'There's nothing special about this little town,' says Thai writer-director Aditya Assarat of Takua Pa, the southern Thailand town that is the setting of his debut feature film. 'Except it got hit by a tsunami.'
That post-tsunami calm is what Assarat explores in the somewhat ironically titled Wonderful Town, which recently won one of the Tiger Awards in Rotterdam. (The film also played in the Berlinale's Forum section; Memento is handling international sales.)
The film takes a languid look at the beauty of the town, but doesn't shy away from the boredom and discontent of some of its inhabitants. The story follows a Bangkok architect who arrives in Takua Pa to supervise the building of a new resort, and meets a quiet hotel owner. Both of the leads, Supphasit Kansen and Anchalee Saisoontorn, are non-professional actors, he a pub musician, she a travel agent.
The Rotterdam jury praised the 'amazing imaging through the film and a fresh perspective on the disaster of tsunami'.
The modest Assarat says he is proud of the film even if he does see it as part of a learning process. 'I see many mistakes when I watch it, but I know what I can do better next time,' he says.
The film-maker was born in Thailand but studied at New York University and later the University of Southern California, before returning to Bangkok to work on short films, documentaries and music videos.
The $200,000 Wonderful Town was shot on video (with backing from Rotterdam's Hubert Bals Fund) and found a new life thanks to Pusan's Asian Cinema Fund. 'Pusan saw the rough cut and funded the blow-up to film, so that was important to reach a wider audience,' he says. It also won the New Currents Award at the Pusan festival.
Assarat is energised by new technologies in the film world. 'With digital technology and video, there are many more possibilities,' he says. 'It's really amazing what we're seeing in Malaysia, Thailand, India and China.'
His next film will also be on a modest budget. Assarat is re-teaming with his Wonderful Town producers, Soros Sukhum and Jetnipith Teerakulchanyut at Pop Pictures, for High Society, which they hope to shoot in December 2008. This film will leave the beach behind for the streets of Bangkok. 'It's about a new generation of kids that grew up Thai but are also Westernised,' Assarat says. 'It's a tribe of kids with their own language and way of life, like the YouTube generation.
Assarat says he is 'a city boy' himself and is excited to shoot in Bangkok, although he and cinematographer Umpornpol Yugala were clearly enamoured with the beauty of Takua Pa. 'I work a lot with locations. Wonderful Town's look is inspired by the ocean, the trees and the grey hotel. But I also like cities - glass and steel and buildings can be just as beautiful as nature.'
With his US film school background, Assarat could easily build a career in America, but he plans to stay close to his roots for now. 'I feel like there are interesting stories to tell in Thailand,' he says. 'But one day I'd also like to tell stories about Thai people living in America.'