This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ratana Pestonji (1908-1970), a Thai-Indian filmmaker who made only a few films in the 1950s and '60s but was so revolutionary that he is considered to be the father of contemporary Thai cinema and the patron saint of Thai independent filmmakers. The top prize for Thai filmmakers at the Thai Short Film & Video Festival is the R.D. Pestonji Award.
His May 22, 1908 birthday was celebrated earlier this year as the first major function of the National Film Archive's new facilities in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom. On that day, The Signature, a 50-minute documentary about his life and work was premiered. And on Saturday night, audiences at the 12th Thai Short Film & Video will have a chance to see this tantalizing peek at such films as Sugar is Not Sweet and Black Silk, as well as hear recollections from Pestonji's family and colleagues as well as directors Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who cite him as a major influence.
The Signature is the last work in an eight-film program of shorts specially created for this year's festival. Here's a run-down of the shorts in the Inspired by R.D. Pestonji program, as listed in the festival catalog:
- The Duck Empire Strikes Back 2 - Nutthorn Kangwanklai makes a sequel to the hilarious short that was shown in the Spoken Silence program at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival. That program was filled with reactions to the coup and other elements of the political situation. Nutthorn takes his inspiration from the "weird and ridiculous" humor of Pestonji's Country Hotel and channels it to comment on the new motion-picture ratings and censorship law.
- Man Film ... Personal Story - Tossaporn Mongkol says he's inspired by the message on the R.D. Pestonji Award medal, which urges filmmakers to do what they believe and keep fighting.
- Myth - Director Teekahded Vucharadhanin states: "We love this kind of work. We have done it. We have fought for it. It may be satisfying. It may be not. It is normal."
- Bright Heaven - Pattana Jirawan cites Pestonji's Dark Heaven (1958) as an inspiration, saying: "Ratana chose to tell the story of the poor with sense of humor. Nothing mocking, but cheerful. The title of Ratana's work my be quite dark, but actually the films enlighten many people. I hope Bright Heaven can do so."
- Hell Factory - The Thai title of 1957's Country Hotel is Rongraem Narok or Hotel Hell, which explains the title of Wasunan Hutavej's work. "I want to express my feeling toward the film easily and simply."
- Where's My Dali? - "I have never seen Ratana's works before," says Tanwarin Sukkahpisit. "However, when I read his biography and films' information, I feel connected."
- The Giving Tree - From Silencio director Sivaroj Kongsakul: "I was not born in Ratana's period. I think of Ratana as the wonderful story concerning goodness. I want this kind of story to be told forever."
- The Signature - Says director Chalida Uabumrungjit: "Some people might ahve heard the name of R.D. Pestonji but never know his contribution to Thai film history. Thsi documentary explores his life and works through the point of view of his family, his co-workers and his admirers.
Saturday is also the last day of screening for works in the Thai Competition and the Digital Forum. The Digital Forum at noon features Freshy 2 by Nitchapoom Chaianun and Game Ded Darunee by Mathus Chaichayanon. That's followed at 2pm by a competition slate for the White Elephant Award for student filmmakers. At 4, it's another Digital Forum with Weerasak Suyala's The Pen, about an evil spirit in a pen that threatened a school and Eakasit Sompetch's Mai Fah the Sabulakul.
Inspired by R.D. Pestonji starts at 6.30pm.
Sunday is a great program of international shorts, starting at noon: an encore screening of the Best of Clermont-Ferrand. The highlights for me in these packages were the animated Oktapodi from France and I Am Bob, featuring none other than a surprisingly self-effacing Bob Geldof.
At 5pm is the Awards Ceremony, which marks the close of this year's festival.
(Cross-published at Bangkok Cinema Scene)