Thursday, 19 November 2020

Avalon

Thunska Pansittivorakul’s new autobiographical documentary Avalon (แดนศักดิ์สิทธิ์) begins with a full-frontal sex scene between Thunska and his then-boyfriend Harit Srikhao. (Co-director Harit’s exhibition Whitewash was censored by the military in 2017.) Harit is twenty years younger than Thunska, and the dynamic between them recalls the similar opening sequence in Battle in Heaven (Batalla en el cielo) by Carlos Reygadas.

Around half of Avalon’s one-hour running time consists of sex tapes recorded at different stages of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, including a ménage à trois with Itdhi Phanmanee, who co-directed sPACEtIME (กาล-อวกาศ) with Thunska and Harit. Few contemporary films are as revealing (both physically and emotionally) in their exploration of an artist’s sexual history, and Avalon has more in common with New York underground films of fifty years ago, such as Carolee Schneemann’s Fuses and Kathy Acker’s Blue Tape.

Although Thunska has included hardcore sequences in several of his previous films—Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา)—Avalon is his most explicit work. It’s also a logical extension of his increasingly participatory filmmaking style: in Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม) he attempted to pull down a man’s shorts, in the short film Unseen Bangkok (มหัศจรรย์กรุงเทพ) he touched a man’s penis while interviewing him, and in Reincarnate he masturbated one of his actors.

Avalon also includes scenes filmed at a housing project abandoned after Thailand’s 2011 floods. The floods were mismanaged by Yingluck Shinawatra’s incoming administration, though Avalon is less political than Thunska’s other recent films, such as Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ) and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล; also co-directed by Harit). (For Thunska, however, sex on screen is itself a political act.) The deserted location, with an empty swimming pool, could be a metaphor for the Avalon of the title: an idyllic and private space, like the island of Arthurian legend.

There is also a flipside, however: the film charts the disintegration of Thunska and Harit’s relationship, and the empty pool evokes Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les diaboliques, with its own doomed love triangle. (The title sequences of Avalon and Les diaboliques both feature lingering shots of murky, stagnant water.) The accusations and recriminations resulting from the break-up (blocking each other on social media, etc.) are the least engaging aspects of the film.

Avalon received its world premiere on 28th October at the DOK Leipzig film festival in Germany. A Thai release would be impossible, though after his film This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน) was banned, Thunska has refused to submit any of his films for classification. As he told me in an interview for Thai Cinema Uncensored, “Since then, I decided not to show any of my films in Thailand.”

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Thai Cinema Uncensored

Thai Cinema Uncensored
My first book, Thai Cinema Uncensored, went on sale today. Published in paperback by Silkworm Books in Thailand, it will also be on sale at the Thailand Book Expo in Muang Thong Thani) from tomorrow until 11th October, and at the Mini Book Fair in Bangkok from 7th to 16th December (at Lido Connect) and from 8th to 21st December (at CentralWorld).

Thai Cinema Uncensored is the first full-length history of Thai film censorship. The book examines how Thai filmmakers approach culturally sensitive subjects—sex, religion, and politics—and how their films have been banned as a result. It also features interviews with ten leading Thai directors: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Yuthlert Sippapak, Pen-ek Ratanaruang, Nontawat Numbenchapol, Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Thunska Pansittivorakul, Ing Kanjanavanit, Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Kanittha Kwunyoo, and Surasak Pongson.

It is in stock at Asia Books branches, Thammasat University Bookstore, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok; at Chiang Mai University Bookstore and Book Re:public in Chiang Mai; and at Mary Martin Booksellers in Singapore. Copies are available for browsing at Bangkok Screening Room, the Reading Room in Bangkok, and the Thai Film Archive in Salaya.

It will be released in the US by the University of Washington Press on 21st March 2021, and is available for pre-order at all major online book retailers. It is also available as an e-book (Kindle, Google Books, and Kobo). In Thailand, the cover price is ฿650, and the US edition will be $27.95.

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Santikhiri Sonata

Santikhiri Sonata
Thunska Pansittivorakul's Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา) was filmed in Thailand's northernmost province, Chiang Rai, in the villages of Mae Salong and Hin Taek, whose names were changed by the government to draw a line under their sinister legacies. Mae Salong was renamed Santikhiri ('hill of peace'), and Hin Taek became Thoet Thai ('honour Thailand'), though they were sites of anti-Communist violence during the Cold War. Santikhiri Sonata examines this violent heritage - "A lot of people were killed, including villagers" - demonstrating that, despite their new names, they remain silent witnesses to their traumatic past. They are, to use Dutch artist Armando's term, 'guilty landscapes'.

