The Silent Observer • 4 Key Takeaways from New Waves 2018 Session ‘Celluloid Dreamstate’

Welcome aboard SGIFF’s New Waves! For this third annual edition of the screening and dialogue series, we invited bright young minds from the festival’s Youth Jury and Critics’ programme to offer an introductory analysis on the four featured filmmakers, report on each session, and generally guide you on this voyage of artistic discovery.
‘The silent observer’ is how curator Silke Schmickl described filmmaker Pathompon Mont Tesprateep at SGIFF’s first session of its New Waves 2018 programme, the evening of 25 April.
Held at *SCAPE, the screening and dialogue event introduced us to the Thai filmmaker himself, alongside Schmickl, who serves as a curator at the National Gallery and co-founder and director of the curatorial platform Lowave. Two of Tesprateep’s short films were screened: Song X in full and Endless, Nameless in excerpt.
Schmickl noted that Tesprateep’s camera is often placed away from the subject, observing the action rather than being a part of it. This observation aspect is two-fold: As audience to his short films, she—and we—become observers, too. While Tesprateep observes his own memories and expresses the associated emotions, the audience observes the product of that expression. This subtle duality eventually came to fruition in this insightful dialogue.
If you missed the session, here are four key takeaways from the thoughtful conversation between filmmaker and curator.

Pathompon Mont Tesprateep and Silke Schmickl in dialogue on 25 April, 2018. Photograph by Dean Koh
Pathompon Mont Tesprateep and Silke Schmickl in dialogue on 25 April, 2018. Photograph by Dean Koh
  • 1. Emotions guide Tesprateep’s artistry

‘I feel guilty a lot.’

– Tesprateep, on the motivations behind Endless, Nameless (2014)
Tesprateep grew up in a military family. When Schmickl mentioned that the garden featured in his short Endless, Nameless was the actual garden in which he had grown up, it prompted a reflection about his developmental years.
Tesprateep recalled that his household’s treatment towards the soldiers serving under his father, in the garden, had not always been amicable—a cause for regret for him as an adult. He wishes that he had spent more time talking to them. This emotional response, he said, informed the subject matter of that short.
Such personal, idiosyncratic qualities to Tesprateep’s short films might place them in the realm, as Schmickl suggested, of experimental cinema. But…

  • 2. Don’t label his films as just ‘experimental’

‘When you’re speaking about such personal things that really come from deep down, you also have to find your own form of language… I think that’s the beauty of experimental cinema in general, that it’s often much more innovative.’

– Schmickl, on defining the ‘experimental’

‘I love to watch many experimental films… I want to make what I want to see. [Yet] actually, I believe in conventional cinema as well.’

– Tesprateep, on his influences
The appreciation Tesprateep has for both experimental and conventional films informs his unique vision. However, speaking in a short interview after the session, Tesprateep expressed concern over the fact that his films are most often categorized as ‘experimental’. Instead, he suggested, audiences should caution against such easy labels and ponder instead the richness of his cinema.

  • 3. Not every aesthetic motivation is overly intellectual

I have no reason for [opting to shoot in black and white]… I love it. It’s like I see a sexy woman and I fall in love.’

  • – Tesprateep

I mean, that’s always the best reason to do things.’

  • – Schmickl

Ultimately, pragmatism does inform the decisions by Tesprateep—who shot his films using both a Super-8 camera and a digital one because he was uncertain about the outcome of the Super-8. On the other hand, he is an artist who has faith in his instincts, and makes artistic choices that respect them.

Questions from the audience: Each New Waves session includes a Q&A. Photograph by Dean Koh
Questions from the audience: Each New Waves session includes a Q&A. Photograph by Dean Koh
  • 4. Celluloid is sensual

‘I love human skin.’

– Tesprateep, on his preference for celluloid film

‘I’m glad you mentioned the skin because I felt today, seeing your films for the first time on the big screen, how impressionistic they are… There is a materiality that is so tangible.’

  • – Schmickl

Tesprateep confessed his penchant for observing the human body and its movement. When rehearsing, he said, he tries to explore how actors’ gestures can offer insight into the psyches of his characters. After all, film is perhaps the medium best suited to capture the vitality and energy of human life.
The night provided great context and information on an unusual and exciting filmmaker—enhancing the experience of seeing his work at the festival proper, and allowing film lovers to learn more about Southeast Asian cinema. The next New Waves session will turn the spotlight onto two local artists: Actor Andie Chen will join television and short film director Don Aravind in a dialogue on the realities of filmmaking in Singapore. Just how challenging is it to sustain the idealism of an artistic career in our pragmatic and systemized society? Find out on 30 May, 2018.
nw18-allspeakersFor full information on upcoming New Waves events, click here.