Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Salaya Doc 2015 reviews: Asean documentary competition

The winning Best Asean Documentary, 03-Flats.

Mention Singapore's Housing and Development Board, and I guarantee my eyes are going to glaze over, but I gave the documentary 03-Flats a chance, and it surprised me with its compelling view of the public-housing apartment blocks, which beforehand I had mainly seen as cramped, drab spaces that the majority of Singaporeans call home.

Directed by Lee Yuan Bin of Singapore's indie-film 13 Little Pictures collective, 03-Flats examines the history of the HDB developments, which stand as a legacy of founding prime minister Lee Kwan Yew. Archival propaganda newsreel footage is mixed with intimate profiles of three single ladies who have transformed their apartments into homes. They are a grandmother (and her plants), a colorful middle-aged lady (and her cat) and a young artist who has transformed her apartment into an art studio. Aside from a look at the lives of the three women, there is also a sense of community in these towering edifices. My view of Singapore will be different if I visit again. Where I once just saw row upon row of blank buildings, I will now see neighborhoods.

Jurors were also impressed by 03-FLATS – they actually like it all caps, but I just kind of naturally resist that. Nonetheless, it was named Best Asean Documentary of the fifth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival, which wrapped up last Saturday at the Thai Film Archive.

A special mention winner, Lady of the Lake.
Special mention awards went to entries from Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia, edging out docs from the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

One of the special mentions, Yangon Film School student Zaw Naing Oo’s Lady of the Lake paid a lively visit to the spirit-worshipping "cult of the nat" in Pyun Su village, on the banks of Moe Yun Gyi Lake. A documentary short, it has tranquil scenes of fishing and everyday life on the lake interspersed with wild ceremonies in which worshippers appear to be in a trance, and chomp down on a wriggling raw fish.

Cambodia’s The Storm Makers was a warts-and-all examination of human trafficking as experienced by a young woman who was kept as a slave when she worked as a maid in Malaysia. A legacy and constant reminder of the ordeal is an infant son, born from when the woman was raped by another man while trying to escape her brutal employer. Her painful views are contrasted with the profile of a garrulous, opportunistic gentleman who runs a notorious recruiting agency in Phnom Penh. There's also a one-legged woman who hobbles from farmhouse to farmhouse, looking for more recruits. Directed by Guillaume Suon and produced by Rithy Panh, the film’s name comes from the effect the recruiters have on villages, bringing with them dark clouds of despair. It's yet another important entry from Cambodia, which has a keen indie film community keeping an eye on the quickly modernizing country and its population of poor workers who are all-too-easily exploited.

The Storm Makers won a special mention.
The Indonesian winner, Die Before Blossom, directed by Ariani Djalal, examined the increasing focus on Islam in public schools, and the effect it has on girls from two middle-class families. Technical problems during the screening I attended sapped my energy and distracted me from the important point of it all. Are they still teaching math and science in Indonesian schools, or is it all just religion? At one point, a teacher is telling the Muslim children about certain prayers they should recite for good luck on standardized tests, when one of the non-Muslim kids in the class pops up to say, "it's okay, we have our own prayers." The jury was impressed enough to give it a special mention.

“The film carries a feeling of desperation,” the jury statement said. “The silent voice and empty eyes of one of the two main characters are more than enough to display the deadly toxins of a society that cannot nurture the life of its own youth.”

I liked the succinctness of the Thai entry, Echoes from the Hill, by film students Jirudtikal Prasonchoom and Pasit Tanadechanurat, which provided a glimpse into the culture of the “Pgaz K’Nyau” or “simple humans” in a Karen village in the mountains of the North. They believe in tree spirits, and have developed a sustainable way of life that they say is in harmony with nature. But their culture is under threat by Thai government plans to build the Mae Khan Dam and a national park. Beautiful nature scenes are padded with a bit of public-hearing footage, in which the film's main subject, this cool village elder, is present and testifies, so it's all on record about the harm that will come.

A late-to-confirm entry from the Philippines, Nick and Chai, was simply heartbreaking. Directed by Rowena Sanchez and Charena Escala, it visited an achingly young couple who lost all four of their children to 2013’s Typhoon Yolanda. While haunted by the deaths of the children, Nick and Chai put their energy and college-trained agricultural skills into grassroots organizing that helps their community rebuild.