Similarly, Apichatpong Weerasethakul made several films in and around the village of Nabua, a location with an equally loaded history to that of Santikhiri, as its inhabitants were among the first victims of the anti-Communist purge. In his short film A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (จดหมายถงลงบญม), a narrator recalls the area's past: "Soldiers once occupied this place. They killed and tortured the villagers and forced them to flee to the jungle."

Thailand's suppression of Communist insurgents was a guerrilla war lasting almost two decades. Anocha Suwichakornpong's film By the Time It Gets Dark (ดาวคะนอง) describes how suspected Communists were "thrown out of helicopters or set on fire in oil barrels." Thunska alludes to these 'red barrel killings' in Santikhiri Sonata with a caption describing the elimination of subversives by "pushing them into a 'CXII Red Suitcase'". The Roman numerals refer to Thailand's notorious lèse-majesté law, article 112 of the criminal code, which Thunska addressed in Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Santikhiri Sonata also comments on more recent cases of state violence. Military cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died during a training exercise in 2017, and his internal organs were removed to prevent an autopsy determining his cause of death. The central characters in Santikhiri Sonata discuss a cadet "whose insides, heart, and brain were all taken out of his body". Similarly, a young human-rights activist, Chaiyaphum Pasae, was killed at a military checkpoint in 2017, and the film describes the circumstances of his death: "eyewitnesses say he was unarmed, and was beaten before being shot." More provocatively, a song composed by King Rama IX, Echo (แว่ว), is repurposed as an ode to Chaiyaphum's memory.

The director's trademark sexual content is also present. In fact, Santikhiri Sonata is his most explicit film since Reincarnate (จุติ). It includes a montage of clips from gay porn videos, progressing from 'solo' scenes to hardcore material, accompanied by Jaran Manopet's folk song บ้านบนดอย ('home on the hillside'). (The song ends with the words "overflowing kindness" as a porn star reaches his climax.) This combination of homoerotic imagery and political critique is a consistent feature of Thunska's films, including This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ).

Another trait in Thunska's work is the blurring of boundaries between documentary, drama, and autobiography. His films are densely layered, their fictional narratives juxtaposed with archive footage, historical captions, and on-camera interventions by the director. Santikhiri Sonata, with its metatextual behind-the-scenes sequences, is his most structurally complex film to date.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

หนักแผ่นดิน

The Nation
Yesterday, army chief General Apirat Kongsompong invoked arguably the darkest period in Thailand's history when he recommended a song associated with violence and intolerance. At a press conference, Apirat was asked to comment on the Pheu Thai party's manifesto pledge to reduce military spending after the 24th March election. In response, he said that they should listen to หนักแผ่นดิน ('burden of the land'). He then issued an order for military radio stations to play the song, though the directive was rescinded shortly afterwards.

หนักแผ่นดิน, composed by Boonsong Hakritsuk in 1975, denounces anyone not affirming their loyalty to the nation, religion, and monarchy as traitorous 'scum of the earth'. The ultranationalist song fomented anti-Communist violence when it was repeatedly broadcast in the days before 6th October 1976. It was the anthem of the Village Scouts, a paramilitary group that stormed Thammasat University on 6th October. Forty-six students were killed by paramilitary and state forces, and their corpses were desecrated by a baying mob.

The song was also the theme tune to a film of the same name, directed by Sombat Methanee in 1977. The Village Scouts are the heroes in this anti-Communist propaganda movie. (Rachel V. Harrison discusses this and similar films in a chapter of Cultures at War.) Apirat's invocation of หนักแผ่นดิน despite (or because of) its incendiary legacy sends a disturbing signal that the army has barely changed in the past forty years. (Apirat's father, General Sunthorn, led the coup that resulted in the 1992 'Black May' massacre. The apple didn't fall far from the tree.)

