A new cinema aims to bring entertainment to local residents while also giving young filmmakers a venue for their work
Bangkok gets a new movie theatre tomorrow with the opening of Cinema Oasis on Sukhumvit Soi 43. The brainchild of artists Manit Srivanichphoom and Samarnrat “Ing K” Kanchanawanit, the new venue will screen both mainstream and independent films but will also be committed to helping filmmakers.
Indeed, it is showing that commitment by painting a picture of Thailand through an opening series of six films on the theme “Beyond Pad Thai”. Among them are Uruphong Raksadad “Sawan Baan Na” (“Agrarian Utopia”) about a farmer’s life in the north, Ing’s own “Ponlamuang Juling”, which focuses on a teacher killed in the violence of the Deep South, and “Muallaf” (“The Convert”), which zooms in on the relationship between a Buddhist and a Muslim.
Oasis is easy to spot from the entrance to Soi 43. Located on the right, it boasts lattice-work reminiscent of Middle-Eastern architecture. The cinema seats 48 with room for one wheelchair and despite being on the second level, is easily accessed by a ramp and a lift. A gallery takes up the third floor while Manit and Ing’s separate working areas are on the upper levels.
“We built this place because we don’t have a venue to show our movies and we don’t want other filmmakers to suffer the same fate,” says Ing, whose controversial themes have seen most of her work not making it to the screen. Her debut “Khon Graab Mha” (“My Teacher Eats Biscuits”) was banned by the censors. Her documentary “Phonlamuang Juling” (“Citizen Juling”) about the death of a teacher from Chiang Rai in the deep south was turned down by cinema owners. The latest, “Shakespeare Tong Tai” (“Shakespeare Must Die”), saw the couple forced to appeal to the Supreme Court after the Administrative Court refused to lift the ban. And their documentary “Censor Tong Tai” (“Censor Must Die”) about their fight to bring “Shakespeare” to the screen is still unreleased.
The ban on “Shakespeare” was the last straw and sparked their decision to build their own cinema. It joins other non-mainstream venues such as Bangkok Screening Room, Warehouse 30 and the Friese-Greene Club on Sukhumvit Soi 22 and the couple feels there is room for more.
“There are no longer boundaries to watching movies. They can be screened in hotels, in a warehouse and, thanks to streaming, even in the bedroom,” says Manit.
“Cinema Oasis is different,” adds Ing. “We want it to be a space for filmmakers to show their work. We also want to reach out ordinary people, which is why we are not just focusing on art or independent films. We want to see people living in this area – the food vendors, the expat housemaids – having a chance to watch films too.”
Independent filmmakers have long found it difficult to get their work screened. Their power to negotiate is limited and the multiplex inevitably comes out on top. The fees are high, with the filmmaker forced to pay the Virtual Print Fee (VPF), promotion costs and more, and the profit sharing is heavily biased towards the theatre owner.
All of this can top Bt100,000 and even if they find the money, they are at the mercy of the cinema when its comes to where and when it will be screened – usually at a time of day when few people are free to watch a movie.
“Here they can submit their work and it will be considered by our committee following normal procedure of cinema’s operation. We offer a 50-50 profit sharing and our earnings will go the Foundation Cinema Oasis. We are open to everyone and we don’t even have to like the film being screened,” Ing says.
The land on which the cinema is located is owned by Ing and her siblings. She says it was bought by her great grandmother Nueng Singhaseni for just Bt2 per square wah prior to World War II. Today, surrounded by high-rise luxury condominiums and a short walk from The EmQuartier, it’s worth more than Bt2-million per square wah. Ing and her siblings inherited both the land and the houses from their parents and Ing chose to demolish her house to make way for Cinema Oasis, spending more than Bt40 million on the new building. The fully equipped theatre comes with a 2K digital projector showing movies on a 5-metre screen and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround-sound.
Always dressed in simple clothes, Ing certainly doesn’t give the impression of being rich. “I live a frugal lifestyle and I ride a bicycle and because of that I had enough money from my inheritance to create this place,” she says.
The whole building is in the name of Foundation Cinema Oasis and the theatre will double as a multi-purpose space for seminars and shows. The gallery on the third level will also be used for a variety of activities.
“One reason we made it a foundation is because we want to show that we are not doing this for ourselves. It’s not we want to do, it’s what we have to do. We don’t blame other people for our problems,” says Manit.
“We already have filmmakers contacting us and want to show their film here. And if the committee feels that even parts of the film interesting and entertaining, they will be shown as part of a series,” adds Ing.
The film programming will work along the same lines as a curated art gallery.
“We are well aware that some films will appeal to people and not to others so we are not setting limits on programming,” Manit says, adding that they are also open to thesis works and hosting panel discussions with filmmakers and the thesis writers.
“If we can make it, it will create a new dimension on how movies are watched.”
Even though success in business is not a priority, they are hoping to survive. The situation, Ing says, is not very different from when Manit opened his Kathmandu Gallery.
“When he hesitated, I told him ‘build it and they will come’. And it is just like I said, it is successful. We’ve discovered new talents along the way and we hope the same will happen here at Cinema Oasis.”
Right now, Manit is planning to hold a themed series of movies three times a year and will look for other films to fill the gaps.
The opening “Beyond Phad Thai” series also features “Paa” (“The Forest”), “Thudongkawat” (“Wandering”), and the first Thai indie film “Tongpan”. All have been shown in multiplexes but on limited release.
Three of the six films, all with English subtitles, will be shown daily and alternate until Songkran. The directors of all the films will be at Cinema Oasis for a Q & A session after the first screening of each film tomorrow and on Sunday.
On March 24, there will be an opening party for “Eden”, an exhibition of sculpture and photography by Piyatat Hematat at the gallery starting at 6. All are welcome and tickets cost Bt160 for adults and Bt100 for students.
The cinema and gallery are open from Wednesday to Sunday.