S.E.A. Write award writer Prabda Yoon, 43, has made his directorial debut with Motel Mist, which opens in Bangkok on Nov 17 after touring around film festivals worldwide. Here, he opens up about the reality of Thailand’s independent film scene, the mystery around Thai motels, and the future relevance of Article 112.
It has been almost a year since your film debuted at the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Why so long to screen in Thailand?
International Film Festival Rotterdam needed some world-premiere movies. Then other festivals contacted me to screen with them as well. There are so many steps to getting a movie screened in Thailand, especially money. You have to have budget to rent the cinemas. There is also anxiety about the censorship. Luckily Motel Mist got an 18+ rating here.
How challenging are the local censors for you?
It’s not as critical as some other countries like Singapore or Indonesia, which are much more restrictive about religion and sex. What frustrates directors and artists here is the unpredictable nature of the censorship board. There are no clear standards. Some movies can make fun of monks but others can’t. It’s all about what the board feels; they follow their own attitudes rather than a set of standards.
Many films choose to screen at foreign film festivals before Thailand. Why is this?
I can’t speak for everyone but I chose international platforms because there is no guarantee that I will make money here. Finding funds in Thailand is hard. Sometimes you need to fund projects yourself, and there’s a chance you’ll lose money in renting cinemas for no return. There have been movies that screen in cinemas for three weeks and only get B10,000 back. It’s not worth it. At the same time, international platforms welcome independent filmmakers who are interested in making art rather than mass movies. If their work really stands out, industry insiders will recognize them and bring them credit. Directors can also build revenue and widen their experience at film festivals.
Why did you choose to base your directorial debut in a motel?
I feel there is something mysterious going on in those spaces. The architecture of motels themselves also really strikes me—these 1970s and 1980s buildings with curtains covering the entrance to each room, which is pretty unique from motels in other countries. The rooms are like boxes stacked next to each other but with different stories going on in each one. Thais ignore them. People who drive past them every day never give them much thought, while those inside don’t want to let anyone know they’re using them. So there’s a mysterious feeling of isolation around these places.
You have been at the center of Article 112 allegations before. How do you feel about the new royal era?
I always say that we need to accept the basic human right that people who think differently from others have the same right to exist in society without fear. I don’t ask Thailand to be a Western democracy, but our society hasn’t yet accepted liberal thought. Those who are in power must modernize if we are to reduce conflict. History shows that these people are not that wise and do not care what other people think anyway. It’s possible that the situation will remain as tense and we’ll see more violence. It’s hard to say. We’re in a period where everything is inactive.
'Motel Mist' will screen at SF CentralWorld, House RCA, Bangkok Screening Room in Bangkok, in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen. Watch the trailer below: