It's officially open
Last year the Thai Short Film and Video Festival was one of the first events to break in the then-new Bangkok Art and Culture Center, and the fest feels like it's home this year. But the BACC officially becomes official today with a visit by Her Majesty the Queen who will preside over the opening of the art exhibition, Virtues of the Kingdom. To make room for the big event, there's no film program today, but the fest will be back on tomorrow.
What are they selling here?
The design of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center feels a bit like a shopping mall -- I guess to fit in with the aesthetic of the neighborhood which has MBK Center and Siam Discovery Center on opposite corners, and Siam Center and Siam Paragon not far away. With the opening of the Virtues of the Kingdom exhibit, various art galleries and arts groups have taken up the small shop spaces in the first through fourth floors, making the BACC a lively place. It's now possible to get a cup of coffee or have an ice cream without leaving the building. Bangkok Opera has a shop on the first floor -- dominated by a huge and scary topless ogress from Bruce Gaston's Phra Apai Manee. Another shop has nothing but old pencil sharpeners on its shelves. Sorry, no photos. And on the second floor, the Thai Film Foundation has an old-time tea shop, where they are brewing sweet milky iced tea and selling T-shirts and books. It's a popular hangout between programs at the film fest. Next door, the Film Archive Public Organisation Thailand has a set up a mini museum and cinema with a show reel of Thai cinema history.
Made in Black Maria
A highlight of each year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival is a title reel that's shown before each program. This year it's a collaboration by indie filmmaker Thunska Pansittivorakul (who's also a juror for the international competition) and Film Archive chief Dome Sukwong. Filmed in Dome's scale-model replica of Thomas Edison's Black Maria film studio, Man Who Eat an Egg is in jumpy black and white to approximate the feel of the Edison Kinetoscope. Thunska's actor is wearing just a pair of white underwear briefs and a Thomas Edison mask. I've seen it a dozen or so times now, and I still get worried whenever the guy starts spreading gel on his hands. What's he going to do with that gel? The short pokes fun at several things -- swine flu and the new ratings system among them. And the egg motif that's always been a part of the festival is there.
Special for the Queer Shorts
Queer Relations, a collection of queer-themed shorts screens at 6.30 on Thursday night (August 20), and preceding that program is a special queer title reel by Thunska, filmed in Black Maria like his "straight" one. The shorts in the program are Shadow of a Fire (L’Ombre D’Un Feu) by Mikaël Ivan Roost from Switzerland, Heiko by David Bonneville (Portugal), อาหาร 3 หมู่ (Hungry or Full) by Anuchit Muanprom (Thailand), About Colors and Razors (Entre Cores E Navalhas) by Catarina Accioly and Iberê Carvalho (Brazil) and Homo Baby Boom by Anna Boluda (Spain).
Somehow I've managed to attend just about every competition screening so far this year, despite my fears that because of my hectic schedule I'd hardly get to see any of them. Now I've seen so many, they are a jumble in my fast-fading brain. Here's the ones that stand out.
- The Duke Award documentary competition:
- A Monks (สารคดีพระ), Thachai Komolpech -- The censorship of Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Syndromes and a Century will continue to influence filmmakers for years to come. A Monks springs from the banned Syndromes scenes of a Buddhist monk playing guitar and monks playing with a remote-control flying saucer. Thing is, monks are seen buying computers and other tech gear in the infamous Bangkok IT mall Pantip Plaza all the time. How is that different? Why are computers needed by monks? This film provides a fascinating look at contemporary monastic life, following a bespectacled laptop-using monk as he travels the country with his team, who are hired by New York Life to give Dhamma talks at universities. Short answer: The computers are needed to record those talks and distribute them. The 45-minute documentary also visits Wat Dhammakaya (they also need computers to make websites), an immense Buddhist worship center that's said able to accommodate 500,000 visitors. (5/5)
- 76795, Krissada Tipchaimeta -- Here's another fascinating look at Thai Buddhist life, with worshipers preparing for the annual Katin ceremony to present robes to monks. There is a spirituality to the routine as the community pitches in to prepare food and parade down the street. The focus is the accounting for all the cash donations. The money is taken out of envelopes, sorted by denomination and arranged into little money trees, which are then paraded to the temple. At the end, all the money is counted, with the total being highly significant if you play the lottery. (4/5)
