On Saturday, Nawapol Thamrongratanarit's 36 _ his first long film _ won the New Currents Award at Busan International Film Festival, and the victory capped a year that has seen young Thai independent directors making their marks on the global film scene.
Nawapol Thamrongratanarit’s 36.
Contemporary Thai cinema found its international footing in the early 2000s with a league of talents _ Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Wisit Sasanatieng, Nonzee Nimibutr _ who elevated the profile of homegrown movies and proved that Siamese films matter. Now that those erstwhile mavericks are enshrined, for the past few years Thai cinema has been looking for the "second-wave" _ not just a lone wolf but a group of film-makers who can make a collective impact _ to keep the pendulum swinging.
Nawapol's win in Busan, Asia's premier movie event, is a hearty signal. As you're reading this, Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul, 23, is showing his first long film, the 60-minute documentary-fiction hybrid called Mother, at the London International Film Festival, reportedly to a positive reception. In the past 10 months, another indie film-maker, Wichanon Somumjarn, has been touring with his first feature, Sin Mesa Fon Tok Mah Proy Proy (In April The Following Year There Was A Fire) at various movie festivals; the film, another fact-fiction crossbreed, won the Special Mention prize in New Delhi two months ago.
Tongpong Chantarangkul's Padang Besar (I Carried You Home), another debut feature film, was shown in Busan last year and has since generated a considerable clout _ the film was bought by a French distributor even before it found distribution in Thailand. It was shown at Lido for about two weeks in September.
Usually, the pattern for small-budget Thai indie film is that the film-maker sends his/her film to international festivals in the hope that it will get selected, or even better, win a prize that will boost the profile. Later, the director will try to persuade local cinemas to screen the film. Wichanon's In April The Following Year and Tongpong's I Carried You Home stuck to this route, to modest success.
Nawapol's 36, however, is an ironic case. The film-maker himself said that he didn't want to use overseas film festivals to build up support; he even expressed doubts about the merit of the international arena and the cultural discrepancies that often come with screening a film to non-Thai audiences. In August, Nawapol self-released 36 _ an impressionist romance made up of 36 fixed shots _ by renting rooms at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and Alliance Francaise and selling tickets through Facebook.
He drew a strong crowd (partly because Nawapol, who had written screenplays for hit commercial films before, has a substantial number of fans), and the model has inspired other indie directors to rethink their strategies.
When Busan picked his film into its slot, it was a bonus. And now that 36 has grabbed the big prize _ which it shares with Lebanon's Kayan _ the film has galvanised the indie film community that this year also saw a sleeper hit in Tae Pieng Pu Diew (or P-047) by Kongdej Jaturanrasmee, a veteran who has now decided to breathe the fresh air of independence.
Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul’s Mother.
About the author
- Writer: Kong Rithdee
Position: Deputy Life Editor