Monday, March 31, 2008

BEFF5: My viewings

I didn't get to as many of the screenings at the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival as I would have liked, which is always the case with festivals -- knowing which films to see, and which sessions are okay to skip or there's something better playing somewhere else, or should I tag along with a group of people for dinner. I never know what to do. Many times, I think I make the wrong choices.

Anyway, here's a look at what I watched.

Track Changes

Playing for the opening reception at the Esplanade, this featured Bopitr Visenoi's 19.09.2549 (the date of the 2006 coup); Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's Bangkok Tanks; Wathit Wattanasakonpan's In the Night of Revolution; Michael Shaowanasai's brand new Observation of the Monument; Prap Boonpan's Letters from the Silence; Prateep Suthathongthai's Explanation of the word ‘Thai’; Nok Paksnavin's Burmese Man Dancing; Ricardo Nascimento's AUTRMX; Tintin Cooper's Promethean Invention and Jakrawal Niltumrong's Man With a Video Camera.

I almost missed this. Things were running late with the opening reception, and I didn't sense a mass movement to the cinema doors. Thankfully I was pointed in the right direction at just the right time by a helpful aficionado of Southeast Asian cinema.

Seeing Bangkok Tanks was a treat. I first saw it last year in the Spoken Silence program at the 11th Thai Short Film & Video Festival. It consists of a fuzzed-out TV screen, tuned in to CNN with Thaksin Shinawatra's picture on it and the legend "Bangkok Tanks" emblazoned below his white-noised mug. A string of text messages captured from MSN are played, with rumors of killings and curfews. In reality, it was a bloodless coup and kids only got off one day of school.

I also enjoyed Michael's Observation of the Monument, which features Michael in resplendant drag, looking ever the part of the demure, well-coifed hi-so matron. She is perched, like a statue, on a pedestal in a city park, with a golden chair and a table of fruit. Lotus flowers are piled up around her in tribute. The camera pans across her. A rooster crows. She sits down, ever so carefully, smoothing the folds in her dress. The camera tracks back. The scene is repeated twice more.

A couple of the shorts dealt with the disenfranchised migrant workers and laborers: Man With a Video Camera and Burmese Man Dancing.

Daily Rounds

I didn't make it back to BEFF until Saturday afternoon, when I caught this collection of new Thai works devoted to cycles of daily life. The films were Chalermrat Gaweewattana's A Century of Love, Tanatchai Bandasak's Endless Rhyme; Anocha Suwichakornpong's Black Mirror Watchathanapoom Laisuwannachai's Golden Mountain and Chai Chaiyachit's National Anthem.

A Century of Love is a simple portrait of the filmmaker's grandparents, setting up a camera and watching them go through their daily routine of taking meals, sitting, napping and puttering around the house and garden.

Black Mirror is puzzling, with a hypnotic soundtrack of guitar and moaning voice, with shots of a road at night and an esophageal tube. At 2 minutes, it's almost too short. But maybe 3 minutes would have been too long.

I liked Golden Mountain, which ends awash in the sound of brass bells. I can't tell much more about it than that, except for some chicken being cut up with a cleaver.

From 2007, National Anthem is provocative -- it's silent shots of people in parks doing aerobics, with the sound kicking in as the 6 o'clock hour rolls around -- time to play the Royal Anthem, which which point, the aerobics leader calls a "time out" by forming a "T" with her hands. The rest of the 27-minute short is devoted to a couple of guys and their political rant, talking about how Samak will be elected (he was) and Thaksin will return (he has).

International Harvest II - Paranoid Dance

This is a collection of films that offer "unsettling flirtations with genre, paranoia and strange choreography ... explor[ing] the psychological programming of modern life." The film's are A Very Slow Breakfast by Edwin from Indonesia; Plot Point by Nicolas Provost from Belgium; Kempinski by Neil Beloufa from France; Haak Sei Wuih Tuhng Mau Jai by Adrian Wong from Hong Kong; May I Go to Toilet Please? by Veerapha Engmahatsakul, Ravitsara Phunphrae and Nitsaphat Meksakul from Thailand and Faceless by Manu Luksch of Austria.

