Chalida Uabumrungjit & Wimonrat Aroonrojsuriya

The Film Archive (Public Organisation) in Nakornpathom, Thailand. [source

We interviewed Chalida Uabumrungjit and Wimonrat Aroonrojsuriya on February 21, 2020, at Baking Therapy cafe inside Lumpini Rama 8.T. in Bangkok. Chalida and Wimonrat shared with us their personal paths to film, their journey with the Thai Short Film and Video Festival, and the emergence of a regional film network. Listen to their discussion below.

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1. Introduction.

Chalida Uabumrungjit currently works for the Thai Film Archive. She worked for the Thai Film Foundation for a long time, where she started the Thai Short Film and Video Festival. Wimonrat Aroonrojsuriya is a filmmaker who also used to work at the Thai Film Foundation on the Thai Short Film and Video Festival. 

Chalida and Wimonrat. 

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2. Chalida's Early Film Memories.

Chalida shared how growing up in Bangkok's Chinatown, a place packed with standalone theaters that screen Chinese language films, was a starting point for her engagement with cinema. Her family's love toward film viewing also shaped her early cinema experience. As Chinese immigrants, Chalida's parents often watched Taiwanese melodramas in a theater on Sundays. Chalida recalled sitting in between her parents in these screenings because they didn't pay for her ticket until she was around ten. Her two older brothers also introduced her to a lot of Hong Kong martial arts films. 

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3. Wimonrat's Early Film Memories.

Wimonrat grew up in the outskirts of Bangkok and was more exposed to television than films. She watched her first film in the cinema at around five years old. Since Wimonrat and Chalida are both ethnic Chinese, they also watched a lot of films in Chinese shrines, a common place for open-air film screenings. Wimonrat mainly watched television since her family moved further away from Bangkok, and hence, a lack of opportunities to watch films in theaters. She returned to watching films once she entered college. 

Bangkok circa. 1980. [source]

Sri Meuang Theater on Yaowarat Road in Bangkok Chinatown. [source]

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4. Chalida's Path to the Film Archive.

When asked why she chose to major in film and photography in the university, Chalida shared some key influences in her teenage years, including love toward photography, frequently watching films in cinema alone since she was thirteen or fourteen, and experience in an indie theater group in high school. Chalida took production classes and did not see herself as a writer or critic. She talked about how her experience being an assistant to the Thai poet Chiranan Pitpreecha led her to experiences in TV production, newspaper, and the film magazine Film Reel. Chalida also shared her experience living in New York City for a few months as a master student who figured out that she did not want to pursue media studies, but film studies and film archiving instead. Her engagement with film archives shifted from attending screenings and finding lost films to volunteering with the Anthology Film Archive and the Thai Film Archive. It was after her returned to Bangkok from New York City that she started to volunteer at the Thai Film Archive with a year-long weekly film program that screened predominantly Thai films every Friday. 

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5. First Encounters between Chalida and Wimonrat.

One day, Chalida walked passed Wimonrat outside of the Thai Film Archive and asked her how she was doing. Wimonrat shared challenges associated with organizing some screenings at her university. A year later, the two encountered each other again after Wimonrat graduated from university. Then Chalida invited Wimonrat to help out her work at the Thai Film Foundation to organize events like retrospectives and the Thai Short Film and Video Festival. Chalida also briefly shared her experience attending the Tampere Film Festival during her trip in Scandinavia and learning more about what a short film festival could look like. 

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6. Chalida's Short Animation Film.

Chalida described the short film she made during the last year of her university. With only two bolex cameras for students to use, each person only had five days to shoot. Due to the time restraints, Chalida opted to make a puppet animation film with another friend: with her writing the story and designing the puppets while her friend working on the technical aspect of animation. The animation, titled "Rain in May," was made in 1993 after the student uprising and the piece was a satire on the event. 

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7. Wimonrat's Path toward Film. 

When asked about her path from journalism to film, Wimonrat credited a film appreciation class she took in the university. Chalida added that the teachers for the film appreciation classes were those film critics working at the film magazine Film Reel

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8. Alternative Screening Spaces in the 1990s.

Foreign cultural organizations like Alliance France and Goethe Institute were the main places for alternative film screenings from the corresponding country. Chalida recalled attending a workshop in university that was hosted by the Goethe Institute wherein Lav Diaz was one of the participants. In her experience, that was the first time many students and the public get the chance to learn how to make films. Exhibition spaces for local, non-mainstream films were almost nonexistent. This gap was why Chalida and Dome started the Thai Short Film and Video Festival in 1997, using the cinema at the old location of the Thai Film Archive from 1984 to 1998 (currently occupied by National Gallery). Chalida recalled that people were not familiar with "short film," often confusing it with "short story film." 

The 19th Thai Short Film and Video Festival Award Ceremony in 2015. [source]

Audience at the 19th Thai Short Film and Video Festival in 2015. [source]

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9. Starting the Festival during the 1997 Financial Crisis.

