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The Boonmee Effect
Is Thai indie cinema finally going mainstream?

By Chanun Poomsawai | Aug 12, 2010

  • The Boonmee Effect
  • The Boonmee Effect
  • The Boonmee Effect
  • The Boonmee Effect
  • The Boonmee Effect

When Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in his tuxedo, accepted the prestigious Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or for Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, we were all filled with pride. But it was also a bitter sweet moment. How could Thailand thump its chest for its independent cinema when an official from the Ministry of Culture had claimed that Thais don’t like Apichatpong’s cinema because we “just want a laugh”? How could we not wince at the thought that half of that same ministry’s film fund was going to a work of nationalistic propaganda, leav- ing crumbs for indie filmmakers? How could we revel in the victory of a filmmaker who had to screen his previous film with blacked out scenes to get past the censors? But with the spotlight cast on Thai cinema, others have chosen to see the glass half full—the beginning of an exciting new era for our independent film industry.

GOING MASS

Art houses (such as House or Lido), a host of annual events like the ongoing Thai Short Film and Video festival and annual indie-tinged screenings in Samui and Phuket— there’s no shortage of opportunities to see independent movies in Thailand. But for Agrarian Utopia director Uru- phong Raksasad, this is not how these movies should reach their public: “To reach a wider audience, indie films shouldn’t be limited to festivals and events, they should be shown alongside Hollywood movies at any cinema in Thai- land.”

Pimpaka Towira, filmmaker and founder of Extra Virgin, a film production and distribution company says it was defi- nitely Apichatpong’s win that created enough buzz for her revive the Director’s Screen project, after a two year hiatus. She has been able to screen three films—Anocha Suwicha- kornpong’s Mundane History, Uruphong Raksasad’s Agrarian Utopia along with Aditya Assarat’s Phuket, Boy Genius and The Sigh—at SFX Cinema in Emporium.

“It became clear to us that we had to push indie films into the same system shared by big-name movie compa- nies in order to survive and be recognized,” says Pimpaka.

When Pimpaka proposed her project to SF Cinema, she insisted that each film be shown once a day, in the early evening and for a period of four weeks. “Indie movie fans don’t rush out and see a film, they go in their own time. Normally, how long a movie will be shown depends on the ticket sales. So, what happened with indie films is that there were too many showings in a very short period of time and the movies got pulled.“

“An indie movie picks its own audience, not the other way around,” says Uruphong.

MONEY MATTERS

At least Thailand has a film industry. Films like Mum Jokmok’s Body Guard Nah Liam and Tukky Jao Ying Khai Kob fill theaters with audiences in hysterics. After a decade of trial and errors, film companies figured out some surefire comedy and horror blueprints. “Like it or not, these two genres have now become an identity of a Thai film,” says director Aditya Assart, winner of this year’s Silapathorn Award. “They’re like pillars of the whole industry.”

Kittiyaporn Klangsurin, one of the directors of erotic film series Brown Sugar, agrees that at least Thai cinema in general is fairly healthy and is moving in the right direction. It means movie companies are now starting to give more opportunities to unknown directors like herself.

Uruphong Raksasad concurs that there is more money than ever for more introspective, less mainstream movies. But she doesn’t think it’s going to come from Thai produc- ers: “Filmmakers these days have it a lot easier than my generation. There’s plenty of funding to be had, but it’s mostly from overseas sources.”

A third source to have recently emerged with full pock- ets is the government. The uproar over the original plan to fund King Naresuan 3 with half of the Ministry of Culture’s B200-million film budget, finally caused them to halve that figure, leaving B150 million to smaller projects. (Or it could have been that they discovered that the Ministry of Econo- my had also pledged another B300 million to the historical epic?) Under Abhisit’s economic stimulus package, the Thai Kham Khaeng scheme, local filmmakers are also receiving unprecedented financial support—but the project is only charted to last three years. “It’s a good starting point but I hope this will continue and become permanent,” says Aditya.

HAPPY ENDING?

“For the past ten years, I think Thai directors have become a lot braver in presenting new ideas and strayed off the hor- ror/comedy formula,” says Uruphong. “Just look at movies like Love of Siam and Hom Rong (Overture). We’re definitely moving forward.” For aspiring filmmakers, however, Pimpa- ka’s number-one advice is to be patient, “With today’s tech- nology, anybody can easily make a movie, and that’s not necessarily a good thing as younger filmmakers are getting less and less patient. They want to win an award right away.”

When asked whether we can expect the Director’s Screen Project again next year, she simply replies, “I don’t really know. Movies, like fashion, are a constantly changing trend. Who knows, in the future people might not want to see anything other than 3-D features.”

Where to buy indie films

While it’s not so easy to find real, bona fide copies of indie films, some titles can be found at Look Maew (3/F MBK, Rama 1 Rd., 02-620- 9239. Open daily 10am-9pm) which carries an extensive range of movies of all genres and also deliver.
You can also try MBK’s branch of Mang Pong (02-626-0413) on the same floor. While focusing on more mainstream films it does also stock more indie offerings than most other branches.

For classic Thai films, head to the BACC, whose TKTKT (tk) shop stories such rarities as Phridi Panomyong’s King of the Elephant (1940).

Alternatively, shop in the comfort of your own home by visiting web- sites like VAN’ VDO Online (http://ti- nyurl.com/2d446b2) and Extra Virgin (www.extravirginco.com). Or, if you don’t mind forking out the P&P fees or the wait, then you can’t go wrong with www.amazon.com.

Where to see indie films

Bangkok Art and Culture Center Auditorium (4/F, Rama 1 Rd., 02- 214-6630-1. BTS National Stadium. www.bacc.or.th)

House rama: 31/8, RCA (UMG & Tops building), Rama 9 Rd., 02- 641-5177-8. www.houserama.com.

SFX Cinema: 6/F, The Emporium Shopping Complex, Sukhumvit 24, 02-268-8888. BTS Phrom Phong. www.sfcinemacity.com.

Free SCREENINGS ARE REGULARLY HELD At THESE VENUES:

Alliance Francaise (29 Sathorn Tai Rd., 02-670-4200. www.alliance- francaise.or.th)

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of thailand (Maneeya Cent- er Building, 518/5 Ploenchit Rd., 02-652-0580-1. BTS Chit Lom. www.fccthai.com)

Goethe-Institut thailand (18/1, Sathorn Soi 1, Sathorn Tai Rd., 02- 287-0942/-4. www.goethe.de/ ins/th/ban/enindex.htm)

Japan Foundation Bangkok (10/F, Serm-Mit Tower, 159 Soi Asoke, 02- 260-8560. www.jfbkk.or.th)

Pridi Banomyong Institute (65/1, Thonglor Rd., 02-381-3860-1. BTS Thong Lo. www.pridiinstitute.com)

Catch more about Indecipherable & Indie vs. Indecipherable & Hollywood

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