Going Against / With The Grain

Since the advent of the digital age, shooting on celluloid film has taken a backseat in the cinematic world. Gone are the golden days of 8mm and super 8 film, the bastion of stylishly grainy, gritty low-budget home movies that propelled the rise of amateur filmmaking. Today, our motion pictures are dominated by the sharp and polished high-end sheen of digital cameras.
But don’t be so quick to write off film just yet. In recent years the archaic medium has been making a comeback, with the likes of old generation Hollywood giants Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino opting for camera film company Kodak to capture their images. And joining them is Thai independent filmmaker and visual artist Pathompon Tesprateep, who is determined to keep the art of film alive in its most authentic form. Using celluloid film, he recently completed 20-minute-long single-screen audio-visual artwork Confusion Is Next, which made its world premiere at the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in January.

IFFR 2018 Frameworks (L-R): Curator May Adadol Ingawanij, filmmakers Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Pathompon Mont Tesprateep. Photo by IFFR.

Tesprateep was selected by renowned Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul to be part of the IFFR’s newly-launched Frameworks, a platform that seeks to advance new projects by emerging artists. During a Frameworks session moderated by film theorist and curator May Adadol Ingawanij at the festival, Weerasethakul remarked of his protege: “He has a fascination with light and abstract forms in his early video works; watching them inspires me to make films myself. And when everyone is going digital, to make a film using film is almost like a kind of resistance.”
This begs the question: is Tesprateep indeed a rebel of the times, or simply an impractical romanticist? Confusion Is Next is the third film in his thematic trilogy of shorts to be shot with deteriorated 8mm and 16mm film stock, preceded by Endless, Nameless (2014) and Song X (2017). Each film is inspired by the first 17 years of Tesprateep’s life growing up in a military family in northeast Thailand. Armed with the desire to re-contextualise the memories of his childhood, Tesprateep conjures up striking images of soldiers in uniforms engaged in banal activities like gardening, while exploring themes of hypnotism, escapism and the nature of authority.

Film Still – Song X by Pathompon Mont Tesprateep

“Living in the military camp was peaceful and organised, totally opposite from the outside world. It was a kind of utopia. Which is why I had a culture shock when I went to university to study fine art, because the people I met in the creative field had very different ideologies,” recalled the director.
This exposure to new perspectives was what compelled him to express his long-suppressed ambivalence about the military environment he was raised in — precisely by making films. Tesprateep said: “I grew up with this uncomfortable feeling all the time. I had a lot of questions about the military system when I was young, but I wasn’t conscious about it then. Listening to rock music helped me, it was mainly therapy.”
The avid musician, who is currently the drummer in rock band Assajan Jakgawan, first kickstarted his career by directing contemporary pop music videos. But it was only during the pursuit of his Fine Art master’s degree in London in 2010 that Tesprateep reached an artistic breakthrough, with the adoption of celluloid film that would define his status as one of Thailand’s most promising experimental filmmakers. “I saw a lot of great works from artists in the United Kingdom that used celluloid and analog material. This opened my eyes and made me realise the many possibilities to make these works,” he said.

Film Still - Song X by Pathompon Mont Tesprateep
Film Still – Song X by Pathompon Mont Tesprateep

As there is no photography lab in Thailand with the capacity to develop celluloid film, Tesprateep’s cinematographer personally hand-processes the film reels for him. The director also relies on donations of expired film stock from universities in Thailand, as well as contributions from individuals.
“I love the texture of hand-processed film — there’s a dreamlike quality to it, some parts of the footage are clear and others blur,” he said. For his next project, Tesprateep is in the midst of developing his first feature with celluloid film, though he is unsure how long he intends to continue using the material in the future.
“When I first began, I didn’t think that I was going to continue to make films using film all the time. I just tried to see if it would work out or not. So I’m not sure about my five-year plan yet, though I do hope not to go digital. Filmmaking is like life, it changes everytime.”

IFFR 2018 (L-R): Danaya Chulphuthiphong, Pathompon Mont Tesprateep, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Pimpaka Towira, Don Saron. Photo by Danaya Chulphuthipong.

Join Pathompon Mont Tesprateep and Silke Schmickl at SGIFF’s New Waves on April 25, 2018. Event is free to attend. Reserve a seat via a refundable $5 ticket here.