Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chocolate, Truth Be Told in Hawaii

The Hawaii International Film Festival has started and it runs until October 19, featuring a diverse program with more than a dozen different sections.

Chocolate, featuring hard-charging martial-arts action from a pint-sized Thai lady, is in the "Extreme Asia" section alongside Cyborg She, Metal Samurai, Kelvin Tong's Rule No. 1 and Tokyo Gore Police.

That's all extremely cool. But, I'm even more heartened that there's another film about a tough Thai woman: Pimpaka Towira's politically charged documentary The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong. It's great to see this documentary getting another airing -- especially while Thailand's political scene is again in the midst of a seemingly intractable (and this time quite violent) crisis. Now, as then, the spectre of Thaksin looms.

The Truth Be Told is part of the Documentary Feature Competition.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin gives Truth a nice write up:

Even if you're unfamiliar with the shaky landscape of Thai politics, the title player in The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong will transfix you.

Klangnarong, an activist in Thailand, was thrust into public life after comments she made to the Thai Post newspaper accused then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of using political favoritism to boost his family's business, telecommunications giant Shin Corp.

It's amazing to see her boundless energy being captured on film, despite the fact that she was facing an $11 million defamation lawsuit by Shin Corp. Even before her first court appearance at the beginning of the film, she has time to joke about her doting mother's inability to turn off a cell phone.

The film is historical and intensely personal at the same time. Klangnarong's public persona was defined by speeches, appearances at rallies and her cheery smile. Director Pimpaka Towira peels the layers to reveal a woman whose beauty and unflappable charm is only surpassed by her steely determination to do what's right.

Shin Corp. eventually offered to drop the case after it was bought out by another private firm; however, Klangnarong wanted to see the case to its end, much to the horror of her mother.

Her mother's plight over Klangnarong's feistiness forms the other central narrative to the story. The fear that her daughter would be suddenly snatched by Shinawatra's invisible iron fist is palpable.

The film meanders when the camera uses curious camera angles for momentous occasions, as when protesters organize a rally.

Still, it's the small moment-to-moment interactions with Klangnarong -- packing clothes, putting on makeup -- that put a human face to a national figure who somehow led to the overthrow of Shinawatra's government.

Another documentary of note is Ellen Kuras' and Laotian filmmaker Thavisouk Phrasavath's The Betrayal in the Reel Life section. There's also Vietnam's A Little Heart in the Human Rights program; and the environmentally themed Brutus from the Philippines in the Green Screen.

The Asian Showcase includes The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela (which is at Cinemanila); Indonesia's Chants of Lotus (to be featured at the upcoming 6th World Film Festival of Bangkok); and two other Indonesian films from the recent Bangkok International Film Festival, Nan Achnas' The Photograph (which I saw) and Garin Nugroho's Kantata Takwa (which I missed, sadly, I think).

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