“The fighting is not over. Small errors in history are being revealed and revised. People who have been oppressed for 60 years are learning and knowing the truth. We may have to take a very long time, and that part of history may be very small, but it is now affecting us and crying out loud.”
Thunska Pansittivorakul was born in Bangkok in 1973. His films have been screened at over 100 international film festivals, including Berlinale, International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Hong Kong International Film Festival. His documentary ‘Happy Berry’ won the Grand Prize award at The 4th Taiwan International Documentary Festival 2004. ‘Heartbreak Pavilion’ won the Top Award from Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) at The 10th Pusan International Film Festival 2005. In 2007 he received the Silpatorn Award from the Thai Ministry of Culture’s Office of Contemporary Arts, an accolade also bestowed upon Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Thunska also teaches at Huachiew Chalermprakiet University, writes columns for various publications and runs a production company called SLEEP OF REASON FILMS.
by: Mónica Delgado
desistfilm: The only film that has reached this side of the continent (not without some controversy) is ‘The Terrorists’. What made you become interested in making a provocative “gay film” and then to follow that one with a political confrontational film about Thai history, pushing the limits of fiction and documentary? What changed, regarding your previous films?
Thunska Pansittivorakul: Actually when I first made a movie, I was never interested in other issues but myself. Therefore, every time I direct a film I will ask myself at that time what I am interested in. I’m gay, so that’s why I am interested in gay issues. I made films about myself and people around me. I believe what I do is not different from other filmmakers. However, for ‘The Terrorists’, I was into politics since 2 years ago, because politics began to have an affect on everyday life, especially the crackdown on the protesters. The most important point was before the 19th May 2010 incident. That was when I started the shooting. At first, it was not intended to be a political film, but the incident had an effect on me. My friend’s son, (who I met only a few weeks before that) was shot dead. He just went near the road that ex-Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s government had ordered the troops to blockade. They ordered the soldiers to use sniper rifles from a high building. Unarmed people, both red shirts and non-red shirts were killed. Killing people is cruel enough, but what the government did at that time was to kill anyone who get close to the area. What Abhisit’s government did all the time was to make up false news to slander innocent people and instigate people to hate the victims from the incident. So, I emailed to my producer, Mr. Jürgen Brüning that I had to change my project, and he agreed with me. With curiosity, I brought my camera to the blockade area, in order to express those times. I was very scared. I thought it over for many days. However, the situation was getting more violent and we who live outside the area only knew the information from the government’s side, while facebook was telling us information which was totally different from the government’s. So, I collected all my courage, and went to the area. I remember when a bullet almost hit us. It hit a post less than 1 metre away from us. One time, I found out that in the spot where we used to film, the guy who stood at the spot after us was shot and killed. These situations saddened me. They made me stand fast in finishing this film. I wanted to show the whole world what was happening in this country.
desistfilm: Your mise-en-scène shows 17 fragmented pieces with no relation with each other, which include masturbation, horny youngsters in showers, housewives protesting against the government and protests in the UN headquarters. In your view, what is the relation between these fragments or situations?
Before I made this film, I followed information from facebook. While I am reading a status, I can skip to read another status swiftly, and then can skip to read the status which has nothing to do which the first and the second on I read. I think this method in storytelling really works in telling stories that I can’t say it frankly. (I have to admit that many things I speak of through this film are things that no filmmakers in Thailand at this time dare to speak about. There are things that we, Thai people, still can’t speak of, though they may think about it. The ‘disguised dictatorship’ system which lies to the world that it is ‘democracy’, formed a powerful network and uses the law to control people, to steal freedom of speech from people) That’s why I chose to tell 17 stories which seems to be unrelated, but actually they are all speaking about the same issue, and they are connected to each other by some symbols, such as fish, or light from above. I try to speak about social classes. In the last 3-4 years, there has been an attempt in classifying people. The red shirts were classified as ‘Prai’ or low life peasant. ‘Prai’ are cursed by some groups of people, who think they should die because they are stupid. Even in the past, there was a Buddhist monk who slandered the students who protest for democracy to be ‘communists’, saying that they should be killed. To kill these communists is no different from killing a fish to cook food for the monks. If we kill them, we will get merit. In the first scene of my film, I have recorded the light on the squid boat. To fish the squid, you have to use this light to lure them. This is a symbol connected to the ending scene of this film, which I film the burnt building, and there was a smoke went up to the point of light. I feel that the smoke is soul of many people. I am one of those people who lives in a place where someone is controlling it. That guy lures, traps, destroys, and kills when those people have democratic thought which opposes the dictatorial condition that we are in, through soldiers, courts, and monarchy.
