Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's latest film is inspired by the tweets of a Thai school girl
Mary Malony lives in an unusual world. Her teachers at school wear pilot uniforms and her headmaster owns a canned soup and coffee factory. She lives in an apartment where a hill suddenly appears in her backyard. Like all the girls, she falls for a boy who sits next to the vendor at the railway station. And when she becomes upset after the arrival of the new headmaster, her school nurse tells her she should chant “Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy”, and everything will be all right.
“Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy” is the latest film by independent director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit who enjoyed success last year with his self-funded “36”, which examined the role played by photography in how people and places are remembered. It’s based on 410 tweets of Thai schoolgirl Mary Malony between November 2012 and April of this year, which Nawapol turned into a screenplay. Neither the director nor his crew has met Malony.
Earlier called “The Year of June”, the film is one of the three selected by Biennale College Cinema, a special programme of La Biennale di Venezia and Gucci. It awarded the filmmakers 150,000 euros (Bt6 million) to complete their projects. All three were automatically screened at the prestigious Venice Film Festival. Nawapol’s work was the first Asian project to be selected for this new programme. The two other were “Yuri Esposito” from Italy and “Memphis” from America.
“I came to Venice in January," says Nawapol referring to the first workshop in which he and his producer, filmmaker Aditya Assarat participated.
“The workshop was all about how to pitch your film to win the favour of the jury in just seven minutes. Fortunately Aditya already had some experience in this. I also attended a script workshop where I submitted my script to the mentors and listened to their comments," says Nawapol.
Back in January, Nawapol was thinking about selecting the tweets of one of his own followers, preferably a girl. He later decided to adapt the story from Mary Malony’s twitter feed instead.
“It’s very challenging to adapt another person’s life into a script. I chose Mary because her tweets left me space to fill in my own ideas,” says Nawapol, who chose to finish the script before sending off an email to ask for the school girl’s permission.
“I couldn’t tell her before. Had she known I wanted to use her tweets, what she wrote would have been unnatural. We were aware of the risk that she might refuse but luckily she allowed us to use them,” he continues, adding that he expects to meet the youngster at the Thai premiere of the film.
Nawapol and the team had only a few months to complete the movie and set themselves a tight schedule, allocating two months for the script, 19 days for shooting and one month for editing. “It was very rushed. The film is a little surreal, and we had to
put a lot of effort into the art direction,” he says,
“Filmmakers in Europe have to be very creative in the way they shoot films,” says Nawapol, who penned the screenplay for the hit Thai film “Rot Fai Fah Ma Ha Na Ther” (“Bangkok Traffic Love Story”).
He also managed to bring in “Mary” under budget, crediting this to the lower cost of film production in Thailand.
He’s returned too to the black comedy of his early shorts. “The film comes from my subconscious. I had to make a quick decision about the story and that was an approach that suited me well. The less we think, the more the chance that the outcome will be personal,” says the director.
Paccha Poonpiriya, younger sister of Nattawut Poonpiriya, who directed last year’s hit thriller “Countdown”, stars as Mary. Suri, Mary’s best friend and a leading character in the first half of the film is played by Chonnikan Netjui, who is currently appearing in Kongdej Jaturanrasamee’s “Tang Wong”.
The film also features several important figures in Thai independent cinema in supprint roles. Veteran independent filmmakers Boonsong Nakphoo and Pimpaka Towira play Mary’s father and mother. Winner of the Rotterdam Tiger Award Sivaroj Kongsakul and Nawapol himself play nurses. The very energetic Krisada Sukosol Clapp portrays the tyrannical homeroom teacher, while Prabda Yoon is a teacher who wants to be a stuntman.
Fans of the band Greasy Cafe and the hit indie film “P-047” will be thrilled to find musican-actor Apichai Tragoolpadetgrai in a small cameo role of a photography class teacher.
Feedback from the four Venice screenings varied, with some European filmgoers understanding Thai humour and laughing. Some thought the film was terrific. Others walked out of the theatre.
Nawapol was nonetheless satisfied. “So some loved and some hated it. Some told me the film is too long but I want it to stay this long. It’s supposed to be a epic story about youth. And there’s no hint of how the film will finish until the very end.”
The director distributed “36” alone, using the social networks to advertise screenings countrywide. “Mary is Happy”, which will also screen at next month’s Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, is likely to enjoy a wider release in Thailand as he is already in talks with local distributors.
“I plan to screen this film in November. I can’t anticipate the feedback from Thai audiences, but I think the film is unusual. No one has made this kind of film before in Thailand, but the story is easy to follow,” he says.