Thunska Pansittivorakul's documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) examines the nationalist fervour stoked by state propaganda such as หนักแผ่นดิน. In one sequence, filmed at a recent Village Scout ceremony, the Scouts all pledge to defend the monarchy. Cut to: historical footage of Village Scouts attacking the students on 6th October. In Planetarium, Chulayarnnon Siriphol's segment of Ten Years Thailand, a fictional leader and her minions all wear Scout uniforms, in an echo of the Village Scouts: in Chulayarnnon's dystopian vision, the entire country has been taken over by this royalist militia.

Apirat's resurrection of such a divisive song has overshadowed the issue of military spending that Pheu Thai highlighted. As The Nation reveals today, the military's budget has increased by almost a quarter since the 2014 coup. Much of this money has been spent on sophisticated equipment that is entirely redundant, as the Thai army's primary specialisms seem to be massacring Thai civilians and launching coups. (Paul Chambers and Napisa Waitoolkiat discuss military expenditure and corruption in Khaki Capital.)

Friday, 10 August 2018

Queer Film Festival

Queer Film Festival
Vous vous souviens de moi?
This month, Bangkok's Museum Siam is hosting a Queer Film Festival. There will be free outdoor screenings of contemporary gay films on 12th, 18th, and 25th August. The event begins with Queer DigiThaized, five short films shot on digital video, including Thunska Pansittivorakul's Vous vous souviens de moi? (ในนฝนตกลงมาเนสส). The five films were selected by Nontawat Numbenchapol, director of Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง), who will take part in a post-screening discussion with Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, director of Insects in the Backyard (อินเซค อินเดอะ แบ็คยาร์ด).

Monday, 21 May 2018

लिंगम् Project 2018

Linga Project 2018
join #dark
Quasi una fantasia
Mountain Wind
A Season in Hell
लिंगम् Project 2018 is a collaboration between three Thai artists - Kornkrit Jianpinidnan, Santiphap Inkong-ngam, and Thunska Pansittivorakul - who have each made a short video and produced a book of photographs. The artists took part in a Q&A at Asian Culture Station in Chiang Mai on 18th May.

Kornkrit's monochrome, square images, titled join #dark and resembling Robert Mapplethorpe's Polaroids, are printed on a series of unbound white cards. Santiphap directed a music video, Mountain Wind; Whispering to a Wall (ลมภูเขา; กระซิบกับผนังปูน), with stills by Apichat Yimyong. Thunska's video, A Season in Hell (ฤดูกาลในนรก), includes footage from his upcoming feature film Santikhiri Sonata (สันติคีรี โซนาตา).

लिंगम्, or 'linga', is the Sanskrit term for a phallic symbol (representing the Hindu god Shiva), and Thunska takes this literally in his book Quasi una fantasia (อัศจรรย์), which includes some hardcore imagery. There are also stills from his films Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and The Altar (หมู่บูชา).

The three artists' books - join #dark, Mountain Wind, and Quasi una fantasia - are available in a signed and numbered set. (My copy is number 10.) The package costs ฿800, which is remarkable given that the edition is limited to only thirty copies.

PDF

Monday, 19 March 2018

The Documentary
Film Makers Handbook

The Documentary Film Makers Handbook
The Documentary Film Makers Handbook, by Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes, was first published in 2006. It includes interviews with more than a hundred documentary directors, including Thunska Pansittivorakul. Thunska discusses film censorship in Thailand: "We operate everything under a moral frame. This means anything that doesn't fit within our culture, would not be accepted by society."

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

This Area Is Under Quarantine

This Area Is Under Quarantine
Thunska Pansittivorakul's latest short film is a new version of his feature-length documentary This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), released on the Vimeo website today. (This is one of several films Thunska has uploaded to Vimeo, including Liquid and a revised version of Reincarnate.)

After the title sequence, the new version of This Area Is Under Quarantine consists of the original version played at high speed (even faster than the sex scene in A Clockwork Orange), with a "CENSORED" card obscuring most of the frame. Ironically, the only 'uncensored' segment is the most controversial part: footage of the Tak Bai incident, in which seventy-eight protesters died of suffocation after they were detained by the army.

The Tak Bai footage came from a VCD issued by the journal Same Sky (ฟ้าเดียวกน), as Thunska told me in an interview earlier this year: "I got footage from the VCD, and I interviewed some guys in the movie. But because at that time I never knew anything about politics, I asked them. The southern politics is different, so I shot them because one of them is Isaan and one of them is southern."