Die Before Blossom, a special mention winner.

Salaya Doc 5's competition was rounded out by Madam Phung’s Last Journey by Nguyen Thi Tham, which is a ride around Vietnam with a travelling carnival troupe run by ageing drag queens. I've covered it before at the Luang Prabang fest. I thought it was pretty great.

Apart from the competition, Salaya Doc had the opening film The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to 2012's The Act of Killing. Here, Oppenheimer and his "anonymous" crew continue their examination of the mass killing of leftists, activists and other opponents of military rule in Indonesia in the 1960s. While The Act of Killing rubbed me the wrong way with its focus on the perpetrators of the genocide, allowing them to re-enact the killings in often grandiose and self-aggrandizing fashion, The Look of Silence had me nodding in agreement with its focus strictly on the victims as seen through the eyes of an Indonesian optician, who travels from town to town, confronting the people responsible for his brother’s death. At each visit, a pattern emerges, with the interviewees at first denying having any knowledge of the killings, but the guy keeps gently questioning, trying different lenses as it were, and then there's that look that comes across their face as if to say "Okay, you got me," and they realize they can no longer lie.

The Look of Silence was thematically bolstered during the run of the festival by the films of Indo-Dutch auteur Leonard Retel Helmrich, who was the director in focus and conducted masterclasses in his smooth, flowing, up-close-and-personal "Single Shot Cinema" technique. Indeed, Oppenheimer has acknowledged Helmrich as a big influence. And it's apparent, not only stylistically, but hugely from the Indonesian angle. Among the films shown was Helmrich's series of documentaries covering 12 years of the lives of a widowed grandmother and her family during times of political upheaval in the Suharto regime. I saw Promised Paradise, in which a street-performing puppeteer friend of Helmrich's goes searching for answers about how such terrorist acts as 9/11 and the series of bombings in Bali and Jakarta are justified by Islam. It gave me another view of Islam to ponder along with Die Before Blossom.

A big favorite of the fest was Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema, in which various filmmakers and artists talk about the profound influence of directors Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien and the Taiwan New Cinema movement of the 1980s. Chinlin Hsieh, a programmer at the International Film Festival Rotterdam who also served as a juror on Salaya Doc 5, used her influence to gain access to various figures, from dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei to film critic Tony Rayns.

Also interviewed was Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, at his jungle home in Chiang Mai. He admitted being lulled to sleep by the languid pace of some of the films, and he hoped his films have the same magical effect. "It's like being transported," I think he said, like Scotty from the Enterprise.

A favorite segment of mine was Chinlin's interview with Tsai Ming-liang, which captures the Taiwanese-Malaysian auteur in his Sphinx-like majesty. With the camera set firmly, just as it would be in one of his movies, Tsai just sits there quietly and really, does not need to say a thing. I chatted Chinlin up afterward, and she said she filmed Tsai for an hour but could not get him to admit he was influenced by the New Cinema movement, so that three-minute scene was what she came up with, and it's perfect.

Later, I saw 03-Flats and I thought I recognized the influence of Taiwanese cinema, which I think is especially apparent in the typically slow-paced Singaporean and Malaysian indie films. But maybe that was just my imagination running wild.

More coverage:

Hi-Jaa! Fast and Furious 7 is back on in Thailand

Fast and Furious 7, featuring the long-awaited Hollywood debut of Thai action star Tony Jaa, had been blocked from screening in Thailand by a court injunction, but now seems likely to screen here after all, opening on, no joke, April Fool's Day.

The story of this goes back to last week, just after Jaa finished a press conference to talk to Thai reporters about his own movie Skin Trade as well as his work in Fast and Furious 7 and the Hong Kong martial-arts flick SPL II. That same day, lawyers for Jaa's former employer Sahamongkol Film International, had obtained an injunction from the Civil Court, blocking the film's release.

Talk about bad timing for Jaa and his manager-producer Michael Selby, and by the time reporters at the press conference heard about it, Jaa was already in the air, jetting back to Los Angeles.

Sahamongkol's move to block Fast and Furious 7 was widely reported in the local and international press, but the reality of the situation seemed vague, and gave me pause, which is why I've waited until now to write about it. The supposed injunction seemed to have no effect, other than to get people talking about the film, probably the opposite of what Sahamongkol's domineering boss Somsak "Sia Jiang" Techarattanaprasert intended.

