Thursday, September 30, 2010

The buzz about Insects in the Backyard

Making its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival next week is Insects in the Backyard, the debut feature by up-and-coming director Tanwarin Sukkhapisit (ธัญญ์วาริน สุขพิสิษ).

It's in the Dragons & Tigers competition for the $10,000 Dragons & Tigers Award for Young CinemaAward for Young Cinema. Here's programmer Tony Rayns' synopsis from the VIFF website:

In the absence of their parents, Johnny (15) and Jennifer (17) are being brought up by their "big sister" Tanya, an overdressed transvestite who eats and smokes too much and causes both kids endless embarrassment. It's a situation ripe for problems (actually, more complicated than I've made it sound), and Tanwarin's debut feature - as director, writer and star – explores those problems with unbridled determination. Both kids mess up their pursuit of romance, in the ways that teenagers do, and both look for ways to break away from the family home and become independent. For Johnny, this entails going into male prostitution, which is as much an attempt to erase his own self-esteem as a way of earning some fast bucks. Jenny makes other mistakes, but both of them wind up deeply dissatisfied. And Tanya? When Johnny catches her trying to seduce one of his buddies, things start to go downhill for her too. Tanwarin (a language major from Khon Kaen University who has acted in 13 self-directed short films since 2001) finds the roots of family dysfunction in Thai attitudes to sexuality and prostitution, but his sense of framing, colour and pace gives the film larger resonances. Universal ones, in fact.

Tanwarin also gave a phone interview to Vancouver's, saying she aims to expose Thai taboos:

She emphasized that the characters don’t represent the norm; she wanted to show what is hidden in the Southeast Asian country, including homosexuality. “The characters in this film is not like the culture. They’re different, but they’re real. I want everybody to understand that.” She added that the title reflects that fact. “You know…the back yard has many, many insects. But nobody can see them. Like Thailand.”

A katoey filmmaker, Tanwarin is well known and respected in Thailand's indie scene, as well as in the industry, where she's worked as an acting coach and even directed a segment for Poj Arnon's horror anthology, Tai Hong (ตายโหง, Die a Violent Death, also known as Still). Her shorts include In the Name of Sin, Phone Mood, I'm Fine Sa-bai-dee Ka and Where's My Doll?

Other Thai films in Vancouver are the musical documentary Baby Arabia by Panu Aree, Kaweenipon Ketprasit and Kong Rithdee and Mundane History by Anocha Suwichakornpong as well as a batch of films by Apichatpong Weearasethakul, including the Oscar hopeful Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives and the shorts A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, Anthem and Luminous People plus Anocha's Elvis short Graceland and Aditya Assarat's Phuket (which has just opened in Bangkok).

The Vancouver International Film Festival runs from September 30 to October 15.

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