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Sanchai Chotirosseranee Interview

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Sanchai Chotirosseranee Interview

>> 日本語

Film Researcher Norihiko Nakamura spent a month from November 3rd 2017 at Thai Film Archive (TFA) in Saraya on the outskirts of Bangkok for his research on Thai film and film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. According to him, from necessary paperwork to the actual day to day research, the deputy director Sanchai Chotirosseranee was a great help. This is an interview with Sanchai Chotirosseranee by Norihiko Nakamura. The first half is mainly about film archiving and its roles, then in the second half their conversation turns to Apichatpong, Art Cinema in Thailand, and their relationship with TFA. It is a precious opportunity to know about present day film archiving and filmmaking in Thailand in a comprehensible way, without too much film archival jargon.

>> Film Archive (Public Organization)

Sanchai Chotirosseranee and his role at TFA

──Okay, let’s start. Please tell me how it was that you got engaged in film archiving.

Sanchai Chotirosseranee

Sanchai Chotirosseranee

I worked at the Thai Film Foundation. Formerly the foundation was an NGO, a non-governmental organization. Our work at the time was to support Thai Film Archive (TFA). Since TFA at that time was a very small governmental organization, they needed a lot of help. Therefore, the Thai Film Foundation’s job was to support TFA. Then, after TFA was changed to a public organization, they got more budget so they were able to hire more people. That was the time when Dome Sukvong, the director of TFA, asked me to work at TFA.

──As the deputy director, what kind of work do you mainly tackle at TFA?

My main responsibility is supervising the administration and management. For example, it is like financing, budget management and planning. Since we are also in charge of programming for film screenings, social events, and movie education programs, I am supervising the staff who do such work.

──How do you and your staff carry out the educational programs?

We are responsible for many education programs. First of all, we support academic papers on Thai cinema. It is just like a university assisting movie theses or dissertations. We support students by providing financial assistance, maintaining financial resources, and holding some film festivals every year in Thailand. In addition, we offer several lectures called Master Classes and welcome various film related guest speakers. The book you have… yes, “ชั้นครู 1 ตัวตนโดยตัวงาน อภิชาติพงศ์ วีระเศรษฐกุล” (Master Class 1: Originality in works: Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2013) is what we published. In addition, there is a project called School Cinema. We invite students to TFA for screenings and have discussions later. By doing so, the senses of film research, film literacy etc. are fostered. Finally, we offer Thai film history courses. All of these are our education programs.

Restoration of Santi-Vina

──TFA is highly regarded in Japan thanks to recent symbolic events. Restoration and preservation of the masterpiece Santi-Vina (shown at the Asia Focus Fukuoka International Film Festival in 2017) produced in 1954, and its screening at the Cannes Classics of the Cannes International Film Festival in 2016. What kind of approach did you take to screen it at the Cannes?

I submitted it to the festival and it was chosen. To explain the actual procedure, first I asked Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes for his Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives (2011), about submitting it to the festival He introduced me to a person in charge of the Cannes Classics.

──What was the reaction from the audience?

The response was very good. Cannes Classics is not a big program, I think it was about 150 to 200 spectators. Some people in the audience were fairly enthusiastic. They loved the color, they loved the restored work. Some of them liked the somewhat cheesy atmosphere of it like old-school TV dramas, so to speak a melodrama.

──Melodrama?

Yes, this is of course one of many reactions. The screening of Santi-Vina was only once at Cannes. Unfortunately, for the other screenings, I did not attend.

──In your paper “Finding Santi-Vina” (Journal of Film Preservation, 2017, pp. 107-112.)you wrote in detail about how much time and effort TFA spent on discovering and restoring the title, and I found it very interesting.

Yes, it took us about a few years to find the film materials and nine months for restoration. As I wrote, before Santi-Vina was discovered, most Thai people had not seen it, and there was just a little information available from a small number of viewers in the past. There is no original film in the whole country. The existence of the film was revealed by the UK’s BFI, Russia’s Gosfilmfond, and China Film Archive. Accordingly, TFA spent about 1700 hours restoring Santi-Vina.

──When I saw the film, I was fascinated. I heard that this masterpiece was also discovered in the past in a state where some scenes were missing. Are many of these masterpieces of Thai cinema still in the state that the originals are missing or in incomplete versions? If so, why did Thai cinema get into such a situation?

Yes, there are many Thai films that are still lost, because in Thailand we didn’t have a domestic film lab, so we needed to send films to Hong Kong or Japan for post-production work. That might have been the reason for their loss, especially when those labs closed down, they did not return the originals, and unfortunately, TFA’s activities were continued under such circumstances. Film archiving just started here about 30 years ago, so it came too late. TFA started in 1984, and it’s impossible to retrieve all Thai films in complete versions. The birth of Thai film was in 1927 and we acquired the first Thai film almost 60 years later when the TFA was founded. That’s why we are in the situation that many original films are missing.

