The Convert, an 83-minute documentary by Panu Aree, Kong Rithdee and Kaweenipon Ketprasith, makes its world premiere on Tuesday as the opening film in the Doc Forum at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video Festival. Next, it heads to the Vancouver International Film Festival, where it will screen alongside Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town in the Dragons and Tigers program of Asian films, according to Row Three.
In The Convert (Muallaf), a Buddhist woman and a Muslim man form a relationship in Bangkok and decide to marry. The woman totally transforms herself, changing her religion and adopting the traditional veiled robes of a Muslim woman. She quits her job, leaves her family and the couple moves to a southern island to start a new life where she learns to pray, fast, follow the religion's teachings.
Supported by the Pusan International Film Festival's Asian Network of Documentary, PUF and the Asian Cinema Fund, production of The Convert grew from a 2006 short documentary that Panu, Kong and Kawenipon had worked on called In Between, which profiled four Muslim men living in Bangkok. Here is the directors' statement about the film:
Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York, being a Muslim has become somewhat of a shortcoming, even a burden, just about everywhere around the world. This is also true in Thailand, where 95 percent of the population is Buddhist. Only three percent are Muslim, and the majority of them live in the country’s southernmost provinces bordering Malaysia. Since 2003, an outbreak of violence committed by separatist movements in the South has plunged the region into chaos, and further strained the image of Thai-Muslims.
In 2006, short filmmaker Panu Aree, critic Kong Rithdee, and post-production specialist Kaweenipon Ketprasith, co-directed In Between, a 40-minute documentary on the lives of four “moderate” Muslim men living in Bangkok. The idea of The Convert came to us soon after we finished In Between, and the concept crystallised when we met June, a woman who had just gotten married to Ake, a Muslim man from the southern province of Satul. The production of The Convert began in September 2006.
What drove us to explore June’s story is the curiosity of her decision, a life-altering move for a young, fun-loving Bangkok woman who had known next to nothing about Islam but who now embraces not only a new God, a new faith, but also an entirely new lifestyle. All newlyweds must soon encounter the tension of domestic living, and in June’s case, that tension seems to double when she finds herself in a completely new environment, living amongst Ake’s family in the South.
We seek neither to investigate the essence of being a Muslim, nor to counter any preconceptions. We only believe that, through our observant eyes and patience, we can reflect certain values of society through the experience of this individual.
Vancouver will also have Aditya Assarat's Wonderful Town, which has been burning up the festival circuit for the past year. It won the New Currents Award at Pusan, where it premiered in 2007, then went on to win the VPRO Tiger Award at Rotterdam, jury prizes at Las Palmas in Gran Canaria, Spain and in Deauville, France; the Fipresci Prize at Hong Kong, Grand Prix at IndieLisboa, a special mention at the San Francisco International Film Festival and a Silver Apricot at Yerevan, Armenia.
(Via press release from Walad Dorleen Film, Row Three)