Alternative cinema shows off its rich and fulfilling diversity with the opening next month of the new Bangkok Screening Room
Thailand's independent or art film directors have long faced problems in finding a cinema to show their works. The two major multiplex chains are, perhaps understandably, much more interested in screening mainstream Thai and Hollywood releases that will draw in maximum revenue and when they do agree to screen an indie, it’s usually in just one of their theatres, and with only one screening a day.
There are of course exceptions, with Lido and House in Bangkok regularly giving space to alternative movies but they too have to think of the bottom line and so the films enjoy only a very modest run.
That is all about to change with the opening next month of The Bangkok Screening Room, a 50-seat cinema that will serve not just as a screening hub for alternative films but also as a venue for film lovers to meet.
The Bangkok Screening Room is the brainchild of the Threelogy group comprising Sarinya Manamuti, Nicholas Hudson-Ellis and Wongsarond Suthikulpanich, who two years ago organised the Open Reel Rooftop Festival, a four-day, four-theme orgy of film that presented carefully curated international classics, short films, local video art, and independent films from emerging Thai directors on the roof of W District in Phrakanong. The festival was a success and the feedback, admittedly from a mainly expat audience, was so enthusiastic that Sarinya came up with the idea for a more permanent project.
“We visit Thailand every year and every time we come, we visit museums and art galleries and go to see a movie. But the only cinemas we can find are at shopping malls. There are no stand-alone cinemas like when I lived here 30 years ago,” says Sarinya, who during her years in Australia, has worked for Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and Museum Victoria in Melbourne.
“We also couldn’t help but notice the lack of variety of the films shown in Thailand. The feedback from our rooftop festival confirmed that there is a need for an alternative theatre and so when we went back to Australia, we wound up our affairs and decided to move to Bangkok. It’s a new thing for Nicholas but we want to do it full time. We need attention,” says Sarinya.
After their return, the three organised a second pop up cinema during last year’s Wonderfruit Festival while Sarinya’s childhood friend Wongsarond, an interior designer by training, scouted for a location for their permanent cinema, finally finding it in Soi Saladaeng 1.
As with so many startups, they turned to crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com and while the contributions fell far short of their target,
they decided to go ahead.
Hudson-Ellis, who worked with the Australian Ballet, is enjoying the challenge. “Often the only place talented filmmakers can share their work is by going overseas and joining the film festival circuit. Young filmmakers generally only manage to show their film at film school or perhaps to their friends and have to make a submission to overseas film festivals to show their work a big screen. We think it’s important to share film with the local communities and the BKKSR is the place to do it,” he says.
“We are well aware that this is a new concept for Thailand and that the BKKSR is a niche market, so we have done a lot of research to make sure that we approach the project in the right way and make sure that people aware of the cinema,” Sarinya adds.
The Bangkok Screening Room has just 50 seats and is far more than an upgraded home theatre. Located on the second floor of a building opposite the U Chu Liang Building in Soi Saladaeng 1 off Rama IV Road, the space is being fully renovated and once finished will be installed with the same level of equipment as a standard cinema. That includes a high-end 4K digital projector and professional surround sound.
The cinema itself is almost finished, Sarinya explains, but they need to wait for the entire building to be completed before they organise the grand opening. Right now that’s scheduled for late August but a soft opening will take place before.
“We can’t set the date right now but we will be running updates on our website and Facebook wall as soon as we are ready,” says Wongsaron
The screening programme has been set, says Wongsaron, who is also overseeing the renovations, “We already have a movie programme that will run for about two months and we will evaluate the timeslot after getting feedback.”
The ticket price of Bt300 is higher than that in a multiplex cinema because the receipts will be split 50-50 with the filmmakers. The show time period will be managed fairly and in accordance with the agreement between the BKKSR and the directors.
“Obviously we know that the ticket sales are not going to cover the running costs so we also have a lounge area where people can come and meet each other to exchange and connect,” says Sarinya.
Hudson-Ellis adds that they also provide a bar and a lounge with soft drinks where people can hold special events – “Talks, meetings, parties or product launches,” he says.
And rather than running commercials during the pre-screening period, they have chosen to forgo the benefits and instead give the time to emerging filmmakers to show their shorts.
The cinema will open with an interesting film from North Korea “Comrade Kim goes Flying”. The joint North Korean, UK and Belgium production, which was shot in the country and stars North Korean actors, is a feel-good story about a North Korean coal miner who dreams of becoming a trapeze artist. She is crushed by the arrogant trapeze star Pak Jang Phil who believes miners belong underground and not in the air. Nicholas Bonner, Anja Daelemans and Gwang Hun Kim direct.
Also scheduled to screen is the US documentary “Hot Sugar's Cold World” by Adam Bhala Lough, which depicts the life of a modern-day Mozart, Nick Koenig (Hot Sugar) as he creates one-of-a-kind music made entirely out of sounds from the world around him. When he breaks up with his Net idol girlfriend, (rapper Kitty), he flies to Paris where he grew up, to move on with his life, while hunting for increasingly unique and exotic sounds to sample and turn into beats.
The BKKSR is also bringing back the Thai Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul along with two classics – “The Third Man”, the 1949 British film noir directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, and the original “Godzilla” or “Gojira” in Japanese, which was made in 1954.
ON THE SCREEN
- Tickets cost Bt300. Discounts for special promotions and packages will be announced and updated at their website.
- Visit www.BKKSR.com or Facebook/ bangkokscreeningroom.