The new version, like the original, is dedicated to the Tak Bai victims and - more contentiously - to Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, who were hanged in Iran in 2005. The two teenagers have been regarded as gay martyrs, executed for their sexuality, though the truth may be more complex: human rights organisations have since reported that they were convicted of raping a thirteen-year-old boy.

Thunska's new film Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล) deals with the conflict in southern Thailand in more depth. His other feature films are Voodoo Girls (หัวใจต้องสาป), Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม), Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), and sPACEtIME (กาลอวกาศ).

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Homogeneous, Empty Time

Homogeneous, Empty Time
Thunska Pansittivorakul's latest film is the feature-length documentary Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล), co-directed with Harit Srikhao. The title is a phrase from Walter Benjamin's essay On the Concept of History (Über den Begriff der Geschichte), though it was later used by Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities, his analysis of the construction of national identity and nationalism. The film, which is dedicated to Anderson, explores the roots of the nationalistic fervour that has taken hold in Thailand.

In his earlier films, Thunska has criticised individual politicians and generals, though Homogeneous, Empty Time questions the country's entire national ideology (the tripartite motto 'nation, religion, monarchy') and the institutions that reinforce it. The film shows how nationalism and social order are sustained by pro-military and royalist media, with clips from Prime Minister and junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha's weekly address (คืนความสุข ให้คนในชาติ), the propaganda song Returning Happiness to the Thai Kingdom (คืนความสุขให้ประเทศไทย), and a 'Bike for Dad' promotional video.

This is an ambitious film, examining the spread and impact of nationalism across Thai society and throughout the country. Thunska and Harit interview school pupils, Buddhist and Muslim worshippers, Village Scouts, and military cadets, revealing how nationalistic values are inculcated, absorbed, and passed from generation to generation. A Village Scout member expresses his love for the King, and a tear trickles down his cheek. Cadets say they're keen to fight against Thailand's enemies, but they're speechless when asked who the enemies are. (It's been thirty years since Thailand's military has been involved in significant combat, yet its budget continues to rise.)

The interviews are juxtaposed with news footage revealing the ultimate consequences of unquestioning nationalism. Village Scouts vow to defend the monarchy. Cut to: scenes from the 6th October 1976 massacre, when the Village Scouts militia groups joined the army in attacking students at Thammasat University. (This also contradicts the heroic portrayal of the Village Scouts in anti-Communist propaganda films such as หนักแผ่นดิน.) Later, cadets pledge their loyalty to the country. Cut to: photographs of hazing rituals in which cadets are beaten and abused. (One interviewee says: "There is often news of soldiers getting beaten to death during training." This is particularly topical, as army cadet Phakhapong Tanyakan died last month, and his internal organs were secretly removed before his body was returned to his family.)

Homogeneous, Empty Time is a brave and important film, directed while the country is being ruled by a military junta following the 2014 coup. Criticism of the government is prohibited, and the lèse-majesté law criminalises dissent. Also, according to Truth on Trial in Thailand, lèse-majesté is interpreted so broadly that it has included "cases which, increasingly abstract, referred to the broad power structures of Thai society." It's these power structures that the film examines.

Aside from the social and political content, the cinematography is also impressive. There are stunning drone shots of Bangkok's Democracy Monument that open and close the film. (A photograph of Democracy Monument also appears at the end of Thunska's short film KI SS.) Thunska's trademark sexual content is present in one sequence, in which an ejaculation is filmed in extreme close-up, rendered semi-abstract by the macro photography.

There are also moments that border on absurdity. At a Christian high school, a plastic baby Jesus sits on a stack of monoblok chairs, and pupils line up to kiss its foot. A Village Scout leader, wearing the world's brightest yellow shirt, boasts of his meeting with the King: "I peeled a coconut for the King... And the King ate my coconut! A round of applause for me, please!"

The film has not been released in Thailand, and an invitation-only screening was cancelled following the censorship of Harit's Whitewash exhibition. As Thunska told me in an interview this year: "In 2009, my film This Area Is Under Quarantine was banned from the World Film Festival. Since then, I decided not to show any of my films in Thailand." Nevertheless, the filmmakers have exercised a degree of caution, by self-censoring one line: an actor from The Wolf Bride (เจ้าสาวหมาป่า) says "in the story there are XXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX", and the sound is muted, as it was in Paradoxocracy (ประชาธิป′ไทย).

