Thursday, July 18, 2013

Nontawat, By the River, in Locarno

With his Cambodian-Thai border documentary Boundary wrapping up a Thai theatrical run this weekend, director Nontawat Numbenchapol has another documentary on a hot-button topic completed, and it makes its world premiere at next month's Locarno Film Festival.

Taking part in the Concorso Cineasti del presente Windows of Discovery competition for new talents, By the River (Sai Nam Tid Shoer, deals with the 15-year-old environmental case involving contamination from a lead mine that hit a Karen village along Klity Creek in Kanchanaburi Province in western Thailand.

Here's the synopsis and director's statement from production companies Mobile Lab and Ok-Pi-Dern Co., Ltd.:


Amidst the tranquility of the deep woods, the people of the Southern Klity Village of Kanchanaburi have led a simple life. Their staple has always and still been the fish living in the village’s creek although for many years the stream has been contaminated with lead from the mineral processing factory. A young local man, too, dives into this very creek everyday to catch fish for his lover. But today he has gone missing and no longer has a chance to come back to her, who eagerly waits for his return.

Director’s Statement

“Conflicts over the use of natural resources in varying conditions, forms and degrees of complexity are not difficult to find these days. One of the conflicts that have long and still been plaguing our lives is the pollution released into the river by factories, a problem which has seriously harmed the freshwater fishing. Personally, the case which I find particularly interesting is the one which is resulted from the mistake in the mullock collecting system of a mineral processing plant in the District of Thong Pha Phum of Kanchanaburi Province. Since 1998, the tailing leaked from the waste catchment has caused the level of lead contamination in the Southern Klity Village’s creek to rise above the safe level. The damage to the ecosystem, to the natural resources and to the well-being of people in the area which the event has created has been immeasurable. Although earlier this year the Supreme Administrative Court has ordered that the Pollution Control Department paid a few million baht in compensation to the villagers, it seems that the necessary and effective measure for the creek rehabilitation from the government that many have been asking is still a mere plan on a piece of paper, without any degree of certainty. On the other hand, the villagers still have to bear with this contaminated river without any choices even though they probably yearn for ‘a better life’ in the same way the dwellers in the capital city like us do.

“I have decided to convey to the society this perennial problem that the villagers of Southern Klity has endured due to a firm belief that conflicts over the use of natural resources, be it at Klity or elsewhere, can be resolved if the society and the involving organizations have the awareness and the good enough environmental management. If this documentary feature can inspire us to start thinking about our own actions that might affect other people in the society, especially the actions concerning environmental problems, to try to understand the people who have to live with the pollution without having any choices, and to start changing our behaviors – both in the individual level and in the societal level – in order to relieve the troubles from the pollution that we might have caused, as well as to try avoiding being a part of those problems, I – as a documentary filmmaker – will be truly honored.

Other festival highlights include a Werner Herzog retrospective and two films by Lav Diaz, who is president of the international competition jury. The festival will screen Diaz' recent Norte, the End of History (Norte, hangganan ng kasaysayan and a restoration of 2001's Batang West Side.

Film Business Asia has more on the Asian selection. The Locarno Film Festival runs from August 7 to 17.

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