Anucha Boonyawatana - pic 2

It isn’t the Best of Times for Asian Cinema at the Moment

Not many Asian films are being selected at major film festivals in Europe and the US. The number is constantly lower and lower over the past 5 years. Not just film festival presence, they lack distribution avenues too, says renowned Thai film maker Anucha Boonyawatana. 

  • It was indeed heartening to watch your Malila – The Farewell Flower being bestowed with the Silver Crow Pheasant award at the recently concluded International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). Could you please share your thoughts on Kerala’s film festival?

I’m really impressed with the audience in Kerala. People in Kerala come not just to watch Indian films, but they love to watch international films too. I had a very good experience presenting my film to a full house in Kerala. And, the volunteers were mostly teenagers and students in the university. That’s a great way towards creating a film culture among the new generation.

  • Looking forward to learning more on your foray into the medium of cinema. Please elaborate.

 Though my films are art house and have a poetic style, the film that inspired me to foray into the scene was Titanic (1997). When I was a teenager, I really fell in love with the film that cast a magic spell on the people. I wanted to create films that have a powerful impact on the audiences.

malila - The Farewell Flower was screened to a full house at the IFFK in Thiruvananthapuram

Malila – The Farewell Flower was screened to a full house at the 22nd IFFK  in Thiruvananthapuram

  • We would like to know what the Thai film scene is all about at the moment. Please tell us more on that.

I can say, this is the time of downfall in Thai cinema – for both mainstream and independent films, in term of box office success. Last year, there was only one film, Bad Genius, that was able to surpass 100 million baht business. The Thai people love watching Hollywood films and have lost faith in Thai cinema. We, the Thai filmmakers, have to admit that the production quality of most of Thai film are below standard. There are some titles that have reaped success in international film festivals. But when it comes to distribution in Thailand, the films face problems with Thai audiences. It’s very hard to reclaim their faith in Thai cinema and that would need more support from the government.

  • Have you been inspired by the stalwarts of the film firmament and international cinema?

When I was in the university, I had a chance to watch international films. The old school Asian cinema from Akira Kurosawa, Hou Hsiao Hsien and Satayajit Ray have had a big influence on my work. I also adore the works by David Lynce and Peter Greenaway. For Malila, I took the inspiration from Ozu’s tatami shot (static low e camera angle). When I went on a location hunt, I began to notice that there was almost no furniture in my film, my characters always sit on the ground, lie on the soil or grass, and that’s why I was thinking  about Ozu’s cinematography style. I have, of late, had a chance to watch many films in the film festivals around the world. I love some titles. But it’ll take time to consider which new director has an influence on my film.

Anucha Boonyawatana - pic 1

 

  • You seem to have been fascinated by themes that delve into love and hardships, right from your debut venture Blue Hour. Considering that these themes are universal and reflect the life conditions of humanity, could you elaborate more on your thoughts on these topics?

For one reason, I think that is because I’m part of the LGBT community. I have different experiences and points of view toward love and hardships. I also have different eyes for sensuality and eroticism. Back in the day I was a teenager, like all LGBT people, I’ve been through difficult relationships. And when there was a change in society, my relationships and points of view have also changed. I cannot say what is wrong and right for love and I’m not a kind of person who would want to mourn about this all the time. I am also into other things like arts, philosophy, social issue and even flowers and trees. So, my films may talk about the painful relationships, and also present other themes like philosophy and social problems.

  • Coming to “Malila – The Farewell Flower”, the audience gets to experience a space where love and spirituality coexist. Your film takes it to a totally new level. In the context of Malila – The Farewell Flower, could you educate us on how love and spirituality sheds their statuses as different entities and immerse themselves into a common space?

Personally, I think spirituality transforms love into a more mysterious thing. You don’t need to know the whole story of the two men, but you can sense their love and feeling towards each other, because they are spiritually bonded. In “Malila – The Farewell Flower”, love, spirituality and also flowers and corpses share the same thing that is transient. You can see that impermanence in common life and every space.

  • All your films have the Buddhist school of thought as the underlying theme. Who is Budhdha for you? How would you like to see the enlightened one? 

