The Arts

Thai Films Ready For International Screening

The Thai film industry is down but not out

Two interesting productions that have emerged in the Thai film industry during these bleak times of COVID-19 blackout are films of entirely different genres, both of which have the potential to put Thailand on the international stage.

First is the film “Memoria” by veteran indie filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and on the other end of the spectrum is the horror film “The Maestro: A Symphony of Terror” by Somtow Sucharitkul. Both directors are Silpathorn Award laureates that recognizes living contemporary Thai artists. Both have a large cult following.

Apichatpong’s debut film “Blissfully Yours” was awarded the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, but due to its graphic love scenes, it was censored in Thailand. His ongoing conflict with the Thai Censorship Board led him to form the Free Thai Cinema Movement, and has even protested against the draft ratings law outside the parliament building.

“Memoria” is an international production starring Tilda Swinton, and was filmed in Colombia, and will have its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in July 2021, the first time a Thai filmmaker has made it into the main category of this prestigious film festival. It revolves around Swinton’s character who is haunted by a sonic boom that leaves her sleepless, and she sets out to find its source.

Incidentally, we would like to congratulate Apichatpong for being selected to receive the 32th FIDMarseille (Marseille Festival of Documentary Film) edition’s Grand Prix d’Honneur. The festival will take place mid July.

Meanwhile, followers of Somtow will expect nothing less from “The Maestro” than the grand music and horror narrative that he is known for. The Thai-American writer/composer was once the president of the Horror Writers Association, and is known for his books “Vampire Junction” as well as the cult horror film, “The Laughing Dead” which he wrote and directed.

As a musical impresario, he founded Somtow founded Bangkok Opera, the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra, the Siam Sinfonietta, a youth symphony orchestra, as well as the Orpheus Choir of Bangkok.

“The Maestro” came about when the youth orchestra began to languish as a result of the COVID lockdown. Young musicians who can’t play music together begin lose focus, so it was on Maestro Somtow to come up with an idea. He took advantage of the COVID regulation that only permits gatherings of up to 20 people for film production purposes, and together with director/cinematographer Paul Spurrier (whose acting credits include ”The Wild Geese”), they quickly devised a story, with Somtow writing the script and score, and eventually being roped in to play the lead role of conductor-turned-monster which, he admitted, “was not far from reality”. 

The story - which combines the production speed, budget and absurd elements of a B-movie - tells of a talented, but down-and-out, composer/conductor who rounds up a group of renegade musical kids to rehearse and perform his magnum opus in a deserted house. He will stop at nothing to ensure his music is delivered, spiralling into madness as a result. The catchphrase “My music will live forever… You won’t” says it all.

And the young musicians not only had to play music, they also had to become actors, but there was nothing that a few tough acting workshops couldn’t overcome. Also taking part – at greatly reduced fees – were local thespians Vithaya Pansringarm and Sahajak Boonthanakit  (who have also just returned to Bangkok from the film set of Ron Howard’s “Thirteen Lives”), David Asavanond and Michael Shoawanasai.

But it’s not all dark and dastardly. Weirdly comic moments pop up such as when the Maestro threatens his kids, screaming, “Stupid boy, there is no free pizza! There is never free pizza!”

It is also set to have its European premiere at the Oldenberg Film Festival, Germany, this September. Festival director Torsten Neumann remarked that it was "such a bold film, touching all the right tones", and is even discussing the possiblity of having the Siam Sinfonietta play at the film's opening. 

Let’s hope audiences in Thailand will get a chance to see these films in the not too distant future.