By MANTA KLANGBOONKRONG AND WISE
ORGANISED BY Attitude magazine, next week’s Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival brings together 15 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) films from around the world under their own umbrella.
An entertaining and informative mix of dramas and documentaries from Thailand, Southeast Asia and elsewhere, the fest runs from next Friday to June 14 at the Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada.
While the organisers race to put the finishing touches on their festival, XP got together with Attitude editor Thawatchai Deepattana for a talk on how it came together in the first place.
WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO HOST THIS FESTIVAL?
Attitude is Thailand’s first lifestyle magazine for gays and it has been publishing continuously for four years as of March this year. So far Attitude has been a platform for LGBT community in Thailand to express themselves, share and exchange opinions and attitudes as well as their way of life among themselves and with the society. The magazine has been a huge success, especially within the LGBT community.
After four years we realised that we still lacked some form of activity to further communication with the society, something to inform the society of what the LGBT community is really like, and how they are so similar to the rest of us. One media that can successfully convey that message is film. We also see that gay and lesbian films in Thailand are very limited and are only available in specific, limited venues. That’s why we decided to host Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival with 15 films from 12 countries. The festival is meant for not only the LGBT community but also for the general public to learn about gender diversity in other societies to encourage mutual understanding and cultural exchange.
THIS SEEMS A LONG TIME IN COMING. WHY DIDN’T THAILAND HAVE THIS KIND OF FESTIVAL A LONG TIME AGO?
Though Thailand has never had a film festival devoted to LGBT, a few gay and lesbian films were screened in several film festivals. But then again, why do we have to sneak around? Why do gay and lesbian films have to hide? Cambodia, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Philippines have all hosted gay and lesbian film festivals. Why can’t we do that too? What are festival organisers afraid of? That’s also another push for us to venture on with this festival. LGBT in Thailand has been accepted long time ago, and with the recent enactment of 2015 Gender Equality Act, discrimination is no longer tolerated.
DO YOU GET SUPPORT FROM ANY GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATIONS?
So far there are only two organisations that have always stood by LGBT – the Film Archive and Tourism Authority of Thailand. They see the Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival as a platform not only to promote gender diversity but also to create a landmark film event for Bangkok. France has the Cannes Film Festival, South Korea has the Busan film festival, Germany has the Berlin film festival. So why shouldn’t Bangkok, which is one of the cities that are most favoured by LGBT visitors, have a landmark event too?
APART FROM LBGT COMMUNITY, WHO ELSE DO YOU TARGET?
The films we selected should appeal to the general public, too. They showcase many different and interesting aspects of the LGBT community. There’s a story of a transgender after the sex-change operation, a documentary on same-sex marriage and works by renowned directors such as Peter Greenaway and Mark Christopher.
WHAT IMPACT DO YOU AIM TO CREATE WITH THIS FESTIVAL?
We really hope that the Thai society would be more open to accepting LBGT. You might argue that Thailand has already been tolerant, otherwise there wouldn’t be these many LBGT visitors coming to Thailand every year. But in reality, it’s just an illusion. A lot of Thai people appear tolerant because they only react to things that are close to them, or have direct impact on their lives. For example they might be “okay” about gay people in general, but they would react violently if their kids are homosexual. Then you’ll see negative views and reaction floating to the surface. But then it’s not all negative. A lot of people now understand and accept LGBT. However, it’s still crucial that we educate the public about gender diversity as well as create mutual respect and understanding.
Also, we hope that this festival will become Bangkok’s landmark. Every April visitors come to celebrate Songkran. We hope that from now on LGBT visitors will come to Bangkok every June to celebrate gender diversity at this festival.
Your introduction to queer movies
TWO MUCH-ANTICIPATED Thai independent titles from the festival circuit, “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)” and “The Blue Hour”, will have their local premieres in the first Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, which offers a primer on queer cinema from around the world.
The two Thai offerings will screen alongside an eclectic, crowd-pleasing line-up that includes a new director’s cut of Mark Christopher’s 1998 disco drama “54” and “Eisenstein in Guanajuato”, a stylish new picture by famed British auteur Peter Greenaway.
It’s put together by John Badalu, a Bangkok-based film-festival programmer who founded Indonesia’s long-running Q! Film Festival, which screens LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) films. As a delegate to film festivals in Berlin and Shanghai, he usually rounds up entries from Southeast Asia to take elsewhere, but now he’s bringing films to us, among them “Checkers”, “Blue Hour”, “54” and “Eisenstein”, which all screened in Berlin earlier this year.
For the inaugural Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, he aims to show Thais how filmmakers in other countries handle LGBT issues.
