BANGKOK — If it’s ghost movies, romantic comedies, or romantic ghost comedies, Bangkok’s corporate cinemas have got you covered.
But fans of art house flicks, indie documentaries, classics and alt cinema are mostly out of luck apart from some screenings at Apex’s Lido or House RCA.
Next month, that will change with the opening of the Bangkok Screening Room.
A yearlong project by a trio of cinephiles, “BKKSR” will be a place to see things like Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” which despite winning the world’s highest film honor in 2010, only ran briefly on a few screens back home.
Or an improbable North Korean comedy such as “Comrade Kim Goes Flying,” which will have its Thai debut at the Silom-area theater when it opens in late August.
Behind it are Sarinya Manamuti, Nicholas Hudson-Ellis and Wongsarond Suthikulpanich, three film buffs who wanted to create a permanent venue to screen classic, independent and documentary films with a cinema experience to rival mainstream theaters.
“We’re not competing with those big cinemas. Bangkok Screening Room provides more like a museum-style program which is carefully designed for audiences who wish to see alternative films that are rarely seen in normal cinemas, and they come with Thai and English subtitles,” Hudson-Ellis said.
Still, the theater will be tricked out with 50 seats, an ultra-high-def digital projector, professional surround sound and a small bar/restaurant.
Sarinya said they wanted to make a place to support both Bangkok filmmakers and fans.
“From our research over the past two years, Thai film students and independent filmmakers lack a space to present their work to the public,” said Sarinya, who previously worked at a Melbourne film and media museum. “Also, 30 years ago, there were films from Hong Kong, India and more variety at the cinema. But now, the Thai film industry is dictated by two cinema chains which screen the same old blockbuster films.”
With a shared passion and professional experience in visual arts and moving images, the three previously organized the “Open Reel Rooftop Festival” to screen international classics and films from emerging Thai directors in 2014, and also a pop-up cinema at last year’s Wonderfruit Festival.
They said those experiences inspired them to create a permanent venue.
In addition to “Uncle Boonmee” and “Comrade Kim,” BKKSR’s program kicks off with Japanese punk rock doc “Mad Tiger,” and “Hot Sugar’s Cold World,” a documentary about an American artist who creates music with everyday sounds.
They also plan a cinema classics season, affording audiences the chance to catch the original 1954 Japanese monster movie “Godzilla,” Marilyn Monroe’s 1953 comedy “How to Marry a Millionaire,” 1949 British thriller “The Third Man,” and Hitchcock’s 1958 mystery masterpiece “Vertigo,” rated by Sight and Sound magazine as the best film of all time in 2012.
Each film will show for at least one month with the possibility of extended runs if they prove popular enough.
Build It And They Will Come?
Complications in acquiring a cinema permit and delays in construction pushed back the intended launch date, but it should prove worth the wait. The revamped four-storey building was once Whitespace Gallery, located in the heart of the city near Lumphini Park.
The 300 baht ticket price seems steep compared to other cinemas, but the founding trio insist they will still struggle to turn a profit after dropping large sums of their own money supplemented by a far-short-of-target USD$3,628 (127,000 baht) crowdsourced via an Indiegogo campaign.
“The profit is small just to keep the cinema open and to curate good movies for audiences,” said Hudson-Ellis. “Also, we give more share of ticket revenues directly to filmmakers compared to chain cinemas to support the Thai filmmaker community,”
Instead of ads, BKKSR will show short films by students for free, enabling future filmmakers to get feedback on their technique. Space is also available for film and art talks or special events.
The founders aim to introduce support for the hearing impaired and wheelchair access.
Bangkok Screening Room will open in late August with two shows on weeknights and four on Saturdays and Sundays. Membership packages with extra tickets and other discounts are also planned for sale next month.
The cinema is located on Soi Saladaeng 1 and can be reached on foot from BTS Sala Daeng exit No. 4 or MRT Lumphini’s exit No. 2.