Friday, March 13, 2015

Bangkok Cinema Scene special: Salaya Doc 2015

With an abiding focus on Southeast Asia, as well as filmmaking and cultural preservation, the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival returns for its fifth edition from March 21 to 28 at the Thai Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, and from March 24 to 27 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

Opening film
  • The Look of Silence – Director Joshua Oppenheimer continues to examine genocide in Indonesia with this follow-up to his Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, which rounded up the lethal men behind Indonesia’s anti-communist purges of the 1960s. The Look of Silence centers on an optometrist who uncovers the identity of the men who killed his brother. Winner of the Venice fest’s grand jury prize and awards at many other festivals, The Look of Silence has been much acclaimed, and has even been made required viewing for Indonesian military troops.
Closing film
  • Y/Our Music – Unusual figures at the fringes of Thailand’s music scene are featured in this indie doc by Waraluck “Art” Hiransrettawat Every and David Reeve. It journeys through the Isaan countryside and hidden pockets of Bangkok to survey an array of musicians, from the amateur maker of bamboo saxophones to veteran performers of traditional songs. The documentary premiered at last year’s Busan fest, and this week makes its North American premiere at the music-leaning South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
Special screenings

  • Southeast Asian Cinema – When the Rooster Crows – Italian director Leonardo Cinieri Lombroso interviews four of the region's cinema talents: Cannes-winning best director Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines, Singapore’s Eric Khoo, Indonesia’s Garin Nugroho and Thai auteur Pen-ek Ratanaruang. It is generously sprinkled with clips from all the directors’ films, and has interviews with producers, critics and behind-the-scenes talents. I reviewed it at last year's Luang Prabang Film Festival.
  • Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema – Here's a look at the influential stalwarts of Taiwanese cinema, among them Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsien, and how they aided Taiwan’s transformation from a hub of cheap plastics manufacturing to a cultural and technological powerhouse. Artists and filmmakers from other parts of the world are interviewed about how Taiwanese cinema has shaped their work. They include Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul invoking his “film is memory” mantra, along with Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Jia Zhangke, Wang Bing, Ai Weiwei and others.
  • Love is All: 100 Years of Love and Courtship – Rare footage from the British Film Institute and Yorkshire Film Archive covers this history of romance in film, from the very first kisses ever caught on film, through the disruption of war, to the birth of youth culture, gay liberation and free love. It's directed by Kim Longinotto directs, and Richard Hawley, formerly of the British rock band Pulp, provides the soundtrack.
  • No Word for Worry – Norwegian director Runar Jarle Wiik looks at the fast-fading culture of Moken “sea gypsies” in Myanmar, and one young man's efforts to preserve it.
  • The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories – This is a followup to the series of classic documentaries by Ogawa Shinsuke about the farmers who opposed the building of Tokyo's Narita airport in the 1960s. They haven't given up, and are now fighting airport expansion. It's directed by Daishima Haruhiko with Otsu Koshiro, who served as cinematographer on Shinsuke's earlier docs, which I saw at the 2011 edition of Salaya Doc.
  • National Gallery – And the festival continues to fete the esteemed 85-year-old “institutional” documentarian Frederick Wiseman. Last year the festival featured his At Berkeley and this year it's an exhaustive three-hour look behind the scenes of the revered London art museum.

Asean competition

  • The Storm Makers – Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, whose Oscar-nominated The Missing Picture screened in Salaya last year, produces this work by French-Cambodian director Guillaume Suon. It's the story of Aya, a young woman who at age 16 was sold into work as a maid in Malaysia, where she was exploited and beaten for two years without receiving any pay. “I should have died over there”, she says. The director then has a chat with Pou Houy, the notorious head of a recruiting agency who shamelessly admits he doesn’t care what happens to the women he hires, and that he’s only interested in profit.
  • Die Before Blossom – Indonesian director Ariani Djalal focuses on two families during a decisive period of their daughters’ schooling in Yogyakarta, just as public education in Indonesia is coming under political pressure to include more Islamic teachings in its formerly secular curriculum.
  • Lady of the Lake – Yangon Film School student Zaw Naing Oo directs this examination of Myanmar’s “cult of the nat” – spirit worship – in a village on Moe Yun Gyi Lake, in the country’s southcentral Bago Region.
  • Echoes from the Hill – In northern Thailand, a village inhabited by the “Pgaz K’Nyau” – simple humans – is under threat. Their sacred belief is to remain in harmony with nature, even as they come into conflict with the Thai government’s attempts to build a dam and make their ancestral forest lands a national park. Jirudtikal Prasonchoom and Pasit Tandaechanurat, students King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang direct.
  • Madam Phung’s Last Journey – Ageing drag queens lead a transgender carnival troupe around Vietnam. At each town, a pattern is repeated. Locals are at first enchanted by the entertaining visitors, but later at night, after the drinks have flowed, the scene turns ugly, and the troupe has to beat a hasty retreat. Nguyen Thi Tham, who spent around a year embedded with the troupe, directs. I reviewed it at last year's Luang Prabang Film Festival.
  • 03-Flats – Lei Yuan Bin seeks to dispel the dull and drab image of Singapore's public housing program with help from three single women who have made their flats into spaces that can truly be called homes.

Please note that the screening schedule had not yet been completed when I last checked, and that this is only a tentative lineup. I'll aim to have further information in time for my usual update next Thursday. For more details, check or

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