“It is always good to show local queer films to the audience in comparison to the queer cinema of the world,” Badalu says. “And this year, Thailand has two strong queer films that were both selected for Berlinale and are now going to be screened back home in Thailand.”
Next Friday’s opener will be “How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)”, a drama directed by Asian-American helmer Josh Kim, with a multi-national team of producers that includes Thailand’s Anocha Suwichakornpong. Adapted from the short-story collection “Sightseeing” by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, the tale centres on 11-year-old Oat, an orphan boy who is raised by his aunt and his openly gay older brother Ek, and also deals with Ek’s concerns about the annual military draft lottery and whether he’ll have to join the army. Due for a general theatrical release after the festival, “Checkers” has recently been given a new Thai title, “P’Chai My Hero”, reflecting the theme of brotherly admiration.
Bringing the curtain down will be “The Blue Hour” (“Onthakan”) by noted indie filmmaker Anucha Boonyawatana. Described by pundits as a “gay murder mystery”, the slow-burn thriller deals with Tam, a loner, bullied gay boy who arranges to meet a stranger for a hookup at an abandoned swimming pool. Friendship follows, but it leads to very dark places.
Aside from the two Thai entries, the programme tends to favour Southeast Asian films. “We always want to try to showcase queer films from around the region as a reference or platform to the queer film festivals around the world,” says Badalu.
Among them is “The Sun, the Moon and the Hurricane”, the debut feature by Jakarta-based Andri Cung, who tracks three periods in the life of a young man, and is set in Jakarta and Bangkok.
Also of regional interest is “Finding Phong”, a documentary and drama about the struggles of a young Vietnamese transgender. It’s directed by Swann Dubus and Phuong Thao Tran, the same duo that did “With or Without Me”, a documentary about drug-addicted HIV-positive men.
The Philippines has a trio, among them a 2014 Berlinale entry, “Quick Change” by Eduardo Roy Jr. It’s a “documentary-like” drama about Manila’s transgender community and the risks they take to stay beautiful. Also from the Philippines is “The Commitment” (“Kasal”) by Joselito Altarejos, about a gay couple facing challenges as they attend a wedding together, and “I Love You. Thank You” by Charliebebs Gohetia, a drama about the intertwining lives of jaded twentysomethings that has Cambodia and Vietnam as a backdrop.
China and South Korea also contribute, with “The Night”, directed by and starring China’s Zhou Hao as a male sex worker who is romanced by one of his johns, and “My Fair Wedding” by Jang Hee Sun, a documentary on South Korea’s controversial first same-sex marriage.
Among the world cinema highlights is “54: Director’s Cut”, a restored version of the drama about the infamous late 1970s New York disco Studio 54. Released in 1998, “54” starred Ryan Philippe and Selma Hayek with “Austin Powers” funnyman Mike Myers taking a rare dramatic role as club owner Steve Rubell. But “54” lost its gay context to the scissor-hands of Miramax studio head Harvey Weinstein, and consequently bombed. Now, with shirtless scenes and a kiss between actors Breckin Meyer and Phillippe restored, “54: Director’s Cut” is being hailed as a cult gay classic.
Others are “Nude Area”, in interracial lesbian love story by Polish-Dutch helmer Urszula Antoniak; the Dutch coming-of-age lesbian drama “Summer” by Colette Bothof; the British drama “Soft Lad” by Leon Lopez, about a guy forced to confront his sexuality; and “Futuro Beach” by Karim Ainouz, about a brooding Brazilian lifeguard who rescues a drowning German tourist.
But possibly the most intriguing entry is “Eisenstein in Guanajuato”, Greenaway’s surreal portrait of what happened when Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein went to Mexico to make a movie. It’s the latest from Greenaway, whose work has been commended as painterly, and is indeed influenced by the Flemish masters.
“While Greenaway is always a unique filmmaker with his own unique way of filmmaking and storytelling, it is exciting how he tackles the queer issue in his film ‘Eisenstein in Guanajuato’,” says Badalu.
Awarded for Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema at last year’s British Academy of Film and Television Awards, Greenaway said he was surprised by the honour from the ordinarily reserved Baftas, and his remarks at the time are helpful in putting Bangkok’s fest into context.
“My cinema, shall we say, is the cinema of the outsider. It tends to provoke and irritate,” he said in an interview after the ceremony.
WATCH ON THE WILD SIDE
The Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival runs from June 5 to 14 at the Esplanade Cineplex Ratchada.
The schedule and ticketing information have yet to be revealed. For updates, search on Facebook for the “Bangkok Gay and Lesbian Film Festival” events page.