Interview with the trio behind Bangkok’s newest alternative cinema

Bangkok Screening Room (BKKSR), a single-screen boutique theater with just 50 seats, is set to celebrate its soft opening in early September.

Designed to screen movies not normally shown — or given much attention — in Bangkok, BKKSR panders to crowds that love art-house movies, obscure documentaries and small budget offerings from independent movie studios. They’ll also mix in some B-grade movies and classic cinema a la Hitchcock or Fellini.

In a country dominated by two major cinematic chains, the SF Group and Major Cineplex, that screen blockbusters for audiences that care more about shape-shifting robots than cinematic virtue, the unveiling of BKKSR is set to fill a void for audiences who wish to see something a little different.

Coconuts Bangkok sat down for an interview with BKKSR founders; Sarinya “Mew” Manamuti, Nicholas Hudson-Ellis, and Wongsarond “Menn” Suthikulpanich to learn more about their project, the movie scene in Bangkok and geeked out on a few culturally-relevant movies.

Nicholas Hudson-Ellis, Wongsarond “Menn” Suthikulpanich, and Sarinya “Mew” Manamuti

The Trio behind BKKSR

“What’s your favorite film?” This opening question made the trio freeze for a moment.

“Just one?” asked Hudson-Ellis while his wife, Sarinya, laughed as she said there were too many movies to choose from.

A decision was made to narrow it down to five movies per person and even then it proved to be a difficult question to answer for these film buffs.

After much thought, Hudson-Ellis listed his top five favorite movies as: The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Lady From Shanghai (1947), Porco Rosso (1992), and The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

“I still like some blockbuster films. The Empire Strikes Back from the original Star Wars trilogy is still one of my favorite films,” said Hudson-Ellis with a grin on his face.

He concluded his list with Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010), noting happily that this would be one of the movie the BKKSR would be screening during its launch.

Sarinya, whose favorite director is Sofia Coppola, started off her list with Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985).

“With a professional background in art installations and exhibitions, to see Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, where the film was one moveable set made it incredible to me. The lighting and the set in the film, it all happened in one go.”

Sarinya talked passionately about the cinematography of each movie as she continued to list her five. They included: Victoria (2015), Spirited Away (2001), Holy Mountain (1973), and a tie between two Alfred Hitchcock films; Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963).

The third member of the trio was a childhood friend of Sarinya’s, Wongsarond is a designer who came up with the cinema floor plan and was responsible for location scouting. He said that the movies that really touched him were documentaries.

He went into detail on a documentary he had just seen about the architect Tadao Ando.

According to the founders, BKKSR was created to be a hub for movie-lovers like themselves to meet and talk.

 

BKKSR Conception

The idea for BKKSR came about when the trio realized the independent cinema scene here in Thailand was lacking. “Most theaters here are in a shopping malls. There weren’t really any stand-alone ones,” said Hudson-Ellis, who wished to change that.

Sarinya noted that there were more when she was young but she felt that the culture had kind of died down. Along with it, the wide variety of movies shown. “Now, you’ll just find blockbuster films in theater. We noticed that there was a lack of a variety.”

The idea of opening an independent theater began to take hold in their minds.

In 2014, the trio organized the Open Reel Rooftop Festival, on the roof of the W District, a community mall in Phra Khanong. The festival was a four-night cinematic event in which the trio curated movies from emerging Thai filmmakers.

A year after that, the trio took part in another event. This time they did a pop-up movie screening at Wonderfruit Festival.

The success and positive feedback from these two events was the inspiration the trio needed to find a permanent space to do what they love; screen more movies.

In order to do so, Sarinya, who spent most of her life in Australia, decided to move back to Bangkok with her husband.

“There’s already a community of movies lovers here in Thailand and a lot of talented Thai filmmakers who lack the space to showcase their work,” said Hudson-Ellis on why now was the perfect time to open a theater that caters to the alternative movie lovers of Thailand.

After five years of deliberation and an online crowdfunding campaign, which fell short of target, the trio remained steadfast in their conviction and is now expecting their theater to open this month.

