Monday, August 9, 2010

Bangkok IndieFest 2010: Festival notes

More than a year ago I asked the question: Is there room for another film festival in Bangkok?

It was rhetorical. For I answered myself, "well sure, as long as it's competently run and gives the films, the filmmakers and the audience due consideration. And if it's a festival that offers a voice that's unique on the city's scene, that's even better."

And that's what Bangkok IndieFest, held over three days this past weekend, gave us.

The fest is produced by Jason Rosette's Camerado , which in 2007 started the CamboFest in Cambodia, which sought to revive that country's filmmaking industry and foster a new cinema-going culture. The fourth edition is set for December.

Now located in Bangkok, Rosette's working his way into the Thai indie film circle.

Bangkok IndieFest was originally planned for June, but the red-shirt political protests and general upheaval in Bangkok in the days leading up to that prompted a move to this past weekend.

And, the planned-for five-day schedule was compacted to three days. Rosette honored his agreement to show the films that had been submitted and sought, and so the program blocks of shorts and medium-length movies and documentaries were densely packed, most programs running for more than three hours.

The venue was HOF Art, a corner shophouse-style gallery on Soi 19 off Ratchadaphisek Road. Though far from the city center, it's still a fine location, within three minutes or less walk from the MRT subway stop.

But, unlike other major Bankgok film fests, there were no cushy seats like in a plush cinema. Undaunted, a dozen or more folks submitted themselves for each show, most choosing to sack out on the floor, with provided pillows propping up their heads to take in the view.

The selection was decidedly indie. I hadn't heard of hardly any of the films or filmmakers.

Except for my first foray in Bangkok IndieFest, Friday night's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead. Directed by Jordan Galland, it's a comedy about vampires (not zombies!) staging an adaptation of Hamlet in order to lure fresh blood. Among the cast were cult-film princess Devon Aoki (Sin City, Mutant Chronicles, D.E.B.S.), the original Karate Kid Ralph Macchio as a hilarious Italian gangster type and Wes Anderson regular, Waris Ahluwalia, as a hypochondriac. Glad I saw it.

Saturday started with Shorts I. And what stories they told.

Lollipop Man by Nils Gaard depicts a fanatical zebra-crossing guard while Parking Space by David Bitton is a supernatural, deal-with-the-devil quest of man to find a parking spot. Pedaço de Papel (Piece of Paper) by Cesar Raphael follows a banknote on a bloody path of sin and devastation. Le prix à payer (The Price to Pay) by Paul Gayard is a noirish crime drama about the consequences of a small-time hood enlisting his girlfriend for a caper. And there's more crime in Coup De Grace, Thymaya Payne's story of a convenience store hold up gone wrong.

Cravings by Andreas Lindergard lightened the mood with a taxi driver who obsesses about gourmet cooking. In Everything Is As It Should Be by Jennifer Ruff has an Asian woman seeking to break away from a paternally controlled marriage and embark on an affair with a squatter artist.

Drown by Nottapon Boonprakob (นัฐพล บุญ ประกอบ) brought the Thai drama with a little boy yearning for attention from his recently widowed mother and grandma now that a new baby was in the house. I'd actually seen that one before, at last year's Thai Short Film & Video Festival, and it was one of several welcome Thai entries in the first Bangkok IndieFest.

There was more romance in Kamikire Ichimai by Momi Yamashita, a young filmmaker who took a break from making documentaries and shows for Japanese television to come to Bangkok and promote her short film. The ambitious 26-minute romantic comedy packs in the story of three young Japanese women, all angling for marriage before they turn 30. One of them needs to sign a marriage form on her 30th birthday, hence the English title Piece of Paper, not to be confused with the earlier Brazilian crime drama.

The Shorts I package wrapped with two more: La Glaciere Rouge (The Icebox) by Michel Jr Tremblay, a short thriller about a man who has lung cancer but doesn't have a care in the world. Why? And there was the imaginative fairytale, Lya, by Nicolas Siegenthaler about a girl caring for her sick little brother. They get a visit from a magical pig troll – a creepy little boy with a skinhead wig and pig nose.

Next was Shorts II, which was more of a mixed bag than the first program.

Nobody's Business by Tyler Savage is a bloody story of a man evicted from his apartment, having to fight his way in to another apartment provided for him by a friend.

Then there was Suck 3/2 Seed by Siwawut Sewatanon (ศิววุฒิ เสวตา นนท์), who I gather has done a series of short comedies about a Thai "inspiration rock" band. Here, a group of hard rockers are struggling to find an audience a scene where rapping South Korean and Japanese boy bands and their choreographed dance moves are more popular than headbanging, hair-flinging, guitar-shredding classic rockers inspired by Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. They make a deal with the devil. I dug the reference to the "Demon Code" and Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny.