King Bhumibol passed away in 2016, though Homogeneous, Empty Time was made before he died, and his image appears throughout the film, on billboards and public buildings. Thunska explained this to me earlier in the year: "because it's a documentary, if someone questions me, I can tell them, 'You can see something like that everywhere.' But when I make fiction, if I put that picture in the film, I thought I could get some problems." The King's portraits are indeed ubiquitous in Thailand, though royal iconography has previously been cut from Soi Cowboy (ซอยคาวบอย) and Boundary (ฟ้าต่ำแผ่นดินสูง).

Thunska and Harit also co-directed the documentary sPACEtIME (กาลอวกาศ). Thunska's previous feature films are Voodoo Girls (หัวใจต้องสาป), Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม), This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน), Reincarnate (จุติ), The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย), and Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ).

Liquid

Liquid
Liquid, a new short film by Thunska Pansittivorakul, is a condensed version of the first chapter of his feature film Supernatural (เหนือธรรมชาติ), in which two young men caress each other in a bathtub. The scene is filmed impressionistically, with their bodies shown in close-up. Liquid is one of several films (including a revised version of Reincarnate) that Thunska has released on the Vimeo website.

The rhythm is faster than the original sequence in Supernatural, with jump cuts and rapid editing, and the music is more romantic (whereas, in Supernatural, there were monks chanting on the soundtrack). It's also less explicit: the flash of nudity in the Supernatural version has been removed.

Thunska's short film 2060 is also an extract from Supernatural. His other feature films are Voodoo Girls (หัวใจต้องสาป); Happy Berry (สวรรค์สุดเอื้อม); This Area Is Under Quarantine (บริเวณนี้อยู่ภายใต้การกักกัน); Reincarnate (จุติ); The Terrorists (ผู้ก่อการร้าย); sPACEtIME (กาลอวกาศ); and Homogeneous, Empty Time (สุญกาล).

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Reincarnate

Reincarnate
Reincarnate
Reincarnate
Thunska Pansittivorakul has produced a new version of his 2010 semi-documentary film, Reincarnate. The 2017 version, which has brighter and more vivid colour grading, was released on the Vimeo website yesterday.

For the new version, Thunska has added a haze effect in some of the point-of-view shots of the leading actor, Panuwat Wisessiri. At times, this effect represents the director's voyeuristic gaze, though later it suggests the presence of the daughter that Panuwat describes giving birth to, as if her shadow were following him.

One shot in the new version is shorter than in the original: when Panuwat says "I think I am pregnant", the film now cuts immediately to the montage sequence symbolising his labour pains. There is also a minor change to the soundtrack: the sound of crickets chirping has been added to one sequence.

The most substantial addition is a new sequence (actually an out-take from Thunska's more recent film, sPACEtIME) of Nathapong Kaewprom naked in a swimming pool, filmed underwater. This scene repeats a motif from elsewhere in Reincarnate and Thunska's earlier short film, Unseen Bangkok: the director grabbing a particular part of his actor's anatomy.

Thunska's other feature-length films are Voodoo Girls; Happy Berry; This Area Is Under Quarantine (banned in 2009); The Terrorists; Supernatural; and Homogeneous, Empty Time. His early short films, including Middle-Earth, Soak, and Action!, were screened at a retrospective in 2008, followed by an exhibition of his photographs. His more recent short films include The Altar, KI SS, and 2060.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Thailand Eye

thailandeye
Thailand Eye: Contemporary Thailand Art is (at least, according to its sponsor, Prudential) "the first and most comprehensive publication on the Thai contemporary art scene." Steven Pettifor might disagree: his Flavours (2003) was a turn-of-the-century guide to contemporary Thai art.

Thailand Eye may not be the first publication on contemporary Thai art, though it is the most comprehensive, at almost 400 pages. While Flavours profiled only twenty-three artists, Thailand Eye features seventy-five. Thailand Eye is primarily a visual resource, with little analysis or criticism, though it has a detailed appendix listing the previous exhibitions of each artist. In contrast, Flavours has no such lists, though it includes double-page essays on each artist.