Anucha Boonyawatana - Malila still

For me, Buddhism is a philosophy more than a religion. I’d like to see Buddha as a common man who went through trial and error, right and wrong. That’s why I choose to portray my monk characters as plain human beings rather than persons that everyone should pay respect to.

  • Though non-violence is the backbone of Buddhism, we get to see Buddhist monks too taking up arms at various points of time in history. This comes across as an irony. It may also be seen that strong religious beliefs, in different regions, have managed to influence administrations, and this has been a topic of debates and discussion all across the world. Could you explain how Buddhism has been influencing the Thai people and the government?

We have had discussions about how Buddhism has influenced the Thai people. It has indeed influenced them, in a very subtle way. In Thailand, religion has no direct connection with the government, they are quite separate. But Buddhism as a religion has a very strong connection with the monarchy.  I think the most important thing is that the Thai people believe in karma, which sometimes can tame people to the point that they are unaware of their rights. Like, when they have problems, some people tend to attribute the situation to old karma of the past life. In my opinion, this is one of the many reasons why Thai people can cope with something unpleasant, like we still don’t have democracy even after so many years.

  • Sex tourism is present everywhere across the globe, and Thailand holds a prominent slot in this regard. It has been written that the most exploited community in the sex tourism arena are the transgenders. Could there be a reason?

Both women and transgenders are exploited equally, but in different ways. Transgender people may be stereotyped as funny and always willing to have sex (which is not true!). And to be a transgender sex worker is like you are stigmatized twice by a society. They are super marginalized people that can easily be exploited by sex tourists and also government officials.

Anucha Boonyawatana - pic 3

 

  • Sexual minorities in India are looked down upon even in this age. They are alienated, and are attacked and harassed in all aspects of social life. Is the scene similar in Thailand too? 

The Thai society is considered one of the most open for LGBT people. Thanks to the strong LGBT communities and the media, I see a lot of better changes. But the discrimination also exists. That may be because Thai people may seem to accept LGBT, if we don’t make any problems or do something against old  traditions. However, not many people truly understand LGBT. A lot of work has to be done in this regard.  And sadly, Thailand doesn’t have any law that supports LGBT rights, like same sex marriage laws and all. Nothing is perfect here, we have to admit that.

  • Has your status as the member of the transgender community brought with it alienation in the film arena?

Not at all, I may be lucky to have an occupation in the entertainment industry, which is very open to LGBT people. I have heard that some transwomen face many problems or don’t even have a chance to be in many male-dominated occupations.

  • I remember watching films made by Apichatpong Weerasethakul at one of the earlier editions of the IFFK. There are many gifted filmmakers like him in Thailand. The award you were chosen for at IFFK has added to the number of film buffs who are eagerly awaiting to see more of your films. Could you elaborate on your future projects?

My next project is still an idea that needs to be develop into a script. It’ll be an erotic thriller that has a transgender as the protagonist. The film will talk about Thai political turmoil in the last 5 years. The style would be more similar to “The Blue Hour” than “Malila”.

All pix courtesy: The film maker's FB page

All pix courtesy: The film maker’s FB page

  • At a time when flicks churned out by Hollywood are the most preferred by even the film goers in the continent we live in, where would you like to place Asian cinema. Do you foresee quality in Asian film content charming the world soon?

It’s very hard for Asian filmmakers now. I’ve noticed that not many Asian films have been selected at major film festivals in Europe and the US. The number is constantly lower and lower from the past 5 years. Not just film festival presence, they lack distribution avenues too. Right now, it’s hard to talk about the future of Asian cinema. I just hope that it will be a cycle – once up and the next moment down.

  • Thai films are being applauded in film festivals outside your country, of late. Do you think added efforts in marketing can do a better job so that the general public – or the film buffs who aren’t necessarily film festival regulars – across the world would be able to watch more films made in your country?

I’m always focused on both filmmaking, and also marketing and distributing. Now I and my team have a plan to release the film in Thailand. This time, it would be wider audiences than what we had for “The Blue Hour”. I just need to start from that point. For worldwide releases, a lot of work remains to be done.