Mannen med kulorna (Man with All the Marbles) by Hans Montelius has brothers shooting marbles to win control their late father's business empire. Souvenirs by Andy Pearson has a serial-womanizing, underwear-collecting sensitive-artist guy trying to win over a new woman in his life, despite the interference of his flamboyantly transvestite gay roommate. He wins his Leia, dressed as C3P0. Takeo by Omar Samad is a western taking place in a ranch house, when a violent Japanese man comes calling at a U.S. serviceman's California horse farm.

Back to Thai indies with La Lampadina by Thai Pradithkesorn (ไท ประดิษฐ์ เกสร), a symbolic tale of a brother and sister fighting to help out their elderly mother or grandmother, but both eventually drop the tasks they take on, leaving the old lady helpless. Then she needs to change a lightbulb, and it could be a commercial for Sylvania.

I honestly don't remember much about Zwischen Licht und Schatten (Fading Away) by Fabian Giessler, which is about an elderly couple and, ironically in my case, seems to be losing her memory. Sorry!

Song of the River by Krissada Tipchaimeta (กฤษฎา ทิพ ชัยเมธา) is a heartfelt social drama in the style of MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, set in a Uttaradit reservoir national park, where a former native son has returned home as a stern park ranger, tasked with turfing his old friends and family out of their traditional fishing grounds. The drunken boatman friend gave the audience a few laughs.

The Hirosaki Players by Jeff Sousa stars Eijiro Ozaki and Ikkô Furuya as a Japanese playwright and his washed-up samurai actor father in a battle of wills over a stage play making its Broadway debut.

There were two more entries in Shorts II, D'entre les morts (Among the Dead) by Alain Basso and Amexica by Ron Krauss, but I ducked out in order to catch some of the animated shorts being put in the Sidebar screen, in the corridor to the stairs on the third-floor landing of the gallery.

The Sidebar, where I saw Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead, was also showing several features on Saturday and on Sunday repeats of the Shorts programs, so had I hung out I could have seen those last two Shorts II entries. But I felt my brain was full and needed emptying.

And so it continues.

Australian animator Peter Allen (PDF) was in attendance. His day job is a programmer for a big screen in Melbourne's Federation Square, and he was given the time off to come to Bangkok to look for things to show on that big screen. He had two shorts, each very different in style. One was Flip, a enjoyably gore-filled Itchy and Scratchy-styled flip-book animation about a pair of men in a lightsaber duel. One man is sliced in half and the police are dispatched. Guts, puking, an eye put out. I loved it. Next was The Cockerel's Egg, a CG-animated bit that's based on a true story.

I was fading by then. Not enough sleep. Sorry animators! I was too comfortable with my floor and pillows, and apparently in need of shuteye. So the rest of the animation program is a blur of crazy sound and colorful light, and likely, my snoring. Sorry audience!

But I awoke partway through Mu -emptiness by Ria Ama, a tale of Buddhist mindfulness. Allen says he found it beautiful and is interested in showing it on his big screen in Melbourne.

Much to my fatigued brain's relief, the next program was starting: Very Short Movies. These are real short films, all under 10 minutes and packed into a block of around 90 minutes, a welcome contrast from the earlier "Shorts" that had often approached medium length and were packaged into marathon 3-hour blocks.

First up was Eulogy by Ben Claremont, which reminded me of Hitchcock's The Birds. It's a 7-minute photo montage of elderly man stirring up pigeons in a park and is meant to tell a "whole life's story ... in just a few seconds." Broken by Christian Doran is one of those Memento style thrillers, jam-packed into 7 minutes of broken glass, gut-stabbing glory and heartbreak.

Backward and forward again. Case Closed by Kevin Stocklin is about a mother whose son is missing and a pair of comical cops out of Car 54 Where Are You? keep bringing strange kids to her door. Dental Breakdown by Ian Power is a 6-minute Rocky Horror-style musical, set in a dental school. Door to Door by Ida Akesson follows a Jehovah's Witnesses novice on her rounds, supervised by an elder. The Package by Oliver Waghorn is another Memento-style thriller, aided by a videotape. Das Paket (The Package) by Marco Gadge has a pair of men in a Lada car with a bass fiddle tied to the roof in a snowbound landscape, arguing as they stop at a construction roadblock. What's in the package? Just wait and see.

