In a year of economic crisis, not to mention political upheaval at home, Thailand's Extra Virgin is a rare independent company that is expanding its business.
Mai Meksawan and Pimpaka Towira founded Bangkok-based Extra Virgin in 2007 with a slate of projects; they have since released Thai films theatrically (Pimpaka's own documentary The Truth Be Told: The Cases Against Supinya Klangnarong and Aditya Assarat's drama Wonderful Town) and are now expanding to release other independent films from South-East Asia in Thailand, as well as setting up their own DVD label.
'Over the past years, we have quite considerably developed the film culture here and audiences are becoming more receptive and open minded with films from elsewhere,' says Mai of the new distribution plans. 'Films from (South-East Asia) are getting more recognition, especially in European festivals, so people are becoming more interested to learn more about this expanding scene.'
Mai comes from a programming background at the Bangkok International Film Festival and Pimpaka is a film-maker whose debut feature One Night Husband premiered at the 2003 Berlinale.
'Generally, Pimpaka handles the production and creative aspects while I work more in the business side,' Mai explains.
For Pimpaka, being part of the collective is important. 'As an independent film-maker it's very tough, you need more support. I can't work on my own,' she says. 'Being an independent filmmaker should be about exploring more than just the making of the film, that's why we're involved in production, sales, finance and distribution.'
Since its inception, Extra Virgin has produced The Truth Be Told as well as Uruphong Raksasad's Rotterdam world premiere Agrarian Utopia. That film, about rice farmers in northern Thailand, has received a number of other festival invitations and Pimpaka says they will wait for more festival screenings before making any sales on the film.
The company is also developing Pimpaka's $500,000 The Island Funeral. The script, being finished now by Pimpaka and Kong Rithdee, will be a road movie about a Muslim girl who visits southern Thailand. The film has a Hubert Bals Fund development grant (the Rotterdam-based fund which supports film-makers from developing countries) and some other small funding, and they are pulling together the rest of the finance now and plan to shoot in 2010.
Extra Virgin is also in development on Jakrawal Nilthamrong's A Voyage Of Foreteller, an experimental feature about a foreigner in Thailand who can see his future. Pimpaka also has another documentary she wants to co-direct.
Remaining small helps to weather any economic ups and downs. 'Working in independent arthouse films, you are accustomed to working with very limited resources,' Mai says. 'The good thing is that you are less prone to be impacted by the economic crisis as we do not have the means to invest heavily in projects in the first place. So you have to be more creative in working with your resources.'
Pimpaka adds: 'I feel the Thai industry will survive. People will still watch films. Yes, you have to compete with mainstream films in cinemas, but people need options.'