──In the digital age, what difficulties do you have to save and restore films?

Digital preservation is always challenging because of the speed of developing technologies, so we need to catch it quickly. We need to learn and use digital preservation, but it is extremely difficult with our limited resources. For instance, as Fujifilm discontinued film manufacturing, analogue film preservation is also getting really challenging now.

However, now we are quite sure that film’s quality is more reliable than digital technology and longevity because it was proved that if you preserve the film in a good condition, it can last a long time, more than 100 years. On the other hand, we don’t know yet how long digital files would last. So now we rely on preservation of physical film. We need film manufacturing companies, we need film stock, we need film labs, we need every single one of these, but because of the technological shift, the film labs are closing down one by one, and now it’s getting more and more difficult to preserve our film heritage.

“Cinema Enlightens”: Film screenings are important

──TFA holds various Thai films. Furthermore, I felt the passion for screenings as well as preservation and storage. From the point of view of a film archive, what do screenings mean?

We believe that film preservation is not only to save and restore films but also output, which is to present films to the public or to make films accessible to the public. Film screenings are very important because we need to – it’s a way to prove what we are doing. Some people don’t know why we need to find Santi-Vina until they actually see the film and recognize it, like, “oh, yes, this is why we need to preserve the film, why we need to bring films back to us, why we need to restore films”, so film screenings are – very, very beautiful, and a very, very important process for film preservation.

──I learned about TFA through the YouTube account by chance. On your YouTube channel, valuable moving images are uploaded.

The YouTube channel is one of the ways we present films to the public, because the screenings are very important to raise public awareness of film preservation. Both screenings and presenting film are very, very important. It includes a wide range of activities, such as cooperation with international film festivals by bringing films from Thailand to them.

──Perhaps showing films and making them well-known led to the “Cinema Enlightens” campaign you are working on.

>> YouTube Channel Film Archive Thailand

──How did you deal with TV broadcasts such as important news clips, home movies, and videos made by unknown filmmakers or ordinary people? How are you handling them?

Now we are collecting home movies, and some videos from unknown filmmakers, but we don’t do the same for TV broadcasts and news clips, because there are some organizations handling TV broadcasts. Moreover, there are 35 digital TV channels in Thailand. Since our budget is limited, film is our top priority. Maybe in the future when we become a much bigger organization, it might be our turn to handle them.

Pinning Apichatpong in Thai film history

Thai Film Museum

Thai Film Museum

──Next question. The other day I went to Thai Film Museum. The Museum is built in the center of TFA site. I was very excited in that place, as we can learn from the genesis of the Thai film history. Especially I was surprised at a small section of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. How should we position him in Thai film history?

Apichatpong is one of the main figures in contemporary Thai film and its film history. Of course, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the first film in Thailand’s film history to win the Palme d’Or which is the most prestigious award at the Cannes Film Festival. His films are screened at movie theaters all over the world, and of course his films are exceptionally good. Apichatpong is also the latest person who made Thai cinema internationally recognizable, so at the booth of the Thai Film Museum we introduce him as a pioneer of Thai cinema production from an international perspective. For us, he is like one of the key figures of the Thai filmmakers in the history. You cannot study Thai film history without mentioning Apichatpong.

──I would like to shift my question not only about Apichatpong but also about Thai Art Cinema including him. How intimate is the relationship between Thai Art Cinema and film archiving?

We are in quite a good relationship – it’s clear from our personal relationship. I was friends with Apichatpong before working here and he was also in a very good relationship with Dome Sukvong, our director. Thanks to Apichatpong who visited us from time to time in the past, it can be said that TFA was considerably involved in Thai Art Cinema.

As I mentioned earlier, Thai Art Cinema is also extremely important, as we are trying to collect all Thai movies. Therefore, it is necessary to keep a close relationship between Thai Art Cinema and mainstream cinema. We are looking at the future of movie production and are planning to release saved works. If you preserve the Thai Art Cinema for future generations, they can use them in a very good condition, very good shape, so we try to present them. We didn’t only go with the Thai mainstream cinema or Thai Art Cinema. We need to go with both.

──I have heard that Apichatpong is very influential for Thai people who are interested in Art Cinema or art in general. But ordinary people in Thailand don’t pay much attention to Thai Art Cinema, or to Apichatpong. Is it because these artists are disadvantaged for screenings at movie theaters or exhibitions at galleries for some various reasons?

I think there are many reasons why Thai Art Cinema or Apichatpong are not so popular in the mainstream. I think they are popular only in the limited community of the film audience. The limited screenings, the difference of values are also the main factors. Movie theaters are not really working as venues for showing art films equally with other mainstream films. Another reason is, I think people don’t know how to approach Apichatpong’s films. It’s kind of, like they see Apichatpong’s films, and they don’t understand them. This is one of the reasons why people reject Thai Art Cinema. They don’t understand what those films are trying to say.