Thai fans of Vin Diesel's car-chase franchise took to the social networks to speak out against the injunction and called for a boycott of Sahamongkol films. That prompted prominent director MC Chatrichalerm Yukol to issue a plea to Thais to not boycott his upcoming film, The Legend of King Naresuan Part VI, which is distributed through Sahamongkol. Film Business Asia had more on that.

Meanwhile, Fast and Furious 7 posters that had been up for weeks still adorned the coming attractions boxes at cinemas, the trailers were still playing and multiplex websites were still touting advance ticket sales ahead of the April 1 release.

It seemed likely that Fast and Furious 7 – that really is what they are calling it in Thailand – was going to go ahead and play, in spite of the court's ruling. Indeed, one multiplex chain, SF Cinema City, said it planned to defy the injunction and show the movie anyway.

Then yesterday afternoon, word quickly spread that lawyers for Furious 7 distributor UIP had succeeded in getting the injunction lifted. So the initial court ruling seemed like an April Fool's prank by Sia Jiang that backfired.

Anyway, fans will get to see Jaa's villain Kiat tangle on the big screen with the late Furious star Paul Walker, in one of his last performances. Of course, there's a clip of the fight on YouTube, and it's embedded below.

At the heart of Sahamongkol's moves is a long-simmering contract dispute. Sia Jiang, recipient of a lifetime achievement honor at the recent Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards, insists that Jaa is under contract with his studio until 2023, as the result of an extension of his first 10-year contract, which kept him tied to Sahamongkol and only Sahamongkol. However, the contract extension was supposedly mailed to Jaa's old home address and apparently signed by a random family member. Jaa, who has become estranged from his family over various disputes (they don't much like his wife), insists the contract is not valid.

In filing for the injunction, Sahamongkol's lawyer named Jaa, Fast and Furious producer Universal and movie distributor UIP as defendants, and demanded 1.60 billion baht, or about $50 million, with 7.5 percent interest until payment is made. That's the amount of money Sahamongkol says it has invested in Jaa over the years, and includes 26 million baht given to Jaa to make the aborted "Eastern western" Ai Noom Gangnam, a.k.a. A Man Will Rise, which had Jaa co-starring with Dolph Lundgren. Those two apparently hit it off big time, declared mutual admiration and set off to work on Skin Trade. According to a story in The Nation today (generated from last Thursday's press conference), only about 20 percent of A Man Will Rise was completed.

Other sore spots with Sahamongkol over the years have included Jaa's infamous meltdown during the making of Ong-Bak 2 and the lackluster performance of 2013's Tom-Yum-Goong 2, which flopped in a local release that wasn't supported in the least by Jaa because he was already on the outs with the studio.

Meanwhile, Skin Trade is due in Thai cinemas on April 23. Selby produced it, and it's directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, the helmer of the critically acclaimed Beautiful Boxer. In addition to Lundgren, the cast also had Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, Michael Jai White and Celina Jade in a story about an Interpol officer (Jaa) and a New York cop (Lundgren) fighting the Russian mob over human trafficking in Bangkok. Jaa also thinks that SPL II might be shown in Thailand, maybe sometime in June. I hope it does get a good release here. It looks fantastic. I wait with bated breath for more injunctions to be sought by Sahamongkol.

By the way, Jaa has stopped using his new Thai name Thatchakorn Yeerum, and has gone back to telling people his name is Phanom Yeerum, or better yet Jaa Phanom Yeerum, but only in Thailand where the new name never really stuck anyway. Elsewhere, he's just plain old Tony Jaa, international action-movie star.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Bangkok Critics award Tukkae Rak Pang Mak

Producer Adirek "Uncle" Watleela takes the microphone to accept the best film award for Tukkae Rak Pang Mak. He also took the stage to accept awards for his friend Yuthlert Sippapak. Nation photo by Tatchadon Panyaphanitkul.

The nostalgic romantic comedy Tukkae Rak Pang Mak (Chiang Khan Story) took the top prizes at the 23rd Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards (ชมรมวิจารณ์บันเทิง) on Wednesday night, winning trophies for Best Film, director, screenplay and acting.