The artists profiled in Thailand Eye include Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook (images from her video The Class, which was shown at Crossover and Dialogues), Anupong Chantorn (his painting Perceptless and other works painted on saffron robes), Manit Sriwanichpoom (This Bloodless War, his consumerist parodies of Vietnam War photographs), Prasert Yodkaew (his installation Angel), Thunska Pansittivorakul (stills from his films Middle-Earth, KI SS, This Area Is Under Quarantine, Reincarnate, Supernatural, and The Terrorists), and Kosit Juntaratip.

Of the seventy-five artists, twenty-four were selected for a Thailand Eye exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in London last year. (The exhibition will be shown at BACC in Bangkok from 18th March to 7th August.) The exhibition was curated by Serenella Ciclitira (editor of Thailand Eye and other books in the Eye series on Asian contemporary art), Nigel Hurst (director of the Saatchi Gallery) and Apinan Poshyananda (Permanent Secretary for Culture), though the twenty-four artists were ultimately approved by the Ministry of Culture as the exhibition is part of the Ministry's Totally Thai project.

As a result, some of the more provocative artists in Thailand Eye were not selected for the exhibition. Thunska Pansittivorakul's film This Area Is Under Quarantine, for example, is banned in Thailand, so it had little chance of being included. Likewise, Montri Toemsombat's granite carving Bangkok Art & Coup Centre (a pun on the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre) would presumably have irritated both BACC and the NCPO.

Kosit Juntaratip is the most interesting of the twenty-four selected artists, and the book is a rare opportunity to see photographs of his performances in which he painted with blood flowing from a vein in his arm. Sakarin Krue-On, whose installations were featured in Imply Reply, is also included. Apinan Poshyananda has curated many previous exhibitions, notably Traces Of Siamese Smile (whose 300-page catalogue acts as another broad survey of current Thai art).

Sunday, 15 November 2015

sPACEtIME

sPACEtIME
sPACEtIME, co-directed by Thunska Pansittivorakul, Harit Srikhao, and Itdhi Phanmanee, is a documentary about the three directors and their friend Nathapong Kaewprom, playing truth or dare and discussing their (sometimes painful) love lives. Their mutual sexual histories are gradually revealed, particularly the relationship between Thunska and photographer Harit. (Harit's photographs, including images of preserved foetuses, punctuate the film.)

In Thunska's earlier semi-documentary Reincarnate, a character asks him about the meaning of his tattoos. In that film, he doesn't answer, though in sPACEtIME he explains their emotional significance. The participants all appear as themselves, and the film is completely naturalistic, though the dramatic ending (involving a power cut) invites questions about the line between documentary and 'structured reality'.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Silapathorn: A Decade Of Success
In Thai Contemporary Art

Silapathorn: A Decade Of Success In Thai Contemporary Art
The Terrorists
Thunska Pansittivorakul's provocative documentary The Terrorists will be shown tomorrow as part of an event celebrating ten years of the Silapathorn Award. Silapathorn: A Decade Of Success In Thai Contemporary Art will conclude with a screening of Thunska's film before a play at the Chang Theater in Thonburi, across the river from Bangkok.

Thunska won the Silapathorn Award in 2007. The Terrorists has previously been screened as part of two art exhibitions in Bangkok: Dialogic in 2011 and ประชาเฌอระลึก in 2012.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Supernatural

Supernatural
Thunska Pansittivorakul's latest film, Supernatural, explores themes familiar from his earlier work, though stylistically it marks a significant departure and progression. It's his most ambitious film and his most artistically mature work to date.

Thunska's previous films were either documentaries (This Area Is Under Quarantine, The Terrorists) or semi-documentaries (Reincarnate), and Supernatural is his first entirely fictional narrative. Also, his previous naturalistic, hand-held camerawork is superseded by Supernatural's meticulous compositions and stylised lighting.

Supernatural is a science-fiction film (another first for Thunska, who has not previously worked within a conventional genre), imagining Thailand's development over the next century. The film is divided into chapters, each taking place at fifty-year intervals: one chapter, 2060, was screened in isolation last October, just a few days after it was filmed.

Thailand's future is depicted as glossy and sterile, with human interaction replaced by communication with online avatars. (The title, Supernatural, refers to futuristic virtual-reality software.) This is a dystopian future, inspired by George Orwell's 1984, with a totalitarian state ruled by "the Leader".