- A Life of Garoon Trakulpadejkrai (รูการุญ), Sittidech Rohitasuk -- Who is Garoon Trakulpadejkrai? Well, he's a writer and entertainer who's led a fascinating and colorful life. As the camera pans around his home and focuses on all his books and memorabilia over the course of 16 minutes, Garoon narrates his roller-coaster story of many ups and downs. His voice is haunting. Where have I heard it before? Just watch and listen. And don't take your eyes away. Garoon is an amazing fellow, a singular soul in Thai culture. If you watch Thai action movies, you're probably already one of his fans and you don't even know it. I can't recommend this one enough. (5/5)
- Empire of Mind (อาณาจักร แห่ง ใจ), Nontawat Numbenchapol -- For the Duke documentary competition, filmmakers are allowed to go beyond the limits of what's considered "short film", and so for 90 minutes, Nontawat tells the story of his family as they are making a crucial and obviously heartbreaking transition. The star of the show is his hilarious grandmother, who's always asking him to stop filming her (so she can smoke a cigarette), yet she's the biggest ham. It's a lovely document, capturing a moment in time that feels like it's already lost. (4/5)
- The White Elephant Special Award competition (high-school films):
- Mike (สารคดีพระ), Prempapat Plittapolkranpim -- Nobody likes Mike. They want to stomp on his face. (4/5)
- Sleepwalk (ละเมอ), Harin Paesongthai -- Exuberant youthful filmmaking at its best. Basically, two guys just whup on each other. One guy's foot is stabbed. There's fake blood. Fun stuff. (4/5)
- The White Elephant Award (college films)
- The Assignment, Pea Panuvatvanich -- A descent into madness, informed by the The Dark Knight and Heath Ledger's Joker. Why so serious? Indeed. (4/5)
- 15: Minutes, Katon Thammavijitdej -- A guy can't figure out why any CD he puts in his CD drive won't play more than half a song. And there's a bonus five minutes. (4/5)
- The Passion of the Freshy, Pirun Anusuriya -- There's still hazing going on in Thai universities, propagated by seniors who were mistreated as freshmen who can't wait to dish out the same treatment. (4/5)
- Red Men, Nattaphong Hornchuen -- The red vs. yellow clash of Thai politics comes to the office when a guy shows up at work wearing red and all his co-workers are wearing yellow. The looks on the co-workers faces as he walks past them to his work station are the best part of this 8-minute short. (5/5)
- Hard Candy, Phunjephol Songvisava -- This is like a Guy Ritchie heist flick, about a hapless loser who owes money to a kingpin. (4/5)
- Seduction Lullaby, Napat Treepalawisetkhan -- This is dedicated to Michael Haneke. And since Haneke's White Ribbon hasn't yet made it to Thailand, I'll leave it to you to figure out which film of his so profoundly effects this insane 23-minute psychological drama. (4/5)
- Payut Ngaokrachang animation competition:
- Tee N̂ee Meuang Poot (ที่นี่ เมือง พุทธ), Taweesak Prathungwong -- Lovely stop-motion animation of a diorama-like cardboard Bangkok. (4/5)
- The Longan-Eyed Princess (เจ้าหญิงตาลำไย), Chanokporn Chutikamoltham -- An animated charcoal (?) drawing that serves as a cautionary tale about replacing your eyes with longan pits. Especially troublesome when you cry. (4/5)
- Belief, Sittisak Kaeocharoenrungrueang -- 3-D computer animated characters battle over a MacGuffin in the form of a small cardboard cube. (4/5)
- Grow, Aurawan DisCharoen, Nattha Yambupha, Kamonwan Chum-im -- Combines live action and cut-outs in a tale of environmental doom and gloom. (4/5)
- Pee-Bok Song (เพลงผีบอก), Chatchai Thammaphirome -- It's Carabao! The moustachioed songs-for-lifers are featured in this South Park-style music video about the everyman getting it stuck to him by corporations. (5/5)
- Destination (สุดปลายทางฉันและเธอ), Mokhaphon Sanghirun -- A boy and a girl see other on passing trains in this manga-inspired animated drawing. (4/5)
- Luminous, Suchada Thapyang, Apinun Julthong -- A down-on-his-luck man chasing a precious photo that's blown away in the wind discovers he hasn't got it nearly as bad as other people. (4/5)
- On the Table, Pawit Treemek -- The sunlight beams in on a drawing, and man, is it hot! (4/5)
- See You 'Round, Chawee Busayarat -- Snaps by 33 lomographers are assembled into a Matrix "Bullet Time" inspired dance piece. (5/5)
Apologies to all the young filmmakers and animators I didn't mention. Just because I didn't write about it here doesn't mean I didn't love seeing it.
The 13th Thai Short Film and Video Festival continues until Sunday at Bangkok Art and Culture Center, and the awards ceremony is on Tuesday, August 25.