While writer-director Yuthlert Sippapak wasn't on hand to accept his awards, the team of producers from the new shingle Transformation Films was there, among them Yuthlert's long-time collaborator, producer Adirek "Uncle" Watleela.

Released last September, Tukkae Rak Pang Mak chronicled the 20 or so years in the rocky romance of childhood friends in Chiang Khan, the rustic town on the Mekong River in Northeast Thailand's Loei province, where Yuthlert calls home. It was the first release from Transformation, which is a partnership between the producers behind the former Film Bangkok marque and Major Cineplex, Thailand's biggest multiplex operator. It performed only modestly at the box office, so the awards haul was welcomed by the Transformation team.

The actor who played Tukkae, Jirayu La-ongmanee, a former child star, repeated his success from the Thai film industry's "Oscars", the Subhanahongsa Awards. He won the prize for best actor for his portrayal of a young filmmaker who is named after a house lizard. He faces an awkward situation when his first screenplay is to be made into a movie, and producers want his former childhood crush to be the star. But she and Tukkae had a big misunderstanding.

Jirayu's co-star Kongkiat Komsiri was named best supporting actor for his turn as Tukkae's level-headed best friend. Though Kongkiat has appeared on screen before, he's better known as a director of gritty movies like Slice and Muay Thai Chaiya. Hopefully his next one, the historical action drama Khun Pan (ขุน พันธ์ ), will actually be released this year.

Another big winner was Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's The Master, a documentary about the enigmatic Bangkok movie pirate Mr. Van, whose bootleg videos provided a generation of Thai filmmakers and critics with an education in world cinema in the days before bitorrent downloads. A colorful array of prominent directors and movie critics appear in the film, sharing their memories of Van VDO in talking-head interviews against a simple backdrop. It was named best documentary and was also awarded for film editing.

Another documentary, Nontawat Numbenchapol's By the River, about a Karen village left devastated by lead mining, won for its original score by Karen musicians.

And the GTH studio's hit romantic drama The Teacher's Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya) took two prizes, for cinematography and art direction.

With nods in nearly every category, the leading nominee was Lee Chatametikool's 1997-set drama Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Phawang Rak), which took the top prizes at the Subhanahongsa Awards. At the Bangkok Critics Assembly Awards, it ended up with just one trophy, for best supporting actress for Apinya Sakuljaroensuk.

Lee was also among the nominees for the Critics Young Filmmaker Awards, which were introduced last year. Perhaps the Bangkok Critics were confused, since Concrete Clouds was Lee's first feature as a director, and while he's still a relatively young man, he's been overseeing award-winning editing and post-production for indie and commercial features in Bangkok for more than a decade.

Other Young Filmmaker nominees included Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul, director of Mother, Chonlasit Upanigkit, director of W., and Krisada Tipchaimeta who made Somboon, all first features from rookie filmmakers. The prize went to Uten Sririvi and Jinnaphat Ladarat, who made the indie country comedy Phoobao Thai Baan E-San Indy (ผู้บ่าวไทบ้าน อีสานอินดี้, or simply PBTB), which caused something of a stir when it was first turned down by Bangkok multiplex operators but became a box-office hit in Thailand's rural Northeast.

There's more on the ceremony in a story in The Nation today.

  • Best Film: Tukkae Rak Pang Mak (Chiang Khan Story).
  • Director: Yuthlert Sippapak, Chiang Khan Story
  • Screenplay: Yuthlert Sippapak, Chiang Khan Love Story
  • Actor: Jirayu La-ongmanee, Chiang Khan Story
  • Actress: Sucha Manaying, The Couple (รัก ลวง หลอน, Rak Luang Lon)
  • Supporting actor: Kongkiat Komesiri,  Chiang Khan Story
  • Supporting actress: Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Concrete Clouds
  • Cinematography: Narupon Chokkanapitak, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Film editing: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit, The Master
  • Original song: “Jaikhwam Samkhan” by the Musketeer, from Rak Mod Kaew (รักหมดแก้ว, a.k.a. Love on the Rock)
  • Original score: By the River
  • Art direction: Akradej Kaewkote, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Best documentary: The Master
  • Young Filmmaker Award: Uten Sririvi, Jinnaphat Ladarat, Phoobao Thai Baan: E-San Indy
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Somsak Techaratanaprasert, producer, and Amara Asavanond, actress
  • Box Office Award: I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Indie filmmakers recruited to tutor Bangkok, Jakarta academy sessions

Mofilm, the outfit that puts on short-film contests worldwide and serves as an online social network for filmmakers, has recruited guest tutors for the upcoming sessions of the Academy for Southeast Asian Filmmakers.

