Published on September 17, 2007
Nine short films, each running to around 15 minutes, are spooled and ready to celebrate His Majesty the King's 80th birthday. The ensemble will debut next month at Paragon Cineplex, EGV Seacon Square and EGV Pinklao cinemas.
Admission is free.
Unlike the typical birthday tributes, the shorts take their inspiration from different aspects and interpretations of the King's rule.
The Bt3-million project, under the auspices of Professor Apinan Poshyananda, Director General of the Ministry of Culture's Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture, has given 10 filmmakers a free hand to create their own stories and styles.
Three Silpathorn Award-winning directors - ApichatpongWeerasethakul, Pen-ek Ratanaruang and Wisit Sasanatieng - were invited to join the project along with the veteran filmmaker Bhandit Rittakol. The other six directors were selected for their ideas, the best among the 57 submitted for consideration.
Apichatpong's "Nimit" ("Meteorites") depicts the benevolence of the King's rule through the peaceful everyday life of his family in both Bangkok and Khon Kaen Province.
According to fellow director Wisit, the project has the potential to revolutionise the style of short-film in the country.
"So far when we've talked about short-filmmaking in Thailand, we've meant a simple, crude project - amateur efforts with hardly any budget. But the opportunity for well-prepared productions arrived in this case," says the director, whose short "Norasinghawatarn" comes with full-scale special effects, impressive makeup and Khon dancing.
Wisit was given a budget of Bt400,000, but ended up spending Bt3 million on his film. Employing flesh-and-blood actors (other films are animations), his mythological tale only went over-budget for the blue-screen special effects.
"It's a bad habit - I can't control the money," he quips, adding that the Osotsapha production company later stepped in to make up the shortfall.
Wisit's film is inspired by an incarnation of the Hindu god Narayana, called Norasinghawatarn.
It depicts the battle between Norasinghawatarn and an ogre, who has been making trouble in the celestial realm since being given the gift of eternal life.
"The story relates to Thailand, since the King is believed to be an incarnation of Narayana - whose name in this reincarnation is Rama," says the director.
Meanwhile, Wisit's pal Pen-ek throws open the screen to a blind musician, Sila Namthao, letting him choose three songs from the King's songbook, and later explain the reasons for his choices. "Siang Sawan" ("Luminous Sound") is a simple celebration of the King's musical genius, the kind of thing the director hopes would fill His Majesty with joy.
"We don't know the King well enough to make a film about him, so this is more like a present that someone would give Him on a Royal Visit.
"If everyone were blind, perhaps our desires would be fewer and more simple. This has echoes of the King's sufficiency theory, and I hope the film will bring it home to the audience," says Pen-ek.
The words of the blind musician, the director adds, reveal the heart of the theory, beyond superficial notions of adopting rural lifestyles.
Veteran filmmaker Bhandit has picked up a winning script submitted to the project to make the film "Khao Thee Mai Samkhan" ("My First Report") - 20 years after his "Duay Klao" ("The Seed"), also made to honour the King. He takes up the theme of his old film, too - the Royal rainmaking project to relieve the suffering of drought-stricken ordinary Thais.
"We had to overcome the same obstacle for both movies, namely shooting the drought scenes in the rainy season. But I'm older and wiser, so I think this film is a more subtle study." Facing health problems, the 56-year-old director had decided to give filmmaking a break. But he grasped at the chance to make this, his first short feature, despite the limited screen time to fit in all he had to say.
The film depicts a young reporter impatient with a commonplace assignment to cover a drought in a remote community until she witnesses villagers receiving relief from a water tanker and the royal project working to produce artificial rain.
"While everyone else is wrapped in self-concern, His Majesty is concerned only with His people, even in places that otherwise go unnoticed," says the director.
Elsewhere, rookie filmmaker Araya Booncherd aims to enchant children with his tale of magic "9 KhongWiset" ("9 Gifts"). In a bedtime story a father is telling his daughter, the King's different qualities are symbolised by the nine magical weapons He gives to help his people fight a dreadful dragon. The puppets he uses help bring the story to life for youngsters.
Another filmmaker, Sivaroj Khongsakul, uses a loose plot in his "Siang Ngiab" ("Silencio") to tell the story of a soundman's quest to capture the ultimate sound - silence.
He strains to hear it everywhere, but as his journey progresses begins to listen to the people around him. As with Bhandit's theme, the film evokes the generosity of
HM the King in sacrificing His ease to help the people.
"His Majesty listens to the voices of people from every corner of the country, and that's why He remains in everyone's heart," says the Sivaroj.
Though it was a one-off project, the inventiveness of this open-ended commission represents a breakthrough for future films about His Majesty.
Wisit loves the idea, pointing out that it opens the way for anyone to express the personal inspiration they've drawn from His Majesty.
"I want to see films of people's own ideas, because no one can really know the truth," he says.