Father Returning Home by Imaad Shah is a 4.75-minute photo montage set to a poem. It channels Slumdog Millionaire as dad arrives home on a Mumbai train. The young dreadlocked Shah is also a musician and actor, and he came to Bangkok to support his film.

Here it's starting to become hazy. Like Star, Dust by Karen Hanson at 1.75-minutes. Did I see it? I can't fathom right now. "We are stardust," she says. "Almost all the atoms that make up our bodies were once forged in stars that exploded in supernovae." Sounds like Mundane History (now playing in Bangkok).

I perked up for Dried Up, a stop-motion animation by Isaiah Powers and Kate Holowach about an old man in a post-apocalyptic world, trying to create a device that will make it rain. It works!

Then there was Last Night by Ed Park? Did I watch it? "The final moments in a relationship take on a fuller meaning."

Make Me by Australian action choreographer John Ma was a sold beat-down of a short, about a man tasked with delivering a package, and having to kill a man to do it. Great, great action.

And Peel by Douglas Williams. Imagine a banana.

Massacrator by Pierre Ayotte is an awesome action short. Like Suck 3/2 Seed, it involves Elvis.

Run Granny Run by Nikolaus von Uthmann kept the momentum up with a story of an elderly woman with her wheeled Zimmer frame in a frantic race for the choice park bench.

Closing out my marathon day of viewing was Area 51, a selection of experimental shorts.

The opener was an astonishing 11-minute horror thriller, Little Jijar by Gun Sangkaew (กรร แสงแก้ว), which Bangkok cinephile Jit Phokaew tells me has been controversial in Thai indie film circles. The director films his diapered toddler daughter tenuously climbing stairs (oh! she might fall), brandishing a toy gun and fatally shooting someone, with cool effects, stabbing her father and repeatedly poking the bloody blade into her dad's stomach. She also kills the family dog with poison. And, as a coup de grace, straddles her mother and strangles her.

They showed Peel again. Oh shucks. It's only 60 seconds.

Mugs by Ronnie Cramer is a stomach-churning series of celebrity mugshots morphing into each other. The big names include the jail mugshots of Johnny Cash and Paris Hilton. Along with various serial killers. And James Brown, Nick Nolte and Glen Campbell.

It Shines And Shakes And Laughs by Matthew Wade. Uh what? Well heck. It's on Vimeo.

Correspondence by Oliver Waghorn (who directed the earlier Package) has a man plagued by junk mail. He diligently types letters back to the senders, asking them to please stop, but the junk mail keeps filling his mailbox.

North Horizon by dancers Thomas Freundlich & Valtteri Raekallio is two men is 22 of men dancing by a fjord, while Sometimes I Dream of Reindeer by Tom Feiler (3 minutes) is similarly weird.

Scissu by Tom Bewilogua is a chronologically fractured crime drama, with a bent cop plying prostitutes with rocks of crack. Prithi Gowda's Televisnu is colorful romance about a woman working in a call center crawling through the floor to fix her computer and escape her arranged marriage. Born to Be Alive by Ander Felsing & Tobias Sparrman has a man going to extremes to take revenge for being sneezed on. Why Do You Have A Beard? by Paul O'Donoghue is more morphing animation of famous (mostly beardless) faces. And Liminal by Stephen Keep Mills has two stark naked woman arguing over whether one of them can wear a sweater because it shows her nipples.

Rossette got on his bullhorn and called for a break in the action so he gather everybody around for photos and to serve a big round cake, in celebration of the festival's being born, and to mention the sponsors, which strategically included Epson, providers of two digital projectors, as well as Singha Light, which meant there was plenty of beer and bottled water to go around.

Then they showed Wet Nana Dreamscape, presented by photographer, writer and visual conceptualist Jimmuw Wing. It's a colorful, short story of a man being taken for a ride in a tuk-tuk. Wing says all the characters represent mythological figures: The young man is "the fool", the tuk-tuk driver is "the old wise man" and the two seemingly gorgeous models are "trickster/illusionists".

Award-winning soundtrack composer Lim Giong was also present to support the film.

After good night's sleep, I was back bright and early the following day to catch the documentary programs.

Short Docs I began with the The Moving Town by Alberto Nacci, who filmed the various moving parts of an airport baggage conveyor belt. Bye Bye Now! by Ross Whitaker and Aideen O'Sullivan was a wistful look at the disappearing Eircom telephone boxes in Ireland.

And there was a shift to medium-length documentaries with Return to Gaza by Michael Weatherhead, about an Australian-Palestinian man's odyssey to take his wife and children back home to Gaza to visit family and look at possibly moving back there.