Set for Jakarta from May 11 to 13 and Bangkok from May 15 to 18, Mofilm's Academy for Southeast Asian Filmmakers has tapped established local indie film talents.

In Jakarta, the sessions will be led by director Mouly Surya (What They Don't Talk About When They Talk About Love, Fiksi) and Sheila Timothy, a producer whose credits include a pair of far-out freak-outs by Joko Anwar, Pintu Terlarang (The Forbidden Door) and Modus Anomali (Ritual).

Bangkok's sessions will have writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasmee (Tang Wong, So Be It) and producer-director Pimpaka Towira (The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong, The Songs of Rice).

Other big names are expected to follow. Meanwhile, the March 31 deadline for applications is fast approaching. Check it out at mofilm.com/ASAF.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You takes two prizes at Osaka

Last year's No. 1 movie at the Thai box office, the GTH studio's romantic comedy I Fine ... Thank You ... Love You (ไอฟาย..แต๊งกิ้ว..เลิฟยู้) took two prizes at the 10th Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Director Mez Tharatorn was named most-promising talent while I Fine's lead actress Preechaya "Ice" Pongthananikorn, won the Yakushi Pearl Award for her performance as a well-to-do celebrity English-language tutor who is reluctantly roped into teaching a boorish blue-collar factory worker to speak English so he can get back with his Japanese ex-girlfriend.

GTH stock-company leading man Sunny Suwanmethanon works his eyebrows into overdrive as the sneering greaser-styled biker guy in a factory jumpsuit, who needs schooling so he can join his Japanese girlfriend in the States. She's played by another GTH regular, spunky Japanese former AV idol Sora Aoi.

For Mez, the Osaka honor follows his previous box-office successes with the critically acclaimed Little Comedian and the 2012 box-office smash ATM Er Rak Err.

Formulated for GTH's proven demographic of well-heeled socially networked urban Thais, the fractured-English film came close to breaking Ong-Bak's record for first-day earnings, with 29 million baht. It then proceeded past the Thai industry's benchmark 100-million-baht threshold in its first three days, with the reported opening weekend earnings boosted by a Wednesday opening that coincided with the still-observed December 10 government holiday, Constitution Day. As the year ended, I Fine had hit the 200-million-baht mark and was still going. Like other GTH pictures, it's also proving popular in other Asian territories.

I Fine was also among nominees for the recent Subhanahongsa Awards, with 11 nods, including best film, director, screenplay and acting prizes.

In Osaka, other awards went to Taiwanese director Yee Chee-yen's youth drama Meeting Dr. Sun, which took the Grand Prize and the Audience Award. Film Business Asia has the full rundown.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Look of Silence, Y/Our Music set for Salaya Doc

The Look of Silence, an award-winning followup to Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing about genocide in Indonesia, and the SXSW entry Y/Our Music, which covers on-the-fringe Thai musicians, will be the opening and closing entries of the fifth Salaya International Documentary Film Festival, which runs from March 21 to 28 at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, and from March 24 to 27 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center.

Noteworthy films include Southeast Asian Cinema – When the Rooster Crows, covering directors Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines, Garin Nugroho from Indonesia, Eric Khoo from Singapore and Pen-ek Ratanaruang from Thailand, and Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema, which traces the influence of such filmmakers as Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien. Among the filmmakers and artists testifying are Apichatpong Weerasethakul – he's in a trailer embedded below.

Other special screenings include Frederick Wiseman's National Gallery, Love Is All: 100 Years of Love and Courtship, featuring rare footage from the British Film Insitute and Yorkshire Film Archive; No Word for Worry, covering the fading "sea gypsy" culture of Myanmar; and The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories, which is a followup to a long-running series of 1960s documentaries about farmers opposed to the ever-expanding Tokyo airport.

Also, there will be the controversial Diving Bell: The Truth Shall Not Sink with Sewol. The film, which caused an uproar at the Busan fest, will have a Q-and-A with the directors following a one-off BACC screening.