Apichatpong’s Blissfully Yours (2002) won the “Un Certain Regard” category prize of the International Cannes Film Festival, and it was also shown to ordinary movie goers, but they felt like “What the hell is this?”. But next time they tried to get tickets for Tropical Malady (2004) queuing in a long line. And again, “What the hell is that?”. The mainstream audience can always prefer films whose story can be easy to follow. They want to know the story more than anything else. And frankly I think it is true that we want to know what is actually going on in front of us, and what the film is trying to say.

Judging from what many people are talking about in the Q&A session after the screenings, these tastes exist in reality. And perhaps some of them will not learn how artists approach artistic methods, nor do they care about stories more than artistic ways. For me, it is also important to develop educational methods to improve audience preferences in addition to the theatrical screenings. If they love art, they will love the films of Apichatpong and will love Art Cinema. Otherwise it is difficult for them to accept Art Cinema.

──Very interesting.

Yes. In order to improve such situation, we will have to take time in each country. In other words, you have to improve audience’s tastes of cinema. Even if you think it is actually impossible, there will be a day to see changes. We must take the initiative. And I have to think about how to make audience approach Thai cinema and let them realize that “Oh, this is the reason we have to see the film”. In addition to audiences, film critics, film researchers who teach cinema at universities, and filmmakers need to work together to improve everything. It probably means the development of audience preference.

──That is why Apichatpong, though he is internationally renowned and highly praised, is not received well in Thailand, right?

Yes, I think it’s quite the same thing. I think it is necessary to create a platform to develop Art Cinema and Apichatpong’s works in collaboration with the people mentioned earlier. We have to let people know why Art Cinema is important. Independent films are crystals of creativity. Those filmmakers will be able to demonstrate creativity without a huge budget. Looking at an example when Quentin Tarantino was not a celebrity like nowadays…

──You mean his Reservoir Dogs (1993).

Yes. Reservoir Dogs is not very popular here in Thailand amongst other Tarantino works, but the technique he used for editing and his film language were actually different from the mainstream. But today they have become common techniques. Film technology is developing for creativity and the whole film industry is being promoted by creativity. Creativity is not limited to Art Cinema or independent films, but for mainstream films it is more important to create a box office income, and films loved by audience… films audience can follow easily are in demand. I recognize this as a difference between mainstream cinema, Art Cinema and independent films. Advertising art film for me is an important obligation for everyone who believes it is more than art.

Connecting mainstream Thai films and independent films

──The day before, I went to the city and I watched Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s Die Tomorrow (2017). The venue was packed.

Die Tomorrow is very good example. Nawapol got a really good fan base. He is a very influential person for Thai teenagers or Thai people. He also does script writing. He started making short films first, then his first feature film was called 36 (2012). It was a very simple film but he knew how to promote it. He used Twitter together with other social media to promote the film, and it was quite successful. And he got an award from Busan International Film Festival in this film. For his next Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy (2013), which was also a successful film.

──I felt that Nawapol is an extremely well balanced filmmaker, because he is based on not only the context of Thai Art Cinema, but also on his ability to visualize correctly what present day audience would like to see.

I have to say that you can see his technique in many advertisements he made in a comical way. This is why creativity works, and actually the last couple of years, he also made a mainstream film called Freelance (2015) which is a really nice film, and it got a lot of money. His style is owing neither to rich editing, nor to its action, but to the story. I think he is very talented. He can be a bridge between the independent and the mainstream. I hope that more people enjoy his films.

I mean Die Tomorrow is not his best film, but again I think it’s quite good to see people’s reaction. I’m glad that he is quite successful now. But again, it doesn’t mean that he gets 10 million. Maybe he gets like 2 or 3 million but that’s a lot, that means a lot for Thai independent film.

──Okay, last question. Could you tell me the latest project in progress at the TFA?

On-going project is… the current headquarters is moving to a huge building under construction behind us. I hope that this building will be completed next year. I will manage museum exhibitions and movie theaters as well.

Also, we will reconstruct an old theater in a town. It is 100 years old, and made of wood. I would like to develop it to something like a museum. It is a really big project, so I am happy if you can support us.

──We are praying for your future success from Japan. Thank you very much.

At Film Archive (Public Organization) in Saraya, on 27th November, 2017
Interviewer: Norihiko Nakamura

Norihiko Nakamura: Born in 1991, as a PhD candidate at Kobe University Nakamura’s research is on moving image and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. In Japan, he co-published a book on Apichatpong in 2016, and his long interview with Apichatpong was published in Bijutsu Techo in 2017, which can be read on the website in Japanese (https://bijutsutecho.com/interview/5367/).
Contact: remakingspiderman(at)gmail.com

Language: English

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