Les Intestins de La Terre by Barbier Olivier shortened things up again, with a fascinating, close-up look at worms and their important role. No worms means no soil. No soil means desert.

L'Empire Des Enfants by Gerard Moreau is an inspiring 53-minute look at a woman who converted a former cinema in Dakar into a shelter and school for runaway kids. Keeping Them Safe by Lauren Sandler turns to Cambodia, with a look at the Sunrise orphanages and a karaoke hostess's difficult choice to turn her daughter over to the orphanage.

The tone then shifted to twang with a Polish accent in 10 Years to Nashville. Filmmaker Katarzyna Trzaska was present to introduce her comical, earnest documentary about a Polish railway-station cleaning woman fulfilling her lifelong dream to visit the Music City. With her friend, a man who owns a toilet stall in the train station, the odd couple follow their American dream, landing in New York and driving to Nashville, though they miss the exit and almost drive to Knoxville (Ka-nock-vill-eh) or Chattanooga (I can't replicate how they hilariously pronounced that). They finally make their way to Church and Broadway, and, toting her guitar, the cleaning lady sings Polish ballads for the homeless men, and she learns the chords to a Reba McIntire song. And, to please her toilet-stall buddy, they check out the fittings in a bus station's men's room.

Short Docs II began with Wander Cinema by Panu Saeng-xuto (ภานุ แสงชูโต), a fascinating look at one of Thailand's mobile cinema operators, which travels from town to town like a carnival, putting on outdoor movie shows at temple fairs and funerals in rural towns.

The focus stayed on Thailand in The Last Elephants in Thailand by Donald Tayloe, which mainly focused on the efforts of Soraida Salwala, of Friends of the Asian Elephant and her elephant hospital, the world's first, in Lampang. Along with haunting stares into captive elephant's eyes, there's also the stories of Mosha, a baby elephant fitted with prosthetic leg after one of hers was blown off by a landmine, and another amputee, the famous Motola, a 48-year-old cow elephant who became emblematic of the Lampang elephant hospital. Though not covered in the documentary, she was eventually fitted with a prosthetic leg as well. Meanwhile, Thailand's elephant herd is fast dwindling due to the illegal wildlife trade and elephants being captured to work in tourist camps. Recently, also not covered in the documentary, stiff fines were imposed, making it illegal to feed elephants in Bangkok, a move surely welcomed by Soraida, but still not enough to stop the powerful and darkly influential figures involved in the elephant trade.

Another sobering environmental theme was covered in Meltdown in Tibet by Michael Buckley, who shot footage of kayakers seeking out the whitewater rapids in Tibet, which are under threat by China's many dam projects – projects that also threaten the water supply for much of Asia, including the Mekong and Salween rivers that flow through Thailand.

Hrabro I Na Rexultat (Go For It) by Dejan Acimovic is a view in to the world of the blind and Petar Bešlić, Croatia's first blind athlete. It covers his training for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Developmentally disabled folks play in Dominoes and Checkers Competition by Alexander Gornovsky, which visits a monastery in Russia where the special-needs people live.

The Marina Experiment by Marina Lutz is a revealing experimental expose in which the director details the lifetime's worth of photos, films and recordings of her, made by her father Abbot Lutz, and presented in a fetishist light.

And finally, the last film I saw was one of the best, Dieu est Americain (God is American) by Richard Martin-Jordan, which wryly comments on the John Frum cargo cult on the South Pacific's Tanna island, and includes footage of cult's military procession on John Frum Day.

So many movies packed into two days. A lifetime's worth of stories. I'm exhausted thinking about them all. But I'll be ready for the next Bangkok IndieFest.

Limitless Cinema has grades and links on some of the documentaries and animation.


  1. I felt guilty of missing this fest. There's so many film screenings on this weekend! (I went to Punishment Park screening at Reading Room Library & Short films from female director at Toot Yung Gallery)

  2. The IndieFest organizers are considering repeating this year's festival programs at some point, somewhere, so there's still a chance you can catch these films.

  3. I like THE LAST ELEPHANTS IN THAILAND very much, because it shows the extreme cruelty done to the elephants while training them to paint. I had never imagined it could be like this.

    STAR, DUST (Karen Hanson) is the film which opens with images of things which seem like stars in space, but when the camera zooms out of these images, we find that they are actually X-ray images of our bodies.

    LAST NIGHT (Ed Park) is the film in which a man and a woman talk to each other on a grass field. The woman said that it was the man's fault that he let her drive. Then there was blood streaming down the man's head. Then the camera zooms out of this couple, and we find that there was a crashed car near them. The woman and the man may already be dead.


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