The indie experience
Sarinya Manamuti, Nicholas Hudso-Ellis and Wongsarond Menn Suthikulpanich, who designed the space at Sala Daeng, are the founders of Bangkok Screening Room. The contemporary cinema aims to serve as a platform for local independent filmmakers and films, as well as making non-blockbuster indie films and classics accessible. Having just concluded the Fem Film Festival, which screened movies highlighting struggles and accomplishments of women in honour of International Women's Day, Guru sat down with Sarinya and Hudso-Ellis to talk about Bangkok Screening Room.
Why the need for Bangkok Screening Room?
Sarinya: In Melbourne in 2014 pop-up screenings were popular. Back in 2014 in Thailand, going to the cinema was simply going to the mall. There weren't a lot of outlets showing independent films except for stand-alone cinemas, a lot of which have shut shop. We decided to do a one-off project curating a film. We found a place in W District Phra Khanong on the rooftop, so we started there and it got a really good reception. We had a couple of sold-out sessions. In 2015, we decided to come back and do it at Wonderfruit. After that, we started thinking of doing something permanently because we had a following, although we didn't expect that to happen. We found this space, close enough to public transportation and close to a landmark, Lumphini Park. We started Bangkok Screening Room here in September 2016 and we're celebrating our third anniversary this year. Because of our location people think that it's a sort of hidden cinema, which serves the purpose well.
What sets you apart from the usual cinema?
Hudson-Ellis: It's mainly the curated film programme, which is unlike other events or film festivals in shopping malls.
Sarinya: There's the scale. Fifty-two seats provides a sort of intimacy but we still provide the full function of a professional cinema: It has 7.1 surround sound, a high-quality visual projector and comfy seats that you'll find in a normal cinema.
Hudson-Ellis: We've got more legroom! And lesser ads play before the film. Also just the overall experience, like when you go to a shopping mall you get your ticket from someone who doesn't care about the movie, and if the movie ends late, you have to go through the car park. But here people can relax, have a drink, use the Wi-Fi before the movie. After the movie they can hang out and talk about it or if there's an exhibition they could see it. It's not just going to a place, seeing a movie and getting kicked out. It's a more welcoming experience.
BKKSR Photos: BKKSR
How do you choose which movies to screen?
Sarinya: It's already our passion, I guess, so we don't have to search too hard. We just choose what's around or what's being talked about in festivals or around the world that we think there's a Thai audience for it. Even the film community here, they start talking to us about what films they want us to bring in so it's not just about us curating the films that we like but also what the audience demands. And usually we try to show films that other cinemas won't show.
Hudson-Ellis: Thailand has a pretty big film industry with lots of movies that come out every year but not many indie films, so we try to become a screen for Thai independent picture films.
Sarinya: Most of the time, the big chains will only show small budget films for a week and by the time people know about it, it's already out so we try to show films for a month.
Have you ever been the first to screen a film only to be followed by major retailers?
Hudson-Ellis: Sometimes, but that's good. We think that more independent films in major cinemas is good. We don't want to be the only one. We want to be part of the Thai film community.
Sarinya: I think it's good that there's a trend now where people see the importance of small studio films and major retailers are screening them because they have more cinemas nationwide.
You also welcome personal films by amateur filmmakers for screening?
Hudson-Ellis: Yes, filmmakers can submit their own feature films. I think the last one we did was a science fiction film shot in black and white, and on a phone. It was really crazy. It was a student film but a feature film with a micro-budget.
Sarinya: After they screened it here, they entered it into other film festivals around the world and it got picked up.
Do you prefer indie over commercial movies or is it like food where there are times when you prefer to eat a certain thing?
Hudson-Ellis: I think that's a really good comparison. Variety in everything is great. It's really good to see hard art-house movies that make you think of things that you never thought of before and also see popcorn movies, so last Christmas we screened Die Hard and the last film of the Fem Film Festival was The Craft.
Do you prefer the classics or modern movies?
Sarinya: As a preference I like to see something new so you get to see the development of the film industry or the development of that country where they made the movie. It doesn't have to be from Hollywood all the time. You can have a big blockbuster film from Sweden or Iran or any other place you haven't thought of. It makes me excited.
Hudson-Ellis: Part of the reason that we do older films is partly so that we get into that model of other small cinemas around the world, which have a mix of contemporary independent films and curated classics. There are a number of classic films that have never been screened with Thai subtitles so we do that to make it more accessible to Thai audiences.
What are your upcoming festivals?
Hudson-Ellis: We're going to bring back the LGBT+ film festival in July.
Sarinya: We're bringing it back for a second year because the first year was so successful. This year is really exciting because we invited a local curator, an independent distributor, who specialises in queer films and goes around the world attending film festivals to find films that he loves, buy them and brings them here.
What do you want people to experience when they visit Bangkok Screening Room?
Sarinya: It's like a whole package and not just about film. Iwant them to feel comfortable just hanging out and be brought to another world through film, to just have their eyes opened and have a window to the world with these films. They can also just come with friends, use the space to read or work. If they see a movie, I want them to feel like they got something from it and not just entertainment. g