Indie films find a home at the Bangkok Screening Room
Although I’d heard about Bangkok Screening Room, a new Silom venue for arthouse and independent films, when it opened just over a year ago, my first viewing experience came in June of this year, when Coconuts TV hosted the premiere of Highland: Thailand’s Marijuana Awakening.
Nearly every spot in the 52-seat cinema was taken, with most of the audience staying on for an entertaining post-screening Q&A with director William Mitchell, series host Sebastian Perry, and Coconuts Bangkok editor Laurel Tuohy.
During the after-party in the screening room lounge, I chatted briefly with Sarinya Manamuti, one of the founders of Bangkok Screening Room, and made an appointment for a longer interview with her and business partner Nicholas Hudson-Ellis. My original presumption that BKKSCR would be a shoestring-budget operation run by passionate amateur cinephiles or wanna-be film artists turned out to be very wrong. Sarinya holds a BA in Visual Arts from UWS Sydney and an MA in Arts Management from RMIT Melbourne, while Nicholas has run membership programmes at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, and managed ticketing and customer service at The Australian Ballet. He also has a master’s degrees in Visual Arts from The University of Sydney and Business Administration from RMIT Melbourne. Not exactly amateurs.
The pair came up with the idea of a permanent screening room after successfully organizing the four-day ‘Open Reel Rooftop Film Festival’ at HOF Art Gallery in Bangkok’s W District in 2014.
“During the festival we screened a curated selection of international classics, short films, local video art, and independent films from emerging Thai directors,” says Nicholas. “Three of the four days sold out. That told us there were lots of people in Bangkok who liked the communal experience of watching a movie with others, but weren’t so interested in the big-budget films shown in mainstream cinemas. So we started to think about how we could replicate that success in a sustainable way.”
Along with designer friend Wongsarond Suthikulpanich, Sarinya and Nicholas put together a two-year business plan to found a permanent alternative cinema. In the interim, they organized another hit pop-up cinema for Wonderfruit’s 2015 festival.
BKKSR found its permanent location in an abandoned building on Sala Daeng Soi 1, where they worked with the owners to accommodate a 52-seat cinema on the second floor. Open for just over a year now, the screening room has been doing very well. The film schedule changes monthly with a roster of four to five films, each of them screened 12 to 15 times over rotating time slots from late afternoon to late night. The films stay on the schedule the entire month, regardless of ticket sales, a boon to viewers who need to plan ahead.
The screening room offers access to both local and international audiences that exists at no other film venue in Bangkok. All English-language films are subtitled in Thai in order to reach out to the Thai audience. Likewise, if a Thai film selected for screening isn’t already subtitled in English, BKKSR will create English subs. And for films in other languages, both English and Thai subs are provided. Sometimes the staff create the subs themselves, and other times they receive assistance from students at local university language programmes.
“Any independent director can submit films to be screened here,” says Nicholas. “But one of our requirements is that it must be subtitled in English and/or Thai, depending on the original language soundtrack.”
Whether for new films, classics, or indie one-offs, BKKSR offers an even 50 percent split to producers, with the screening room covering all marketing costs. The policy applies to super-low-budget films that never get standard theatrical release as well, a great deal for the filmmaker as it offers no-risk exposure.
Along with a mix of classic and new international films, at least one Thai film appears in each monthly programme, usually classic Thai productions like Santi-Vina (Khru Marut, 1954) and 6IXTYNIN9 (Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, 2000) rather than modern Thai pop cinema.
The week I interviewed Sarinya and Nicholas, one of my favourite all-time films, Blow Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966) happened to be on the schedule. When I attend an afternoon screening, I’m impressed with the beautifully pro-rez file they acquired, not to mention the cinema’s well-tuned 5:1 surround-sound audio, which added to the impact of the legendary underground pub scene where The Yardbirds blast through “Stroll On” live.
Other international classics screened recently include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, and Lawrence of Arabia.
Aside from the regular repertory, BKKSR collaborates with external organizations to host special film events. Along with the Highlands premiere for Coconuts TV, they’ve hosted a three-day migration film fest for the UN and more recently a three-day Irish Film Festival sponsored by the local Irish embassy.
To supplement revenue from ticket sales, a nicely designed bistro in the screening room lobby serves espresso drinks, sandwiches, bar snacks, popcorn, wine, beer, and cocktails. Drinks are welcome in the screening room. The bistro stays open till midnight, so many patrons stay after the screenings for a bite to eat or a nightcap.
BKKSR’s presence has attracted other creative businesses to what has become known as the Woof Pack Building, including an artisanal ice cream parlour, Japanese men’s fashion boutique, and gallery/multi-performance space—all of which means more reason to linger before or after a film.
For detailed info on upcoming screenings, visit www.bkksr.com
Upcoming November Screenings
Nov. 3-19: Check out Blade Runner: The Final Cut, which is director Ridley Scott’s edit of his original 1982 science fiction and noir detective fantasy.
Nov. 1-26: Don’t miss To Stay Alive: A Method, a documentary film in which rock legend Iggy Pop reads and recites Michel Houellebecq’s manifesto.
Nov. 2-28: Make time for Black Code, a gripping account of how governments control and manipulate the internet in order to censor and monitor their citizens.
Nov. 1-26: Catch Fun Bar Karaoke, a Thai film in which Pu, a misfit young woman, is told by a fortune-teller that her father will die when the house she is building is completed.
By Joe Cummings/CPA Media