Found video was a prevalent theme in this section. Plot Point was shot in New York City and is footage of street scenes around Times Square, specifically the cops. Dialogue is laid in over the footage to create a loosely surreal crime drama that ends with an endless parade of NYPD police cars racing off to somewhere.

Faceless is shot in London and is comprised of footage from the city's plentiful surveillance cameras. As stipulated by a law that allows the public release of this surveillance footage, the people's heads are blotted out by colored ovals. Some other footage, I believe, was staged, to tell a post-apocalyptic story of a woman being reunited with her man and child. Tilda Swinton narrates the story, adding much gravity and giving the film some high-wattage celebrity shine. It was probably the most thought-provoking work I'd seen at the festival, which is saying a lot, because all the works were thought provoking.

I was entertained by A Very Slow Breakfast, about an Indonesian family crowded into an attic kitchenette to have breakfast. Dad reads the paper, son is scratching his dandruff into his coffee and daughter is doing aerobics -- all under a sloped ceiling that makes everyone have to slouch over.

Thai Indie Experimental Music Videos

The videos were: Thunska Pansittivorakul's Blind Spot and Zart Tanchareon's Answer by Soundlanding; D.I.E.'s The Time We Had by Goose; Thawatpong Tangsujjapoj's Message by T-Bone; Pichanan Lauhapornsawan's Body and Pathompol Tesprateep's Reverse by Assajan Jukrawan; Chanatip Kunasayeamporn's We do it all the Time by Mae Shi; Chatchai Ngamsirimongkolchai's Circle; Sathit Sattarasart's Escape by Klear; Haukom&ISE's Tassanajorn by Talkless and Because (two versions) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

I don't know about anywhere else, but music videos (annoyingly acronymed in Thailand as MVs) are still a vital part of the music business because most of the mainstream artists also release karaoke versions of their albums. I'm not sure if any of these videos or songs will be featured on karaoke machines though, except for perhaps T-Bone. Their gentle song, produced by Hualumpong Riddim (whom fans of Pen-ek Ratanaruang's films know), is an infectious mix of Thai pop and ska-reggae. The video was animation -- big fluffy triangular figures rolling out more of their kind.

I enjoyed the first two songs by Soundlanding -- lots of jangly guitar. Is this Thai emo?

A nice surprise for me was Apichatpong's videos, only because I hadn't noticed them on the program earlier. The last version of Because looks to be shot on the set of Tropical Malady and features his actor Sakda Kaewbuadee and one of his stock-company actresses in repeated frames that scroll across horizontally.

Thai Indie Showcase

The program was Chulayarnnon Siriphol's 1013; Panata Dissuwankul's RGB; Unnop Saguanchat's Hear the Wind Sings; Nontawat Numbenchapol's Volatilize; Sathit Sattarasart's Breeze; Olan Netrungsi's Self Portrait, Kati, Nujj; Pathompol Tesprateep's 4 Feb 2006 live @ Bangkok Code; Zart Tanchareon's Before Raining; Suchada Sirithanawuddhi's Floating Thoughts; and Patchara Eaimtrakul's Close Friend.

This program was well attended, but I'm sad to report I can't recollect much of it. It's all a blur of over-saturation in my head.

What stands out is Pathompol's video of some industrial punk played live at Bangkok Code, while I'm assuming right next door, in the dark, some construction workers are climbing on the skeleton of a high rise being put up. Squalling electric guitar that would make Neil Young proud is a serenade to the laborers of the night.

Learned Behavior

Back at the BEFF on Sunday with a fresh, open mind, I was anticipating seeing Observation of the Monk directed by Pramote Saengsorn in collaboration with performance artist Wannasak "Kuck" Sirilar, who portrays a Buddhist monk.