BKKSR Establishment

When asked what made their cinema different from others, Sarinya talks about the content. “Films we screened at BKKSR will be different from what is being shown at other commercial theaters.”

“We are not competing with other commercial theaters,” added Hudson-Ellis, who promised patrons of BKKSR a different experience than they get at other commercial theaters.

Based on research the trio had done over the past two years, they found out that most aspiring filmmakers here found it difficult to come to an agreement with the large movie theater chains and their movies ends up not being screened here in Thailand.

“There’s so many young and cool filmmakers in Thailand that lack the proper platform to showcase their work. Lots of these filmmakers either just put their work online or go straight to the overseas audiences. Their films don’t get a theatrical release in Thailand,” said Hudson-Ellis.

Striking up a deal with these filmmakers for a split box office of 50/50 percent, the trio is providing a way for these filmmakers to gain some revenue. “At the same time, we provide them a way to interact with their audiences on a local basis,” said Sarinya.

“They put their heart and soul into it and we want them to be able to live off their chosen career,” explained Hudson-Ellis on the business model of the BKKSR.

Addressing the steep price of their tickets, which run THB300 a piece, they referenced the 50/50 percent ticket revenue deal they have with filmmakers whose films they will show.

Another feature that makes BKKSR different from other theaters is the screening of short film in place of advertising before the features.

“Usually before a screening, you’ll see 20 to 30 minutes of commercial but with us, that time-frame will be allocated to the screening of short film and movie trailers. Anyone can share their short film with us free-of-charge,” said Sarinya, who added it was a great way for aspiring filmmakers to gain feedback on their work.

 

Inner-workings of BKKSR

“There’s also the subtitles. Some of these movies will be making their Thai debut and most of them do not have Thai subtitles yet,” said Hudson-Ellis, who mentioned that the trio had specially commissioned a translator to add subtitles to movies BKKSR will screen.

“I’ve been to a lot of pop-up screenings in Thailand in which the movies shown only have English subtitles and it tends to skew more towards expats or a very small group of film lovers,” he added. “All of our movies will have subtitle tracks.”

Thai subtitle tracks will be provided for English-speaking movies and Thai and English tracks for foreign movies in other languages. The trio maintained that they want BKKSR to be accessible to everyone,  local and foreign.

Responding to questions over copyright issues, Hudson-Ellis spoke of the process the trio has to go through before they can screen a movie.

“We have to contact the distributor or the filmmaker to obtain permission and work out a deal,” said Hudson-Ellis. “Unless that particular movie is in the public domain”

Asked how their movie screenings would be scheduled, the trio responded that there would be three screenings per day on weekdays and that each movie will run for at least a month.

“If it proves to be popular, there might be extended run,” said Hudson-Ellis, whose background in ticketing and customer service with the Australian Ballet proved indispensable when coming up with the movie screening schedule.

Fridays and Sundays will feature four screenings and Sunday will have five. The theater will be closed on Mondays.

Movies scheduled to be screened by BKKSR will be divided into two distinct seasons, Contemporary Film Season and Classic Film Season.

Their first block of contemporary films will incliude, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010) and Comrade Kim Goes Flying (2012), a comedy set and filmed in North Korea.

 

 

Two documentaries are also slated to be screened as part of the contemporary film season. The first is Mad Tiger (2016). It’s a documentary about the New York based Japanese Punk band “Peelander-Z.” The second documentary Hot Sugar’s Cold World (2015) is about the American record producer Hot Sugar.

As for the classic film season, slated to be screened are The Third Man (1949), Godzilla (1954), Vertigo (1958), and How to Marry a Millionaire (1953).

Located on Sala Daeng Soi 1, the BKKSR will be on the second floor of a building that’s currently under renovation for a major re-branding. The theater will boast a high-resolution digital projector, a professional surround sound system, and a lounge area where patrons can purchase drinks and snacks.

Visit Bangkok Screening Room official website or their Facebook page for more information and updates.

 

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