Desistfilm: What made you become interested in making a documentary after 4 previous experiences in the fiction side of filmmaking?
Actually I started by making documentaries. My documentaries use experimental storytelling. My next film will be my first feature film, which is now in the pre-production process. I still collaborate with Jürgen Brüning. Since I’m not used to directing feature films, there will be another producer who will advise me in the filming process. He is Wisit Sasanatieng. My next feature will be a sci-fi drama film called ‘Supernatural’. The film tells the story of Thailand in the next 100 years.
Desistfilm: What are your references or influences in your filmmaking?
You may be a bit surprised that what influences my works all along is not film. It is a set of still images. In 1998, there was an art exhibition at my university. In the exhibition, there was a set of still images. They are images of daily life of a girl and her daily meal. The artist’s name is Xu Tan. The set of still images is called You Are My Sister (1998). Many people may say that the set of photos expresses nothing, but for me, it shouts something out loudly. There are many stories in it, from the plain daily life, to China, which is opening itself and dramatically growing in economics, to the struggle in life, consumerism, hedonism, etc. Another photo that influences me is Wolfgang Tillmans’ Grey Jeans Over Stair Post (1991). I saw it in a photo book in a bookshop that sells imported books. It was a photo of a pair of jeans hanging on the head of the stairs. I don’t know why it was hung there. I don’t know why the photographer took a photo of it. There might be nothing in it, or there might be some meanings hidden more than we can see. These photos are still in my mind. They are things that I am still clinging to when I make films today. What I remember, what I feel, though they may be very small things that seem unnecessary, but for me, everything that has passed in my life is important.
desistfilm: Has digital filmmaking changed the making of films in your country? How?
I think digital has had an effect on filmmakers in every country. The cost of technology is cheaper, the picture quality is better and the size of the camera is smaller. I believe that in the past when we made documentaries, we looked from the bigger picture of the society to the small people in the society. But in the era that technology has been improved, anybody can tell their own stories. Things are reversed. Now we look through our personal self, look what we have found in our lives, to reflect the bigger picture of society. I am also like that. I began from making films about my own self. I indulged in telling what I feel. However, in the past few years, a group of filmmakers have awoken to the political problems in our country and began to express social issues in films more than before. Still it is so shocking that with the process of our government in controlling its people, there are very few films that can tells story more than the filmmaker’s self. The filmmakers are afraid of censorship, of being banned, and of low box office returns. They may even be jailed, according to the new laws.
desistfilm: What is your current situation in Thailand after the comments the film has provoked due to its openly political content?
Frankly, I was very afraid at first. According to our law, every film has to be censored, but I think if I submit it to the censorship board, this film may not be able to travel anywhere. The former government used its power over the limit. They quarantined and eliminated everything that disadvantages themselves. Things started to relax after the last election. The opposition party was elected. The Political poles were reversed. The party that used to be in power wasted their time on making excuses for their mistakes, and blaming the opposition politicians. That is the reason they didn’t have enough time to get interested in a small film I made. Politics seems to be on the right track but the dictatorial power is still there. Many things in our country are not democratic. The media in this country still does the same thing it did when the former government was in power (which is different from the media outside the country). Some group of people still ignore the distorted political history. One ridiculous thing is, there’s a photo of the massacre of 6 October 1976, which appears in my film. This photo is one of Toptenz.net’s Top 10 pictures that shocked the world. However, recently, there is a website that distorts the caption of this photo. That website said that this photo is the photo of a leftist student hit a student with a chair. The truth is, a man who was incited by the rightists and truly believed that these students are extreme communists, hung a student to death and hit the corpse with a chair. The fighting is not over. Small errors in history are being revealed and revised. People who have been oppressed for 60 years are learning and knowing the truth. We may have to take a very long time, and that part of history may be very small, but it is now affecting us and crying out loud. It is asking people to look back to the truth, to find out what the truth is. The exit is not yet to be seen. The end is not yet to be seen. But the big change is coming soon. There are many signals of big change. It may come with the biggest violent incident ever happened in this country, or maybe nothing will happen at all.
More about Thunska Pansittivorakul: http://thunska.com/