Purin Pictures Aims to Boost Southeast Asia's Promising Indie Scene

Die Tomorrow Still 1 -Berlin International Film Festival - H 2018
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

The Bangkok-based film fund, run by three distinguished Thai directors, doled out five grants this week to first-time Southeast Asian filmmakers.

Bangkok-based Purin Pictures is expanding its reach to support promising indie filmmakers from throughout the Southeast Asia region.

The private film fund, launched in Thailand in 2017, unveiled Tuesday the titles of five projects that will receive production and postproduction grants as part of its spring 2018 session. The winning projects — hailing from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines — range from drama to documentary, comedy to art house. Notably, four of five recipients are first-time filmmakers.

Purin Pictures was co-founded last year by noted Thai directors Visra Vichit-Vadakan (Karaoke Girl), Anocha Suwichakornpong (By the Time It Gets Dark) and Aditya Assarat (10 Years in Thailand — premiering in Cannes this month). The founders say they took inspiration from established indie funding organizations like Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund and Busan’s Asian Cinema Fund. Purin Foundation, a Bangkok-based organization dedicated to educational initiatives, supports the fund. 

"The Southeast Asia region in general lacks adequate public funding for the arts, so we feel that a private foundation can help make up for some of the shortfall," says Assarat, who serves as artistic director with Anocha. "Being a private foundation, our resources are limited, but understanding the process of filmmaking allows us to use our resources in the most effective way possible."

For its spring session, Purin Pictures awarded four production financing grants of $30,000 and one postproduction grant valued at $50,000 — the latter of which was supported by White Light Post, one of Thailand’s leading postproduction facilities. Although the funding is modest, the organizers also serve as de facto mentors to the directors selected. The fund also supports film screenings and distribution efforts for Southeast Asian indie films throughout the year.

The projects picked this spring include Philippine director Martika Escobar's a surrealist black comedy Return of the Owl, about a washed-up 1980s action-movie writer who falls into a coma and finds herself transported into the pulpy movie playing on the TV in her hospital room. The documentary selected is an untitled project from Cha Escala, also Filipino, about a son's reflections on his dying communist father, who lives alone in Germany as a political asylum seeker. (See the complete list of projects below)

Purin Pictures has been quick to establish a distinguished track record. Its first two grantees last year were Indonesian director Mouly Surya's Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, which screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and Thai filmmaker Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit's indie sleeper hit, Die Tomorrow, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

As the program was getting underway in 2017, its artistic directors surveyed their film industry social and professional networks for promising directors to support. "Most of the first projects we chose were from Thailand, just because those were the filmmakers we knew best, and we could easily call them up and see rough cuts and check on their progress," Assarat says. "But soon we started to see that to be more objective and transparent, and to reach out to more filmmakers outside Thailand, we would have to accept open submissions."  

The organizers put out the call for project pitches from across Southeast Asia late last year, and they say they were impressed by the response. "Once we started accepting submissions, the sheer number of good projects we received was very humbling," Assarat says. "There is definitely no shortage of talent in Southeast Asia,”  Anocha adds.

Purin Pictures will begin accepting submissions for its 2018 Fall Session on Aug. 1. Applications close on Sept. 1 and the winners will be announced on Nov. 1. 

Spring 2018 production grantees:

Return of the Owl (Philippines), director: Martika Escobar; producer: Monster Jimenez (Philippines)
Summary: A black comedy about Leonor Reyes, a has-been action genre writer from the 1980s who falls into a coma that transports her into the film playing on the hospital television.

Sometime, Sometime (Malaysia), director: Jacky Yeap Swee Leong; producer: Tan Chui Mui
Summary: A drama about the conflicted relationship between a young mother and her teenage son, who care too much for each other, but pretend not to care.

Taste (Vietnam/Singapore), director: Le Bao; producers: Lai Weijie, Thao Dong Thi Phuong
Summary: A surreal drama about Bassley, a Nigerian illegal who seeks refuge in the working-class women he sleeps with after breaking his leg playing football to support his family.

The Edge of Daybreak (Thailand/Australia), director: Taiki Sakpisit; producer: Soros Sukhum
A drama that examines the devastating psychological landscape of a dysfunctional family as it falls from grace in the shadow of war.

Postproduction grantee:

?Untitled Project (Philippines), director: Cha Escala; producer: Leizyl Badion
A documentary about a son who contemplates the life of his dying Communist father who now lives alone as a political asylum seeker in Germany.