Saturday, August 14, 2010

Culture Ministry official talks Strong Thailand, student-film initiative

The Culture Ministry's Thai Khem Kaeng (ไทย เข้มแข็ง, Strong Thailand) "creative economy" initiative to support films has been controversial.

Although around four dozen projects by mostly independent filmmakers were supported, around half of the fund was going to be given to make sequels to the big-budget Naresuan historical epics by veteran industry heavyweight MC Chatrichalerm Yukol, but the Culture Ministry later reduced the amount it was giving because the Commerce Ministry was already supporting Naresuan.

So more smaller, independent projects were supported.

And, in light of the success of indie director Apichatpong Weersethakul's Golden Palm triumph at Cannes with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the Culture Ministry is seeking to do more with its Strong Thailand funds.

They're hoping to more than double the Strong Thailand budget for next year, are planning to open a new national arts center and have initiated a project that has schoolchildren making short films.

Lekha Shankar talked to an official about all that, and she sent this report.

Story by Lekha Shankar

The new "creative economy" initiative of the the Thai government has been very conducive to helping the film industry, says Samart Chansoon of the Office of Contemporary Art and Culture in the Ministry of Culture. He's been spearheading the many new arts initiatives of the ministry, especially those connected to cinema.

While the Ministry allocated a budget of 220 million baht for the filmmakers this year, Samart hoped the budget would be increased to 500 million baht next year.

He said he felt that indie filmmakers deserved a lot of help and support, and that many indie films had already received support.

Among them are Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee, which received about 3.5 million baht, Aditya Assarat’s upcoming feature Hi So received about 2 million baht and Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Fon Tok Kuen Fah (ฝนตกขึ้นฟ้า) got about 5 million baht.

Samart said he very impressed by the script of Pen-ek's film, which he thought was unique and strong. [It's based on a Win Lyovarin "film-noir" crime novel, the title of which roughly translates to "rain in blue"]

He was even more proud of Apichatpong’s victory at Cannes, describing the filmmaker as "my dear brother".

"We take Thai film delegations to Cannes every year," Samart says, "as that's the best place for them to interact with film professionals from around the world, to 'pitch' their stories, get funds and sell films."

Samart has been working with the Culture Ministry right from the inception of the Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture eight years ago.

He says he was one of the people who worked hard for the creation of the office.

He was also proud of the creation of the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

"This is the first arts center that is in the heart of the commercial district of Bangkok," Samart says, adding that he's waiting for the opening of another arts center near the Thailand Cultural Centre off Ratchadapisek Road, scheduled for next year, with a budget of around 1 billion baht.

"While the first arts center belongs to Bangkok city, the next one will be national," he says.

Samart was additionally proud of the new short films initiative of the Ministry, which instructed schools in as many as 20 provinces to select creative-minded youngsters.

They got 96 schoolchildren, and divided them into 16 teams of six students each.

The youngsters went through an intensive four-day camp, where they were taught everything about filmmaking, including scripting, location hunting, casting, music, costumes and editing.

All this teaching was done for two days and then they were given two more days to shoot their film.

Samart says at least 100 short films have been created by the students in the various provinces, out of which 16 films have been selected to be screened at Bangkok's Paragon Cineplex on August 17 and 18.

"The students who made the films will all be coming, and for many of them, this will be their first trip to Bangkok," says Samart, adding that "many of them, including some young girls in burka, have not stepped out of their town!"

"I've worked in the cultural field for 35 years, in the film field for the last eight years, and I find cinema all-encompassing," says the official, whose designation in the OCAC is "expert on promotion of applied art".

"Cinema covers everything – visuals, sound, emotions, design, technique – and it's reach also covers a lot of people, says Samart.

That’s why he was happy that the Culture Ministry was giving a lot of attention to the film industry this year.

A self-taught film buff, Samart says he enjoys teaching cinema and planned to continue doing this when he retired from the Ministry in a month’s time.

"I want to teach teachers to train youngsters in the field of cinema," he says. "We must develop a culture for cinema in our country, and this can be done only through the young people."

According to him, Thailand has a film audience of about 1 million people, while South Korea has 20 million.

"Thai films are winning awards around the world. It's time we increased the numbers of our film audiences," he says.

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