakers the chance to do good.
Another pleasant surprise for film buffs was the return of veteran director Wisit Sasanatieng after an absence of five years with the horror detective drama “Runpee”. One of very few Thai directors – the others are Nonzee Nimbutr and Pen-ek Ratanaraung – to have written a new chapter in Thai movie history, Wisit has achieved critical acclaim if not always box-office success with such films as “Fah Talai Jone” (“Tears of the Black Tiger”) and “Pen Choo Kab Phee” (“The Unseeable”). Wisit told XP earlier this month that directors of his generation were outdated and no longer appropriate to make films in this era though with “Runpee” taking in some Bt22 million since its release three weeks ago, it appears evident that his talent still appeals to young generation cinema-goers.
The year ends with Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s “Snap”, in which he reflects on the effects of politics and the social networks. Having disengaged himself from the studio system, Kongdej is now pursuing filmmaking as an indie director, which he says gives him more freedom to make the films he believes in. The festival circuit certainly agrees, with “Snap” premiering at the Tokyo International Film Festival and opening the World Film Festival of Bangkok.
Kongdej and his producer Soros Sukhum also handle their own marketing, promoting their films through the social networks.
For “Snap”, which is currently in sneak previews before opening in a wide release on Thursday, they worked with M Pictures, which has considerably widened the number of screens of which it will be shown. It’s playing in most multiplexes, including Major Cineplex, SF cinemas, Apex in Siam Square and House on RCA.