Acclaimed Dutch-Indonesian auteur Leonard Retel Helmrich, known for his "single-shot cinema" technique, is this year's "director in focus". Four of his award-winning films will be shown: Eye of the Day, Shape of the Moon, Position Among the Stars and Promised Paradise. He'll also conduct a masterclass for registered participants and be on hand after some screenings for a talk.

And the centerpiece of Salaya Doc is the Asean competition, which this year has seven entries, both shorts and features, from Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Most of that program is detailed over at Bangkok Cinema Scene.

The schedule has just been completed and can be found on the Salaya Doc Facebook page. Also, it is possible to reserve seats online. You can do so at bit.ly/booking-for-salayadoc5.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Golden Swans drop Concrete Clouds back in Bangkok cinemas

While some Hollywood films experience an "Oscar bump" in box-office takings following the Academy Awards, the producers behind the award-winning Concrete Clouds are hoping for a similar boost with a limited re-release in Bangkok cinemas.

Following last Sunday's big win of three Golden Swan trophies at the 24th Subhanahongsa Awards, Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รัก, Phawang Rak), is screening at SF World Cinema at CentralWorld. Shows will be at around 5:50pm nightly.

Winner of best film and best director at the Thai movie industry's version of the Oscars, Concrete Clouds stars Ananda Everingham, Janesuda Parnto, Prawith Hansten and best-supporting-actress winner Apinya Sakuljaroensuk in a story set in 1997 Bangkok, during the Asian financial meltdown. Ananda is a New York currency trader who returns to Thailand after the suicide of his father. While trying to put affairs in order for his estranged younger brother, he attempts to reconnect with an old flame.

In development since around 2010, Concrete Clouds is the long-awaited directorial debut of Lee Chatametikool, a film editor who came up during the late '90s Thai New Wave, and has been instrumental in shaping award-winning Thai indie films of the era, most notably the features of Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Mundane History by Apinya Sakuljaroensuk. Those two returned the favor by producing Concrete Clouds alongside Soros Sukhum and Hong Kong luminary Yonfan.

Put together with support that included Busan's Asian Cinema Fund, Visions Sud Est and Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund, Concrete Clouds premiered at the Busan International Film Festival in 2013 and the International Film Festival Rotterdam in 2014.

Distribution deals include one for the U.K. and Ireland with Day for Night. In North America, it screened at last May's L.A. Asian Pacific Film Fest, and it's hinted that perhaps a series of campus screenings might be organized, so keep your eye out for that.

In case you missed it, the subtitled trailer is embedded below.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Concrete Clouds flies high at Subhanahongsa Awards

Producer Soros Sukhum accepts the Best Film award for Concrete Clouds, alongside Lee Chatametikool. Cast and crew, including producers Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Yonfan and Anocha Suwichakornpong are also present. Courtesy of FNFAT.

Despite the best efforts of the nominating body to steer voters toward more-commercial fare, the indie drama Concrete Clouds was the big winner at the 24th Subhanahongsa Awards, the Thai film industry's version of the Oscars.

Coming from a field dominated by mainstream studio entries,  Concrete Clouds (ภวังค์รักPhawang Rak), the feature debut by veteran indie film editor Lee Chatametikool was named Best Film, and it also took the Golden Swan trophy for best director.

The glitzy black-tie-optional ceremony was held on Sunday night at the Thailand Cultural Center in Bangkok.

The Best Film award was accepted by veteran indie Thai producer Soros Sukhum, alongside Lee. They were joined onstage by other cast and crew and the co-producers, indie Thai directors Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Anocha Suwichakornpong, who have worked closely with Lee in the past, and Hong Kong producer Yonfan.

Long in the works, Concrete Clouds is the story of a Thai currency trader who is forced to return from New York to Bangkok after the suicide of his father during the 1997 financial crisis. While dealing with his estranged younger brother, the trader seeks to rekindle romance with an old flame.

Going into the awards, Concrete Clouds had nine nominations, including screenplay and all four actor categories for the cast of Ananda Everingham, Janesuda Parnto, Apinya Sakuljaroensuk and Prawith Hansten. Prolific young starlet Apinya rounded out the trophy count for Clouds, winning best supporting actress for her performance as a lonely neighbor girl who has a fling with the younger brother.

