Saturday, April 18, 2009

6 Degrees of Separation: Capsule reviews part 1

On Saturday afternoons since March 7, the 6 Degrees of Separation short-film series at Kiosk Cafe in the Thailand Creative and Design Center at the Emporium in Bangkok has given me a chance to see several recent works by independent filmmakers -- films I'd missed or I never imagined I'd ever see. Here's a look at the first three filmmakers in the series.

Michael Shaowanasai (March 7)

A great way to kick off the series, the always entertaining, multi-hyphenate Michael was on hand after the screening for a fun-filled Q&A session. Four works by the artist, writer, actor and filmmaker were shown, spanning from 1999's Bunzai Chaiyo, Episode II, The Adventure of Iron Pussy to three titles from last year: Observation of the Monument, Long Night -- Short Film and Le Cirque de l'homme. Michael left the room for the screening of his Iron Pussy short. He didn't want to watch. He was just learning filmmaking then, and it shows -- the acting is laughably amateurish, the lighting sloppy and the makeup is atrocious -- oh, the perspiration! Yet the credits read like an all-star roster of Thailand's independent filmmakers, and today all are accomplished. Episode II makes up for its shortcomings with sheer exuberance. Of his most famous character -- thanks to a 2004 feature film co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul -- Michael says he's bored with doing the transvestite secret agent Iron Pussy. She may be dead, but her spunky spirit lives on -- with much improved makeup and wardrobe -- in other characters portrayed by the cross-dressing actor, such as the regal matron caught in a circular loop in Observation of the Monument, a sex-starved vamp in Long Night -- Short Film and the mysterious chameleon clothes horse in the epic-feeling 18-minute Le Cirque de l'homme.

Uruphong Raksasad (March 14)

I'd seen Stories from the North about a year ago, and back then I thought this collection of vignettes from rural Thailand was pretty special, so I was happy to see them again. For this repeat viewing, I was struck by an emotional theme that runs through it -- that of lost innocence, a sadness that the simplicity of childhood in a bygone era will never be regained. I also noticed an intimacy of the camera to the subject. People are front and center, but a tabby cat, a water buffalo or a dog, even the way a motorcycle peels off the pavement onto a dirt road -- all are given equal, loving attention. Seeing Stories from the North again really makes me curious to see Uruphong's forthcoming Agrarian Utopia, which is making its way around the festival circuit now. There's still hope that it will be shown in Thailand at some point this year. I wonder if there's anything in it that the Thai censors would deem objectionable?

Sompot "Boat" Chidgasornpongse (March 21)

Four shorts by young filmmaker Sompot "Boat" Chidgasornpongse were shown. The first, To Infinity and Beyond (ลอยฟ้า or Loy Fah) and the last, Diseases and a Hundred Year Period were documentary-type shorts that bookended two largely experimental works. To Infinity and Beyond -- yes, the title is taken from Toy Story -- uses footage from northeastern Thailand's bang fai rocket festival of people looking up into the sky. Text about space exploration, including facts about Laika the dog and Yuri Gregarian is interposed between scenes. Perhaps if To Infinity had been made recently, it might include a word or two about "Space Bat" (video). At just over minute, Physical Therapy went by in a blur of blond hair. Yesterday, from 2007, was made while Boat was attending Cal Arts, and it's document of a young filmmaker finding out what's possible when directing a cast, as he spends time with a group of Thai university students who are studying in California. Diseases and a Hundred Year Period, is of course, Boat's reaction to the Thai censorship of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century. Similar to Infinity, he takes the six censored scenes from Syndromes, cropping and zooming them at weird angles, and alternates the scenes with text about Thai history and culture. I really enjoy this documentary technique and am not sure anyone else does things quite like that. Boat's given me a stack of DVDs of his films that I can watch at leisure. I'm grateful for that. And I look forward to Boat's forthcoming documentary feature, Are We There Yet?, which is shot on a train. Boat showed me a huge stack of photo contact sheets of frames from the film, which he's using as a key to help him in the editing process. Looks great so far.

Three more filmmakers remain in the series. Animator Boonsri Tangtrongsin showed seven of her shorts on March 28, and Jakrawal Nilthamrong's films were featured on April 4.

The sixth and final session with Anocha Suwichakornpong, showing her Graceland and Like. Real. Love., was scheduled for last Saturday, April 11, but due to an extended Songkran holiday (enacted because of the red-shirt protest), that session was postponed, and plans now are to hold the screening at 5.30pm on Saturday, April 25.

I hope to be there, and wrap things up with three more filmmakers for a part 2.

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