October 29, 2015 01:00 By DONSARON KOVITVANITCHA SPECIA
Eight years in the making, veteran Thai director Pimpaka Towira's "The Island Funeral" premieres at the Tokyo Film Fest
ONE OF THE biggest celebrations of movies in Asia, the 28th Tokyo International Film Festival has once again delivered on its promise, screening a selection of features by first-time directors alongside efforts by more-seasoned helmers.
This year, for the first time ever the festival has selected two Thai films, one for the main competition, the other for the Asian Future programme, which showcases Asian directors making their first or second full-length movies.
While Kongdej Jaturanrasmee’s latest oeuvre “Snap”, which opens the World Film Festival of Bangkok next month, enjoyed some success in its screening in the main competition section, Pimpaka Towira’s long-awaited “The Island Funeral” was warmly welcomed by the Tokyo audience at its world premiere yesterday.
It’s taken eight long years for “The Island Funeral” to finally reach the screen.
“We knew it would take a while because the subject is difficult, but we also encountered lots of problems along the way, which delayed it even further,” says Pimpaka, one of Thailand’s pioneer independent filmmakers, who has directed just one feature – the 2007 documentary “The Truth Be Told: The Case Against Supinya Klangnarong” – since making her debut in 2003 with “One Night Husband”.
“I didn’t want the film to consume this much time. Part of the delay is because I tend to want to make films for which it is hard to find funding and the rest was due to other work coming in to which we had to give priority.”
That other work included working as programming director for the now--defunct Bangkok International Film Festival, and serving as producer on many other Thai indie films.
“Now that I’ve finished the film, it is no longer mine but the audience’s. I am happy that ‘The Island Funeral’ is having its world premiere here at the Tokyo International Film Festival. My experimental film ‘Mae Nak’ was screened at the Image Forum Festival in Tokyo in 1998, so it’s like I’ve come full circle. Back in 1998 I remember feeling the same way as I do now, asking myself why filmmaking has to be this difficult,” Pimpaka says.
Written by Kong Rithdee, a film critic, filmmaker and newspaper editor who was raised in a Muslim community in Bangkok, “Island Funeral” centres on Laila, a young Muslim woman from Bangkok who, along with her brother Zugood (Aukrit Pornsumpansuk) and his friend (Yossawat Sittiwong), set out on a road trip to Pattani to visit a long-lost aunt. There, they learn about the violence that has been part of life for more than a decade in this southernmost province and also travel to an unfamiliar, mysterious land.
“The Island Funeral” is one of very few films shot in Pattani. It is also a rarity in that Pimpaka has chosen to use 16mm film.
“The film has a non-realistic atmosphere. Using 16 mm film gives it a blurry and grainy look rather than the crystal clear picture you get with digital technology,” says Pimpaka, adding that when she started working on “The Island Funeral” in 2007, she had no inkling that 16mm would no longer exist by 2015. “It caused a lot of difficulties during the post-production process,” she adds.
“I wanted an actress who is a Muslim. The screenplay was written by Kong, himself a Muslim living in Bangkok, and we needed someone who could represent the identity of Muslim people in Bangkok,” Pimpaka says of her efforts to find an actress for the role of Laila.
To her delight, she eventually found Sasithorn “Heen” Panichnok, a Thai-Indian actress who made her film debut in the early 2000s with a small part in Nonzee Nimibutr’s “Jan Dara”. She later landed the main role in the 2002 disaster film “Taloompuk: The Disaster Storm” and went on to star in Bhandit Rittakol’s 2004 sci-fi thriller “Meteor”. Sasithorn then left Thailand to study at The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in New York.
“Pimpaka contacted me when I was in New York. I read the script and really liked it. As a Muslim, and a member of Thai society, I also felt like the character I was going to portray,” says Sasithorn who recently moved back to Bangkok and is now directing a stage play.
Despite being started in 2007, the content of “The Island Funeral” is not very different from real life. Over the past eight years, various governments have all made efforts to resolve the conflict in the South, so the conclusion of the film is not actually far removed from the present situation there.
“The film talks about creating a world in which different people can live together but we are not sure if it is possible to do create such a world,” says Pimpaka.