Learned Behavior "explor[es] the poetics of reproduction, and the unconscious forces that shape the patterns of social and political life."

Other films are Middle-Earth by Thunska Pansittivorakul; Uruphong Raksasad's Roy Tai Phrae; Sports News by Manatsak Dorkmai; The Love Captive by Sanchai Chotirosserranee; 3 – 0 by Anocha Suwichakornpong; Drive by Olan Netrangsri; The Duck Empire Strikes Back by Nutthorn Kangwanklai; Escape from Popraya 2526 by Paisit Punpruksachat; Krasob by Nitipong Thinthupthai and Legacy by Inge 'Campbell' Blackman.

Observation fit this theme with its monk walking under a dusty bridge, encountering a pile of old CRT monitors (the wreckage of civilisation) and then seeing a disturbing(?) image of himself.

Several of the films I had seen before in the Spoken Silence program at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival: the provocative human landscape study of Middle-Earth; 3-0, about three people on the move but getting nowhere, just like Thai society; and the hilarious Duck Empire about a rubber duckie falling into a water barrel and can't get out, and is replaced on his perch by a dinosaur.

Roy Thai Phrae was surprising. It starts out like Uruphong's other odes to idyllic rural life, with footage of farmers sowing rice by hand. Then another face comes into the picture: Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister, as if to say: These are the people who elected him. Do you have a problem with that? What is he offering them that you aren't?

I'm not sure why Sports News was named as such. It's about a guy being questioned about what Thailand means. The guy says: Nation, Religion, King and Constitution. No! There is no constitution. He is tortured. The guy is asked again: Nation, Religion and King. Just the holy trinity. And, no, it is NOT okay to make films showing a monk playing guitar.

Stuff I missed

I can't be in two places at once. Most of the time I was at work, because I have this thing called a job. But full-time attendees of BEFF were also faced with a dilemma -- watch the films at Esplanade or be across town at the Alliance Francaise. There were two distinct programs and venues.

Here's what I wish I would have seen:
  • Local Loop: Emerging histories from the Philippines -- Two documentaries examine the history of the Philippines, from the Spanish-American War to the decline of the Marcos years. The films were Angel Shaw's The Momentary Enemy and Sally Jo Bellosillo's Laban: The Meaning of the EDSA Revolution. Bellosillo was also on hand for a Q&A. This played on Thursday night at the Alliance.
  • Variety Theatre -- Playing on a hectic Friday night, this program featured Singapore Gaga, Tan Pin Pin's history of the arts in her country.
  • Thunska + Sompot -- Playing too early on Wednesday night for me to finish work and negotiate murderous Bangkok traffic, this featured films by Thunska Pansittivorakul and Sompot Chidgasornpong, including Thunska's new works "Action!" and Soak. It's very likely this will be shown again at some point, somewhere in the near future.
(Photo from Faceless, courtesy of BEFF; cross-published at The Nation Weblog)


  1. I totally agree with your comments about Esplanade. The venue was convenient for me because I live opposite it, but it's the wrong place for a film festival. Aside from the noise, it's a shame that BEFF was sidelined and the regular movies were the main attraction. This seems to happen at many Bangkok film festivals - the festival has a trestle table in the foyer, and maybe one line reserved at the box office, but it's never the main focus.

    Maybe they should hire House Rama for a week, and dedicate both screens to the festival? It's on RCA, so it's off the BTS/MRT route, but it's a perfect space for such an event.

    At BEFF5, I was only able to see two programmes - Sompot+Thunska and Music Videos. Shame I didn't bump into you at the latter.

  2. Missed you again. Well, Thunska says he'll have a screening of all his works at Gallery VER on April 19, tentative, with the time not fixed. Maybe then?

    House would be nice for an event like BEFF - perhaps a place somewhere between a cineplex and a museum. Nearby clubs could host parties, sidebar events and screenings as well.

    RCA is actually very easy to get to - short taxi from the MRT station. Getting away is the hassle. And if there's something inviting worth hanging around for, why get away?


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