Two from Concrete Clouds – best supporting actress winner Apinya Sakuljaroensuk and the best director winner Lee. Winning best actor Jirayu La-ongmanee from Chiang Khan Story poses for photos in the background. Courtesy of FNFAT

The remaining acting prizes were spread among a trio of other mainstream-industry films – Jarinporn Joonkiat as best actress for her disarming turn as a stubborn young woman in Nonzee Nimibutr's romantic drama Timeline Jodmai Khwam Songjam (Timeline จดหมาย-ความทรงจำ); former child star Jirayu La-ongmanee as best actor for his performance as a lovelorn young filmmaker in Yuthlert Sippapak's Chiang Khan Story (Tukkae Rak Pang Mak, ตุ๊กแกรักแป้งมาก); and screen veteran Pongpat Wachirabanjong as best supporting actor in the new stage-leaning adaptation of a famous Thai novel that had been made into a film before, Plae Kao (The Scar).

The leading Subhanahongsa nominee was the GTH studio's romantic drama, director Nithiwat Tharatorn's The Teacher's Diary (คิดถึงวิทยา, Kid Tueng Wittaya). With 13 nods in all, it won the most prizes, grabbing up six Golden Swan trophies, including screenplay, cinematography, editing and music.

And a new category this year sought to reflect the trendiness of documentaries screening in cinemas. Three were nominated – By the River, Nontawat Numbenchapol's examination of a Karen village hit by an environmental disaster; Somboon, Krisada Tipchaimeta's heartfelt look at an elderly man's efforts to care for his chronically ailing wife; and The Master by Nawapol Thamrongratanarit.

And, not surprisingly, the award went to The Master, which reflects on the film industry with an entertaining line-up of Thai film figures and critics who recalled their early cinematic education in the form of bootleg videos purchased from the infamous Chatuchak Market pirate vendor Mr. Van.

The lifetime achievement award was also handed out. This year it went to action star Sombat Methanee, who at one time or another claimed a world record for most filmed appearances. Getting his start in 1960s, he rose to be the Thai film industry's top leading man after the death of Mitr Chaibancha in 1970. Among his hundreds of films was the 1965 romantic comedy Sugar Is Not Sweet by Ratt Pestonji, the 1966 version of the historical battle epic Bang Rajan, the gritty 1970 action thriller Choompae and the 2000 Thai western Tears of the Black Tiger.

This was the second year for a new voting process instituted by the Federation of National Film Associations of Thailand, which aims to make the Subhanahongsas more like the Academy Awards, in which members of the industry cast votes for films depending on their areas of expertise. Previous years had relied on a jury of critics and old industry hands nominating and selecting the winners. However, the niggling problem remains of not all Federation members actually getting out to see the films. There's more about that in a story today in The Nation.

Best documentary winner Nawapol Thamrongratanarit (The Master) and best actress winner Jarinporn Joonkiat from Timeline. Courtesy of FNFAT

  • Best Film – Concrete Clouds
  • Director – Lee Chatametikool, Concrete Clouds
  • Screenplay: Nithiwat Tharatorn, Thosaphol Thiptinnakorn, Suppalerk Ningsanon, Sophana Chaowiwatkool, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Actor – Jirayu La-ongmanee, Chiang Khan Story
  • Actress – Jarinporn Joonkiat, Timeline Jodmai Khwam Songjum
  • Supporting actor – Pongpat Wachirabanjong, Plae Kao
  • Supporting actress – Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Concrete Clouds
  • Cinematography – Narupon Chokkanapitak, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Film editing – Thammarat Sumethsupachok, Pongsakorn Chanchalermchai, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Original song – "Mai Tang Kan" by 25 Hours, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Recording and sound mixing: Richard Hocks, The Couple (รัก ลวง หลอน, Rak Luang Lon)
  • Original score – Hualampong Riddim, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Art direction – Akradej Kaewkote, The Teacher’s Diary
  • Costume design – Athit Thriakittiwat, Plae Kao
  • Makeup – Sirirat Jamfa, Hong Hoon (ห้องหุ่น, a.k.a. Crack My Skin)
  • Visual effects – The Post Bangkok, Sming
  • Documentary – The Master, Nawapol Thamrongratanarit