BANGKOK — While the country is not lacking for teen melodramas, less commonly aired issues of youth sexuality and identity are coming to the screen Thursday in a fusion of documentary and dramatization.
Stories of Bangkok youth and their search for identity and place in the gender spectrum are brought into focus by “#BKKY,” which follows Jojo, a 17-year-old high school senior, as she grows close to a female friend. Jojo becomes uncertain about her sexual identity when she meets skateboarders Jeff and Jasper.
Nontawat is perhaps best known for his banned 2013 documentary “Boundary,” which is about the infamous Thai-Cambodia conflict over possession of the Preah Vihear Temple. The following feature-length documentary released in the same year “By the River” follows the lives of Karen locals who live by a river contaminated by a mine.
However, unlike his first two films, Nontawat chose to mix up fact and fiction in his third to attract a larger teen audience.
Prior to filming and writing the screenplay, Nontawat interviewed 100 adolescent boys and girls in Bangkok – high school juniors and seniors between 17 and 19 – asking them mostly about love, family and their dreams.
“It’s an important transitional period. I remember it was very fun at the time and things changed so fast,” the 34-year-old filmmaker said. “Now I want to know, how are the teenagers doing these days? What do they think? What are the issues?”
For the docudrama, he cast four of his teen interview subjects in roles. And many elements remain true. Jeff (Jeff Watson Kiatmontri) and Jasper (Jasper Dohrs), as in the film, grew up abroad and are skaters. In real life, Jojo (played by Ploiyukhon Rojanakatanyoo) and Q (Anongnart Yusananda), used to date girls.
Asked if he set out to make an LGBT film in the first place, Nontawat said that wasn’t his original intention.
“It’s coincidental that most of the interviewed teens – 60 of 100 – openly talk about their sexual orientation and diverse gender identity. Some said they liked both boys and girls,” Nontawat said. “I also noticed that many kids from all-boys and all-girls schools are more open-minded than those in co-ed schools.”
Having won positive reviews from foreign audiences and media, Nontawat hopes the same will hold for Thai viewers as well, not just teenagers, but also adults and parents.
“I hope that many parents will watch this and understand their kids in this modern society better, so they can live together in harmony,” Nontawat said.
The film premiered in October at the Busan Film Festival and has shown at LGBT film festivals in many cities including Quezon, Glasgow and Boston. It won the Jury Prize at the Hamburg International Queer Film Festival.
“#BKKY” opens Thursday in Bangkok.