Aditya Assarat

Still from “Sunset” segment of Ten Years Thailand (2018). [source]

Aditya Assarat [photo by Philippa Lovatt and Jasmine Nadua Trice]

B. 1972, Bangkok, Thailand

Aditya Assarat is a director, screenwriter, producer, and the manager of Purin Pictures, a fund supporting independent cinema in Southeast Asia. We met with him on 24 February 2020 at Pop Pictures in the Samsennok, Huai Kwang District in Bangkok. He discussed his studies in the United States; opportunities throughout his career; themes of space, identity, and politics in his work; and the development of regional cinema in Southeast Asia.


Contents

1. Introduction | 2. Childhood Memories of Cinema. | 3. Boarding School and Undergraduate in the United States. | 4. Kim’s Video and Music Store. | 5. First Ventures in Filmmaking. | 6. Motorcycle (2000). | 7. Identity and “Outsiders”. | 8. Early Career and Mentorship with Mira Nair. | 9. Rural and City Spaces. | 10. Thonglor. | 11. Politics and Ten Years Thailand (2018). | 12. Purin Pictures. | 13. Defining Southeast Asian Cinema. | 14. ROUNDTABLE. | 15. Thanks.
For your convenience, we have split the interview into fifteen chapters. You can listen to the interview as a single file in its entirety here. A transcript of the full interview can be read here.
  1. Introduction

Aditya introduces himself and talks about growing up and living in various areas of Sukhumvit Road, including the “hip” Thonglor neighbourhood where he currently resides.

2. Childhood Memories of Cinema

Aditya recalls growing up in an English-speaking environment and memories of seeing Hollywood films like Ron Howard’s Willow (1988) in his local standalone, The Washington Cinema, as well as Hong Kong martial arts films on television.

Still from Wonderful Town (2007) [source]

3. Boarding School and Undergraduate in the United States.

Aditya discusses his experience of going to a boarding school in Massachusetts and his undergraduate years at New York University, where he had an interest in Chinese communist history.

4. Kim’s Video and Music Store.

Aditya describes living alone in a large city in the 90s. He shares how his passion for cinema was ignited upon discovering Kim’s Video and Music, a VHS rental store on St Mark’s Place in the East Village of Manhattan. The filmmaker believes this store was formative in his education, introducing him to the work of auteurs like Krzysztof Kieślowski. He describes the surrounding neighbourhood and his daily routine. He recalls discussions with immigrant employees in his accommodation building about Polish cinema.

5. First Ventures in Filmmaking.

A new interest in film inspired Aditya to start writing screenplays. He suggests that even then, the content of his work was always very personal. His enjoyment of writing encouraged him to enrol in a summer workshop at New York University. Aditya then applied to master’s programmes and went to study film at the University of Southern California. He suggests that the main benefit of this programme was now having access to the tools to make films.

Still from Wonderful Town (2007) [source]

6. Motorcycle (2000).

Aditya talks about making his first short film, Motorcycle (2000). At the time, the director was planning his final thesis project for his film programme. He explains that a feeling of being outsider in Los Angeles, compounded by the exciting emergence of a Thai New Wave at that time, encouraged him to return to Thailand to make his short film. Aditya recalls trying to get in touch with other practitioners at that time, and finally meeting Pongthorn (Bui) Bejrajati, who helped shoot the film. He talks about filming in a village in the Northeast of Thailand, and the influence of Lao Khamhawn’s book Fa Bo' Kan on the narrative and the imagery. Aditya then describes the experience of travelling with the film to different festivals, recalling a screening at Alice Tully Hall at the NY Shorts International Film Festival in 2000, and the positive reception he received at the Clermont-Ferrand Film Festival in 2001.

7. Identity and “Outsiders”.

A question about studying abroad impacting perspectives on Thailand prompts Aditya to describe how his upbringing and the significant time he spent in the US have led to a feeling of being an “outsider” in different contexts. He suggests that this feeling can be found in his work, particularly in his second feature, Hi-So (2010).

Still from Hi-So (2010) [source]

8. Early Career and Mentorship with Mira Nair.

Aditya recalls starting out as a music video director when he moved back to Thailand and the skills he gained from this experience. Meanwhile, he explains that he was continuing to make short films. He talks about being accepted on the Sundance Film Lab programme in 2004, and in the same year being selected by the Rolex Arts Initiative to work as protégé with Mira Nair. Aditya recalls his experience shadowing her during the making of The Namesake (2006), and the courage it gave him to make his first feature.

9. Rural and City Spaces.

Philippa’s question about the different approaches to working in rural and city spaces prompts Aditya to consider a trajectory throughout his career that has move further towards the heart of the city. Aditya shares what he considers to be the psychological characteristics of these spaces. He cites “Bangkok Blues”, his segment in the anthology film Sawasdee Bangkok (2009), as a particular turning point in his career towards more biographically personal spaces and content.

Watch “Bangkok Blues” segment from Sawasdee Bangkok (2009). [source]

10. Thonglor.

Aditya talks about his upcoming project The Thonglor Kids, scheduled for release in 2021. He talks about the nature and potential constraints of independent filmmaking and how he achieves a sense of control over his work. Discussion turns towards the Thonglor neighbourhood itself and the development that Aditya has witnessed there over time. He describes the characteristics of the space over time.

11. Politics and Ten Years Thailand (2018).

Building on Aditya’s description of The Thonglor Kids as a film that explores what it means to be living in contemporary Thailand, conversation turns to the engagement of his work with current politics. Aditya talks about the events of last fifteen years in Thailand and how this affects daily life. He talks about his involvement in the omnibus film Ten Years Thailand (2018) and images of censorship in the news that led to the idea behind his segment, “Sunset”. The success of Ten Years (2014), an anthology film made in Hong Kong at the time of the Umbrella Revolution, led to himself, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Wisit Sasanatieng, and Chulayarnon Siriphol being brought together to work on a similar project focused on politics in Thailand. Returning to his latest project, Aditya implies that Thonglor can be seen as a synecdoche of sorts for wealth in Thailand, and his belief that a lot of political conflict boils down to “a friction between people who have things and people who don’t”.

Still from “Sunset” segment of Ten Years Thailand (2018). [source]

12. Purin Pictures.

Aditya talks about the founding of his non-profit foundation Purin Pictures with Anocha Suwichakornpong and Visra Vichit-Vadakan. Their goal is to provide financial aid for artistic films in Southeast Asia which are lacking support from the markets and from institutions. He is critical of the lack of government grants which he believes is holding back a generation of filmmakers. Aditya discusses European foundations such as the Aide aux cinémas du monde in France and the Hubert Bals Fund in the Netherlands, and the support they have provided for Southeast Asian filmmakers.

13. Defining Southeast Asian Cinema.

Aditya considers how regional and production contexts, as well as the influential style of figureheads such as Lav Diaz and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, contribute to the shaping of a “Southeast Asian cinema”. Aditya also discusses commercial domestic filmmaking and its limited appeal outside Thailand, a trend he suggests can also be observed in the commercial filmmaking of other countries Southeast Asia such as Malaysia and the Philippines.

14. ROUNDTABLE.

Aditya discusses the Purin Pictures ROUNDTABLE initiative, which aims to build and network filmmaking communities. He talks about recent efforts to develop more work from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, after noticing that their applications often struggle to receive funding. Starting in 2020, ROUNDTABLE will help practitioners from these countries to produce short films.

Still from "Bangkok Blues", Sawasdee Bangkok (2009). [captured by Matthew Gray]

15. Thanks.

Philippa thanks Aditya for sharing his responses.

Webpage published 26/03/2021.