Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Indie films storm multiplexes, Film Asia Expo hands out $100,000 prize, Bangkok Int'l Film Fest plans revealed

The success of the limited theatrical run Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives film has had a big impact on the cinema industry, with exhibitioners looking to screen more independent Thai films.

Apichatpong, meanwhile, will be racking up the air mileage over the course of the next year, with many film festivals lined up to show Uncle Boonmee.

Also in Bangkok, student and independent filmmakers from around the world were the focus of the first Film Expo Asia, held from August 8 to 10.

And finally, plans are afoot to hold the Bangkok International Film Festival, to be held in late November to coincide with a "world creative economy" conference.

Lekha J. Shankar, recently back on the Bangkok scene, has been keeping tabs on all this, and she sent the following report.

Story by Lekha J. Shankar

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cannes victory has created a distinct buzz for indie cinema in Thailand.

His Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives collected a record 1 million baht during its one-month run at SFX the Emporium, prompting SF cinemas and indie distribution and production house EXtra Virgin to relaunch the Director's Screen Project showing more Thai independent films.

They held a reception, press conference and media screening of Anocha Suwichakornpong's Mundane History on July 28. Its commercial run started last Thursday and runs until September 1, with daily showtimes at around 7 each evening and additional Saturday and Sunday matinees at around 2.

“We are delighted to be a part of this project," says Supat Ngamwongpaiboon, SF cinemas marketing director.

The other indie films to be screened are Uruphong Raksasad’s Agrarian Utopia in September and Aditya Assarat’s Phuket, starring South Korean actress Lim Su-jeong and Thai screen legend Sorapong Chatree. Two earlier shorts by Aditya, Boy Genius and The Sigh, will screen alongside Phuket in October.

All the directors were present for the launch, though Anocha rushed right off afterward to head to Poland for the New Era Horizons Film Festival, where she wound up winning the €20,000 grand prize for Mundane History.

Also present at the event were "future" directors Lee Chatametikool and Jakrawal Nilthamrong.

Lee, editor of Mundane History and Apichatpong's films, is directing his first feature, Past Love, which Apichatpong and Anocha are producing.

Jakrawal’s Unreal Forest has expanded from the feature film he shot for the International Film Festival Rotterdam's Forget Africa project into a multi-platform project (like Apichatpong's Primitive) that will be unveiled soon.

Aditya has the much-anticipated new feature, Hi-So, starring Ananda Everingham. He says it will premiere at the Pusan International Film Festival. The Thai launch is expected to be at the Bangkok International Film Festival.

"Joei" Apichatpong made a late entry at the event, but watched Mundane History and said he enjoyed it.

Joei was very pleased by the "full house" he got the previous day for the screening of his short films at SF Cinema City MBK, organized as part of Bioscope magazine's Indy Spirit project. Six of his shorts were screened: Luminous People, My Mother’s Garden, Windows, Ghost of Asia, Emerald and Vampire, followed by a scintillating Q&A with the director, which the young audience totally enjoyed.

His Uncle Boonmee T-shirts are in great demand too.

Also in the audience was smart and sophisticated Wallapa Mongkolprasert, the aquatically inclined actress who plays the "ugly princess" in Uncle Boonmee. She recalled being at the awards ceremony with Joei in Cannes and confessed that she never ever expected the film to win the top prize. She said she was totally overawed by the experience.

Joei is now set for an intensive round of film festivals, with Boonmee set to screen in Seoul, Sitges, London, Vienna, Toronto, New York, Taipei and Dubai. He said he was also looking forward to the Jakarta International Film Festival, Tokyo FilmEx and the Kerala festival in India.

As for future projects, he confessed that his Utopia project still remains a Utopian dream, but he wants to start on a new script as soon as his globe-trottings ended.

Apichatpong's success was the subject of conversation among many young filmmakers from around the world who gathered at Siam Paragon on Tuesday for the award ceremony of the first-ever Film Expo Asia short film competition.

Organised by Thailand's Software Industry Promotion Agency (SIPA), Digital Media Asia, the National Federation of Film Associations of Thailand, with support from Toyota, the expo was an inspiring example of an excellent combined public and private sector initiative.

More than 350 participants from 16 countries applied online for the competition, which had His Majesty the King’s sufficiency economy theory as the theme. It was a difficult theme for non-Thais, but the applicants, who included a mixture of students and experienced "artistes", worked ardently, visiting more than 17 provinces in the Thailand to create their seven-minute films with a limited budget of $500.

Eight winners, from the 99 teams, received honorable mentions at the awards-ceremony, including participants from the US, China and India.

The jackpot first prize of $100,000 was received by Uruphong Raksasad for a simple rural tale entitled Dad’s Picture, in which his wife, Naowares Chaonampad, played the lead.

While on one hand, there was no doubt the winning director had much more experience than many contestants who were film students, jury member Roger Gonin of the Clermont Ferrand International Short Film Festival, stated that many of the youngsters showed exceptional talent, and he was very impressed by the ever-growing crop of good short filmmakers from Thailand.

Presiding over the function was Sorajak Kasemsuvan, the articulate new secretary-general of the National Federation of Film Associations of Thailand.

Professing a voracious love for cinema, Sorajak said he was an avid follower of Apichatpong’s films, which he said had given a huge boost to the indie filmmakers of Thailand.

He made the first announcement of this year’s Bangkok International Film Festival, when he stated that the BKKIFF was expected to be held from November 19 to 29.

As to why the dates of the Bangkok International fest keep changing every year, Sorajak says, “The government's policy keeps changing, and we need to change accordingly!”

This year’s festival would have three co-organisers, the Ministry of Culture, which will handle the competition section, the Ministry of Commerce managing the general administration and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, which will organize a special section called "Thailand as a Showcase", featuring many international films that were made in Thailand.

“The TAT would use the opportunity to invite international filmmakers to visit Thailand and check out the location spots here,” Sorajak says.

The Bangkok International Film Festival will be part of a grand and unique "world creative economy conference" set for Bangkok, and also include a symposium with international speakers, a design exhibition and various other events.

The government is in the process of planning the event in consultation with John Howkins, the writer of The Creative Economy.

“I’m sure it will all be very exciting," says Sorajak, a lawyer by trade, who added that he's studying the legal aspects of the disputed Preah Vihear Temple even as he was working on the World Creative Economy Conference.

A post script: Word is that leading theater chain Major Cineplex also plans to screen award-winning indie Thai films at the Paragon Cineplex.

(Director's Screen photos via Extra Virgin; Film Expo Asia photos by Lekha J. Shankar)

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