Like all futuristic sci-fi, Supernatural is also a comment on the present: Thunska's critique of unquestioning obedience is a brave political statement, though the lèse-majesté law makes a public screening in Thailand unlikely. (The film will not be submitted for classification in Thailand. Thunska's This Area Is Under Quarantine was previously refused classification.)

As in The Terrorists, Supernatural directly criticises some of Thailand's military figures (the sanctimonious Chamlong Srimuang and the unrepentant Pallop Pinmanee) for their various crimes. The characters in Supernatural are all gay, though the film (also like The Terrorists) is more political than sexual. There is one brief sex scene, though it's more subtle than Thunska's earlier films.

With a considerably higher budget and a longer schedule than previously available, Thunska has produced a visually stunning film. Almost every scene is beautifully lit and framed, though a sequence featuring a backdrop of multi-coloured spotlights is particularly effective.

Formal compositions, attempted in brief sequences in Reincarnate, are sustained throughout Supernatural. Reincarnate's metaphysical ending is also expanded in Supernatural, as Reincarnate was adapted from an early draft of the Supernatural script. The final sequence, set in a desert, evokes the conclusion of The Tree Of Life.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Encounter Thailand

Encounter Thailand
My debut feature for Encounter Thailand magazine, Thai Movie Censorship, was published in the October issue (on pages 38-39). The article examines films cut and banned in Thailand, discussing Syndromes & A Century, Insects In The Backyard, Shakespeare Must Die, and This Area Is Under Quarantine, including an interview with director Thunska Pansittivorakul.

PDF

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Sync Talk

Sync Talk
Thunska Pansittivorakul will give a presentation on Creative Politics this Thursday, at the second Sync Talk session. The event will take place at the Asian Knowledge Institute, Bangkok. Thunska has directed numerous short films (most recently, 2060) and several features including This Area Is Under Quarantine, Reincarnate, and The Terrorists.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Design Nation

Design Nation
The Passion Of Joan Of Arc
2060
2060
Design Nation, a festival of music, performance, film, and visual art, opened at the Pridi Banomyong Institute in Bangkok on 29th September, with a screening of Carl Dreyer's silent classic The Passion Of Joan Of Arc. The festival ran until yesterday.

Last night, Design Nation closed with an evening of four film screenings. A Retelling Of Dystopia I (by Nopadol Boonyai) and II (by Teerawat Mulvilai) are edited versions of 1970s action movies with comical live dubbing (as in What's New Pussycat?). The Island Of Utopias (by Pramote Sangsorn) features a poor man searching through the rubble of a collapsed building. Finally, Thunska Pansittivorakul's 2060 is an extract from his forthcoming feature Supernatural.

2060, set forty-eight years in the future, features three men reciting the rules of citizenship (respecting the nation, religion, and monarchy), and discussing a birthday speech by "the Leader". There are echoes of George Orwell's 1984, though it's also a comment on contemporary Thailand. Cutaways to posters of Communist dictators highlight the power of propaganda and cult of personality.

The film ends with direct criticism of the Thai military, featuring photographs from the October 1976 massacre and condemning two former generals (the sanctimonious Chamlong Srimuang and the unrepentant Pallop Pinmanee). Thunska has previously directed numerous short films, and his features include This Area Is Under Quarantine, Reincarnate, and The Terrorists.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

ประชาเฌอระลึก

ประชาเฌอระลึก
The Terrorists
An arts event, ประชาเฌอระลึก, will be held tonight at Bangkok's Soi Rangnam to commemorate the second anniversary of the 2010 massacre. An abridged version of Thunska Pansittivorakul's powerful film The Terrorists will be screened.

Two years after the Thai army massacred its own citizens, there has been no accountability. The military's destructive influence continues, and its immunity is a stain on Thailand's reputation.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Retro Ver-Spective

Retro Ver-Spective
Retro Ver-Spective
The group exhibition Retro Ver-Spective opened yesterday at Gallery VER in Bangkok. The exhibition includes a video by Thunska Pansittivorakul, excerpted from his film The Terrorists (though, at the time of writing, the video was not working).

Retro Ver-Spective will close on 8th April. Gallery VER previously hosted an exhibition of Thunska's photography (Life Show), and a retrospective of his short films (Inside Out, Outside In).