STOP10: 'Arpor' by Paisit Wangrungseesathit


Arpor is a touching, intimate affair about losing one's home, not letting life's hardships get you down and the importance of having a united family who look out for one another. Presented as a documentary, the film has a meandering, almost lazy vibe to it, apparent in the choice of shots and pacing of the film, and very reminiscent of the family's village life. Most of the moving shots are unsteady, filmed with a handheld camera which adds to the intimate feel of the film. It is almost as if the audience, for a brief period, have been welcomed into their home as a part of their family. Much of the dialogue, having been recorded during an interview, is played over shots of the family going about their daily lives and their interactions. You can truly sense the family's warmth and love for one another, getting only the briefest of glimpses as to the hardships they have been through together.

Paisit Wangrungseesathit - Director, Scipt, Edit, Colorist  (top, second from left)  
Warocha Soontornsiri - Assistant director (bottom, second from left)
Paphadha Hemmarak - Director of photography  (bottom, first from right) 
Anuparp Suriyathong - Sound engineer  (top, first from right)

This film is incredibly personal to director Paisit Wangrungseesathit as the family portrayed in the film is his own. The titular character in the film, "arpor", is his grandmother. Many years ago, his arpor was living in a different village and they had been forced to relocate due to the construction of a dam which ended up flooding the area where their old village resided. 

Recently, the water level receded to a point where their old village was once again revealed and for the younger members in the family, including Paisit himself, it was like discovering their very own Atlantis. He was casually documenting the experience as they went to see the ruins of their old village and it was then that he got the inspiration to turn it into a proper film. He hopes to share the hardships his family went through, in particular his arpor and how much she has done for their family, and also what effect the dam has had on the residents of the village and the surrounding area.

SINdie had the opportunity to speak to Paisit about his film recently and he was very forthcoming.

SINdie: How did you come across the story of "Arpor"?

Paisit: It started when I got back to my hometown to visit my family and relatives. Coincidentally, it was then that the water in the dam had receded to a point where "Baan-Toh Village" appeared. I remember when my mother used to drive us home, she always pointed from the road above the dam down to the water in the dam and told me that Ar-Por’s (grandma) house was there. However it had always been submerged and I could only imagine from what she said until that day when I saw it with my own eyes.

When we arrived at the village, my relatives started pointing at those ruins and told their nephews and nieces what were there before, a school, a police station, and Ar-Por’s house, where we could still see the toilet, bedroom and courtyard where they used to play together. They remembered everything so vividly which was contrary to what I could see, only ruins and a very wide landscape. I felt like it was a true underwater world and that got me started on the film.

Paisit's family

Does the story have any personal meaning to you?

Of course, Ar-Por’s documentary is based on my family. I tried to compile all the information and tell the story as accurately as I could. I would like it to be a record of my grandma, of how she fought for our family. She taught all her children to live in harmony. 

I got to learn more about the dam in Thailand and problems that had happened before, during and after the dam construction. Plus, the side effects that occurred. I found that there were many problems but only some of them were publicised. That’s another part that I would like to communicate via this film.

How faithful were you to the original story? Any changes made for the sake of the film?

Yes, I tried to be as faithful as possible, gathering information and doing a lot of interviews. Then, I presented all the information in order. I always keep in mind that the story I want to tell is the truth, the real events that had happened. There are only 2 scenes that were set to complete the film, the character introduction scenes and at the end, the scene where Ar-Por walks from her present home to her old sunken home. We recorded the rest from their daily lives so as to convey that no matter what happens, no matter how hard the problems we face, we can get through it and continue on our life journey. 

What kinds of stories interest you as a filmmaker?

The kind of story that has the ability to inspire people. A story where people can watch and gain useful information at the same time such as Ar-Por’s story. One of the purpose behind my documentary was to share a meaningful story of someone’s life so as to let audiences reflect on their own lives. It is to let them realize the importance of living a full life, to treasure precious moments and things or even to motivate people to work on and grow their talents and interests.

I made a documentary about my high school in the past. It was about secret questions that teachers and school officers had. When it was done, I sent it to my high school friends to see and it turns out that one of them cried watching it and many of them went to visit the school. After that, I knew that this is the kind of movie that I would like to make, the kind that secretly convey emotions of subjects that we love, the kind where we are able to share more on subjects that matter to us deeply and also the kind that can have a positive effect on society.

Paisit with his arpor
What career direction are you looking at? Do you hope to be more of a commercial filmmaker or more of an arthouse filmmaker?

I think I am leaning more towards the arthouse direction. Similar to what I have been doing, I am not doing it for monetary gain but rather because I like making films. I like to tell stories and I like to have the freedom to tell these stories in my own way. Hence, creative freedom is important to me as a filmmaker. That is one of the reasons why I prefer to do arthouse films and I have not had the opportunity to work on a commercial film with proper funding. However, It is not easy and I am barely getting by on my limited income. In the future, I do think that it will be interesting if I have the opportunity to work on a commercial film and still be able to retain creative freedom.

Is it challenging being a filmmaker in Thailand? What are the challenges?

There are a lot of good films in Thailand but I do not think that the pay matches the amount of hard work that goes into making a film. The film market in Thailand is quite small, to give an example, there were only two local documentaries released in cinemas this year. I think the Thai people need to experience and learn to appreciate a wider variety of film genres. 

Nowadays, the most popular genres in Thailand are international action and sci-fi movies. Even local movies are mostly romance, comedy and horror. Other genres are not very common in the Thai film market. Award winning films too, like the winners of the Cannes Film Festival and the Oscar's are not popular in Thailand either. Thus, it is definitely a big challenge for me to bring other genres, like documentaries into the Thai film market. However, I would still like to do so as it is not just for myself but also for other filmmakers in the future.

Arpor was screened in competition at the Thai Short Film and Video Festival 2018.

Written by Oscar Sim
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