Saturday, July 20, 2019

Me, myself and my parents

Oct 22. 2018
Rose Puangsoi, second left, fields audience questions following the world premiere of
Rose Puangsoi, second left, fields audience questions following the world premiere of "Nakorn-Sawan" at the Busan International Film Festival on October 8. She's joined by cast members Prapamonton Eiamchan, third left, and Phumipat Thavornsiri, right
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Young filmmaker Puangsoi "Rose" Aksornsawang scores a hit in Busan with her first feature "Nakorn-Sawan"

The first week of October sees filmmakers from all over Asia and other parts of the globe descend on South Korea to participate in the Busan International Film Festival, Asia’s biggest movie event. 

Many titles from Thailand were screened in the recently ended 2018 edition, among them Phuttiphong Aroonpheng’s “Manta Ray” and the anthology “Ten Years Thailand”, both making their Asian debut, plus Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s ‘BNK 48: Girls Don’t Cry’ and the newly restored version of Cherd Songsri’s 1977 classic “The Scar”.

Another two Thai films also had their international premieres in Busan. “The Stain”, the new short by Nuntanat Duangtisarn, was shown in the Wide Angle Asian Short Film Competition, while “Nakorn-Sawan”, the debut feature of young female filmmaker Puangsoi “Rose” Aksornsawang screened out of competition in the A Window on Asian Cinema section.

“Nakorn-Sawan”, Rose’s thesis film for her master’s degree at the University of the Arts Hamburg, is produced by veteran filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong and Purin Pictures.

A graduate of Chulalongkorn University’s Communication Arts faculty, Rose worked as an assistant director on a few Thai independent films including Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s “36” and Sopawan Boonnimitra and Peerachai Kerdsint’s “The Isthmus” before going to Germany to learn more about arts and filmmaking. 

“I wanted to study abroad. I was accepted into many schools, but unfortunately the tuition fees were very high at all of them. Finally I was accepted by a German university that gives scholarships to Southeast Asian students,” Rose tells XP.

“I first went to study in Bremen, which is an art school, but the course wasn’t really what I wanted. However film schools in Germany are quite conventional, and require German language skills, which made admission difficult. While I was there, I saw a film directed by Angela Schanelec, who teaches at University of the Arts Hamburg. I sent my portfolio to the professor there, and I was accepted,” she explains. 

Rose went on to study with Schanelec, a well-known filmmaker whose 1998 film “Places in Cities” was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes Film Festival, and whose latest work “The Dream of Path” was in competition at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival. 

Rose’s success is all the more remarkable given that she did not expect to become a filmmaker. “I actually wanted a career in advertising,” she laughs. “But by studying film, I understood that what I really wanted was to tell stories through visuals,” she says. 

Film students at Chulalongkorn’s Communication Arts faculty hold the annual “Gangjor” festival to showcase their thesis shorts or features. Rose’s film was screened at the 18th Gangjor in 2011, and later won her an award that would shape her career as a filmmaker. “My short film called ‘Swimming Pool’ won the Vichitmatra Award and the White Elephant Award from Thai Short Film and Video Festival. It gave me hope that I could carve out a niche for myself.

“During Gangjor, we invite filmmakers like Anocha and Lee Chatametikool to act as mentors. Nawapol is also one of the mentors. My job was to collect the films and send them to the mentors, so they could watch the films before the actual screening. That’s how I got to know Nawapol. I met him again after I graduated and he asked me if I wanted to help him make his feature film.”

Rose readily agreed and that film – “36” – was one of the surprise hits of 2012, cementing Nawapol’s place in the ranks of best-known young Thai filmmakers.

“After the success of ‘36’, people knew my name and other directors contacted me to work with them,” says Rose.

“I was very homesick during my time in Germany. I would regularly contact my mother and started collecting the photos that my mother sent thinking that maybe I should turn them into something. That led to my decision to make a film about myself through my family’s story.

“I submitted this project to the Southeast Asian Film Lab at Singapore International Film Festival in 2016. Back then, it was called ‘Rahula’.” 

Rahula is based on the name of the only son of the Buddha though also means “impediment”. 

“The film would have a documentary part in which I recorded my mother and my father, as well as a fictional part about my family, which I developed from a photo of my parents holding hands. Sadly, just after I had finished the casting, my mother was taken into hospital.”

Rose’s mother died not longer afterwards. Traumatised, she dropped the project and went back to Germany.

“Then I was asked to write a short story. The act of writing made me think that I should try to develop it into a film and include all the footage I had collected.”

As originally planned, “Nakorn-Sawan” is part fiction and part documentary. In the fictional part, we see the main character Aoey (Prapamonton Eiamchan) boarding the boat with her father to scatter her mother’s ashes into the river at Pak Nam Po. In the documentary part of the film, we watch the videos made of the director’s father and mother.

Actress Prapamonton and actor Phumipat Thavornsiri attended the screening of “Nakorn-Sawan” and the Q&A session that followed. Feedback was good and Rose says she was relieved. 

“It went much better than I thought. I was not sure about the result of my film, but after the Q&A, I could see that many members of the audience had related to it. There was an American soldier who came to see the film because he read the synopsis and found it interesting. He later talked to me about himself and his mother and how they don’t live together.” 

“Nakorn-Sawan” is now all set to screen at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival before going off on the film festival circuit.

It is slated for release in Thailand next year.


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