BANGKOK — After winning three top honors at the Thai film industry’s annual awards show, an independent film seen by few will get another big-screen outing for those who missed it this week.
Soon after Anocha Suwichakornpong’s second feature “By The Time It Gets Dark” or “Dao Khanong” won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing at the Subannahongsa Awards on Sunday night, people began asking when the film was in theaters – there are a few showings in Bangkok through Saturday – with some admitting they’d never heard of it.
“This is the first time that Subannahongsa’s Best Picture was announced and I didn’t know anything about the film,” @PooklySWE tweeted.
Others questioned where would even see such a film in a media market with two corporate cinema chains showing mostly popcorn fare.
“Where do people watch independent films like ‘Dao Khanong’ that won Subannahongsa? Normally, there are only GDH films in theaters,” @Smileyploy_ tweeted, referring to a mainstream studio that churns out feel-good films.
The film was first premiered in Switzerland’s Locarno International Festival in 2016 before traveling to several festivals.
It examines the 1976 massacre in which university students were slaughtered and in some cases their bodies desecrated at Thammasat University. The state asserted that fewer than 50 died; Survivors put the death toll at more than 100.
The movie premiered in Thailand on Oct. 6, the 40th anniversary of the massacre and was officially released Dec. 8.
With its complex narrative that weaves the lives of student activists, actors, a film director and waitress into different layers, “By The Time It Gets Dark” reflects the fragile factionalism that continues through today, and how historical fact gets warped into distorted perception, all set in a milieu of hopelessness and loss.
The choice of a film examining a topic that has become virtually taboo seemed bold for an industry that, from the outside looking in, seems preoccupied with formula rom-coms and ghost story remakes.
Since abandoning a jury system in 2013, the Subannahongsa or Golden Swan Awards are now decided in part by a small group of insiders and in part by more than 1,000 industry types who vote online.
Unlike a straight popularity contest, the system allows results which may also recognize worthy films that did not show on hundreds of screens.
Supportive comments online used the film’s win to drive the point home.
“How many people nationwide got to watch these award-winning movies? What’s wrong with the Thai film industry? Is this the fault of the film’s marketing, the theatres that gave them no showtimes, or the audiences who don’t make the effort to see them?” tweeted @Horamiji, the author of a film blog.
The film earned approximately 200,000 baht nationwide from its limited run at SF CentralWorld, House Rama RCA, Lido, Bangkok Screening Room and several SF Cinema theaters in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen provinces.
That compares to 2016’s top-grossing film, Poj Arnon’s monk comedy “Luang Pee Jazz 4G,” which earned 154 million baht in the capital and suburbs. At the other end of the spectrum of 44 domestic releases last year was boxing comedy-drama “Boxing in Love (Khon Muay Kab Rak Tee Taak Tang)” which tanked to only bring in 17,000 baht.
The victory of “By The Time It Gets Dark;” and nominations of other independent films such as “A Gas Station,” “Wandering” and “The Island Funeral;” raised once again the cinema monopoly issue, as multiplex moviegoers rarely get a chance to see those award-deserving films. Despite several filmmakers’ attempts to solve the problem by fixing trade competition laws, no meaningful progress has been made since January.
“By The Time It Gets Dark” is showing at 7:35pm at House Rama RCA tonight through Wednesday. On Saturday, it will show at 6pm at the Bangkok Screening Room as a special presentation organized by Bioscope Magazine.