Chalida didn't seem to think the IMF financial crisis in 1997 impacted the organizing of the Thai Short Film and Video Festival too much since they already run on very little to no budget with a borrowed VHS projector. Three people, including Chalida and Wimonrat, were involved with the festival: Wimonrat was in charge of the catalogue, Chalida did the organizing, and the other person was in charge of the technical aspect. The challenging of organizing the festival was that there were very little money, and the IMF crisis made it more difficult for the festival to get sponsored. According to Chalida, the festival received 30 film submissions the first year, and most of the audience were people who submitted their films. 

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10. Inspirations for the Festival.

Chalida shared two driving impetus behind the festival: offering people a chance to see non-mainstream films, and providing a space for film students to show their films. There was a student film mini festival before organized by Dome Sukvongse before, but Chalida saw the need to have an organization to ensure continuation of this space. There was a demand for this space: the festival received around 83 submissions during its second year, which was more than double amount of submissions it received the first year.  Chalida also talked about her excitement toward the emergence of local alternative cinephile culture, and filmmakers' yearn for a space to showcase their works. 

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11. Sustaining the Space.

The festival moved from place to place often, pending on people's interests in the festival and sometimes they offered their space to host the event. As for the festival office, Chalida and Wimonrat shared that they used a small room in the old Film Archive at the National Gallery. Another project Chalida initiated was to create a more comprehensive Thai filmography by sorting out filmography data collected by volunteers and doing archival research in the National Library. 

The banner for the 26th Thai Short Film and Video Festival in 2022. [source]

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12. Shifts and Development.

The festival had special programs since the beginning, and as time went by, the programming team has been flexible with showing what they think is interesting to the audience. For example, Chalida introduced longer films into the mix as she got to know more independent filmmakers. Documentaries were added into the Festival also after her jury experience at the 2001 Yamagada International Documentary Film Festival. Wimonrat shared that they frequently thought about stop organizing the Festival since its second or third year due to the difficulty of operating on a low budget and dealing with sponsors. Yet the team kept it going since many young filmmakers had never seen their own films on the big screen, and that having the Festival as a friendly communal space to show their films meant a lot to the community. 

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13. Bringing SEA films to Bangkok.

Chalida discussed how Phillip Cheah helped coordinate a selection of films from Southeast Asia to show at the second year of the Festival. At the 2000 or 2001, Sarawak Millennium Film Festival, Chalida met different programmers in the region and agreed to exchange programs they each curated. Slowly, this "S-Express" exchange network expanded with more regional film festivals or organizations in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, and later Laos and Cambodia. Chalida reflected on the emergence of a SEA regional film network and some reasons behind people's intial lack of interests in regional films. 

S-Express 2013 Program. [source]

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14. Early Internet Spaces for Film Discussions.

Chalida and Wimonrat shared some early film web blogs that cultivated a sense of online cinephile culture. 

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15. The Marathon Format.

Starting from the third Festival in 1999, they had to adopt a marathon format because there were too many films needed to be screened. They have used many different exhibition spaces in Bangkok. Due to the multi-day nature, the Festival mainly used small spaces in cultural organizations, theaters, galleries, and even pop-up sites. These spaces tend to be managed by the team with maybe one more volunteer.

The banner for the 17th Thai Short Film and Video Festival highlighted the marathon format of the event. [source

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16. Navigating Censorship and Staying Underground.

Chalida talked about how the team was trying to keep the Festival low key and under the radar to avoid censorship. After they started to use a more mainstream space and became more in the spotlight, people had more issues with the Festival. Chalida shared with us an incident involving an unsatisfied audience member and the police. 

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17. The Cinema Dojo Workshop.

Chalida discussed the Salaya Cinema Dojo workshop in 2011 that the Thai Film Foundation organized with the Salaya International Documentary Film Festival in collaboration with the Yamagata International Documentary Festival (YIDF). Fujioka Asako of YIDF had some budget to bring in veteran documentary filmmakers as mentors, along with a group of young documentary filmmakers (around ten local young Thai filmmakers and a few Japanese and Chinese filmmakers) to make films together across language barriers. 

A group photo of the Cinema Dojo workshop participants in Salaya, Thailand. [Source: DDCenter]

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18. A Regional Film Network.

In this section, Chalida discussed her experience with DocNet Southeast Asia's two-day seminar in Salaya, a part of  a three-year project initiated by the Goethe Institute with documentary filmmaking workshops, summer schools, and festivals for regional networking. The seminar was where many film professionals in region met for the first time and shared their knowledge regarding documentary history, censorship, funding, cultural politics, and distribution. The seminar offers a very productive space for filmmakers across Southeast Asia to learn about the regional filmmaking landscape, bond over similar struggles, build connections in the years to come.

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19. Changing Landscape for Documentary Films.

Chalida reflected on changes in the documentary landscape in the past decade. She observed that documentary has finally held a more equal status as fiction film in the feature art scene in Thailand.