The first Lifescapes Southeast Asian Film Festival was held from February 3 to 6 at Payap University in Chiang Mai. Here's a couple of the films I saw.
Lending Lenses: Shorts Series
This is a collection of short films produced by various non-government organizations in Burma, Cambodia and Thailand. In developing countries these "NGO documentaries" are often the only way filmmakers can learn their craft and get work. The Thai shorts were produced by a group called Rung Oan, which puts video cameras in the hands of young filmmakers. The two offerings were Grandma Niad and Vow! The first, directed Anawat Iamrabieb, is a well-acted social-message drama about an elderly woman and her granddaughter who earn their living by collecting mushrooms and other things from the forest to sell at the market. The area being declared a national park puts the old woman in conflict with soldiers and an end to her traditional way of life. What will the future hold for the granddaughter? Vow! by Yupin Mipat is an interesting blend of the socially aware NGO doc and the aesthetics of a teenage horror thriller. The story is about college roommates praying at a shrine and vowing that one of the girls will die if they are lying about stealing some household money. From Cambodia's Meta House came The Pepper Fields, which looks at the resurgence of black-pepper production by small-scale farmers in Kampot Province. The crop was introduced in the French colonial era, and experts are trying to establish Kampot peppers as a brand. The documentary also addresses Cambodia's rampant land speculation. Another Meta House short was Smot by Neang Kavich, which looks at the spooky and ancient form of singing that was popular at Cambodian funerals, and how the last smot masters are teaching a new generation of performers. The Yangon Film School, which had a package of shorts at last year's Thai Short Film and Video Festival offered the inspirational My Positive Life, by Wai Mar Nyunt, about a spirited HIV-positive man who works tirelessly as an AIDS counselor, and Stimatise This! by Aung Ko Ko, about a group of HIV-positive folks from various walks of life who teach sessions to UN workers about overcoming HIV fears and discrimination.
Anousone Sirisackda, who co-directed Sabaidee Luang Prabang and is a producer of Thai director Sakchai Deenan's cross-border romance franchise, makes movies that mix heavy social messages and soap-opera-style melodrama. He previously made A Father's Heart, which told of the dangers of bird flu and the heartbreak that eating runny eggs can cause. His latest feature Only Love carries a blunt-force message about socialist values and sustainable farming with its chaste romance between an idealistic young man from an upstanding family and his longtime sweetheart. Mr. Pure Heart wants to reopen his village's community learning center and get everyone to work together and improve irrigation practices. The scheme will cut into the business of the local money lender, since the improvements will mean more bountiful crops and less reliance on the loans. So the messed-up-hair son of the money-lender lady plots to take away the hero's girlfriend, who is already on the edge because her indebted ill-health father is eager to marry her off. Social ills are manifested in appearances by Tiger Beer and Lady Gaga's Telephone. It's a tragic melodrama but not without a tidy and happy end. Of course.