Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Review: Thai Aurora at the Horizon

Auroras, mystical lights in the sky at the extreme northern and southern reaches of our globe, aren't generally seen in Thailand, but they are a powerful symbol for Thai Aurora at the Horizon, an independent compilation of political short films that takes the celestial phenomenon as a symbol that seems hopeful for an end to conflict, even though reconciliation seems unattainable.

In the works since November, months before the military stepped into the fray and made political talk a risky endeavor, Thai Aurora at the Horizon compiles 14 short films by young directors, ranging in age from 19 to 28. They offer different perspectives on politically charged issues.

"From power relationships and education to the media, each film takes on a different topic to create awareness and encourage political participation," the organizers say. "We do not expect to change the country, directly or immediately. But this project might be one way to approach the current crisis."

The collection kicks off with Shut Sound: Lao Duang Duen by Joaquin Niamtubtim. The dulcet tones of Thai classical music accompany footage of this year's anti-government protests around Siam Square. The peaceful music imbues the scenes of hawkers stalls selling whistles with a feeling of tranquility, reminiscent of traditional Thai ways of life along a canal or rural village. But the scene soon shifts to violence, with news footage from the military's takedown of the 2010 protests, when another government was under fire.

Next, is a journey into the countryside, with Lice in the Wonderland by Boonyarit Wiangnon. Here, rural folk offer differing opinions about the Democrat Party governments as well as the governments of the Thaksin faithful. Seems both of them did some good.

Coming closest to offering a solution is The Taxi Meter by Natpakhan Khemkhao. A young man, wearing the tri-colour kit of this year's anti-Thaksin protesters, gets into a taxi. It's not until he's well down the road that he realizes the driver is a staunch red-shirt supporter. Yet their exchange is surprisingly civil and forward thinking. It's perhaps an example to follow. If there can't be unity, despite the military's efforts to force their brand of "happiness" on everyone, perhaps the two sides can agree to disagree?

Maybe not, as demonstrated in When I Was in Grade 12 by Prempapat Plittapolkranpim, which captures a man's hair-raising harangue in a high-school classroom. It's hard to get a sense of what he's so upset about, but he keeps yelling and won't shut up.

Mosquito in the Ant Land by festival organizer Supakit Seksuwan follows the progress of an ant carrying a mosquito on a hazard-filled journey across a floor. Apply your own interpretation of the metaphor.

More news footage from the violent aftermath of the 2010 protests comes up in Tear of a Child by Weerachai Jitsoonthorntip, in which a youngster is watching a static-covered TV screen, but the sounds of struggle are heard. The end is reminiscent of a certain American anti-pollution commercial from the 1970s that featured a Native American man's emotional reaction to littering.

Introducing Post Thailand by Nuttawat Attasawat offers a view of a possible future in which everyone is happy to sit at the same kitchen table. A giant tri-color flag decorates the wall. Education Suicide by Karnchanit Posawat examines one possible way to practice civil disobediance, with schoolboys showing up for class when school is not in session.

But then there's a feeling of hopelessness, such in The Youth by Ukrit Sa-nguanhai and Chayajee Krittayapongsakorn, in which an underwater camera films children cavorting in a swimming pool, and yelling unintelligible phrases the camera. Or there's a feeling of drowning, such as in My Hand is Still Looking by Harin Paesongthai. The hand is the only thing poking above the surface of the water.

Others are Brother Ping-Ping Waiting in Line to Eat Fried Chicken by Thai Pradithkesorn, the post-apocalyptic, dystopian After Babylon by Napat Treepalawisetkun and Sleepwalker by Manasak Khlongchainan.

Near the end, the nationalistic songs played at the whistleblowing protests are heard in Here Comes the Democrat Party by Chulayarnnon Siriphol. Thailand keeps marching along, but where, exactly, is it headed?

After playing to a packed room at TK Park last Sunday, Thai Aurora at the Horizon moves to The Reading Room on Silom Soi 19, for a screening at 2pm on Sunday. Running 102 minutes in total, all films have English subtitles. There will be a directors' talk afterward. Entry is free. The trailer is embedded below.

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