Saturday, May 24, 2008
Thailand’s National Film Archive in Salaya, Nakhon Pathom unveiled a new museum and cinema on Thursday night for the 100th anniversary celebration of the birth of Rattana Pestjoni, a filmmaker who is considered the “father of contemporary Thai cinema”.
With Pestonji’s family, movie stars, filmmakers, government officials and fans on hand, the National Film Archive’s museum was opened for tours, and the facility’s 120-seat cinema hosted the screening of a documentary film, Signature: The Life and Work of R.D. Pestonji.
Pestonji was born in Bangkok on May 22, 1908, to a Parsi-Indian (ethnic Persian) family. For his first short film, Tang, in 1937, he received an award from Alfred Hitchcock at a film festival in Scotland. Pestonji directed his first feature film, Dear Dolly, in 1951. He was known for his skills as a cinematographer, and he shot the first Thai feature film to be submitted to an overseas film festival. Pestonji also pushed for innovations in the Thai film industry, such as using 35mm film, and raising the level of cinematography as an artistic element of the films, said film historian Dome Sukwong, director of the National Film Archive.
The now-lost Santi-Weena was submitted to the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in 1954 in Tokyo. Pestonji served as cinematographer on it as well as Forever Yours, in 1955. He then directed four features, Country Hotel in 1957, Dark Heaven in 1958, Black Silk in 1961, and Sugar Is Not Sweet in 1964. His films were never box-office successes, which led to Pestonji retiring from feature-film work to make television commercials, Sukwong said.
Pestonji died of a heart attack on August 17, 1970 at the Montien Hotel Bangkok, while giving a speech to government officials and film industry executives about the prevalence of Hollywood films in Thailand’s cinemas.
Contemporary directors who were influenced by Pestonji include Wisit Sasanatieng and Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Last Life in the Universe). Sasanatieng was among the filmmakers present at Thursday’s event.
“Prae Dum [Black Silk] is the film that remains my single major influence,” Sasanatieng was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post. Sasanatieng’s colorful features, Tears of the Black Tiger and Citizen Dog bear many of the hallmarks of Pestonji’s films. “Khun Ratana was not simply a master storyteller … he knew how to use color, art direction and camera angles to create subtle nuances and charge the movie with strong emotions.”
Pestonji’s sons, Santa and Edel, have continued in the film business. The Bangkok film production house their father started now houses a firm that hires out equipment and film crews to foreign films shooting on location in Thailand. Films that the company has been involved with include Heaven & Earth and The Beach. Pestonji’s daughter, Ratanavadi Ratanabhand, was the lead actress in 1961’s Black Silk.
The Pestonji centennial celebration was the first major event held in the new facilities at the National Film Archive, which moved around 10 years ago to the Fine Arts Department compound in Nakhon Pathom Province, about 50 kilometers from Bangkok, where the archive had been previously located. The museum and cinema complex were built in the last year, and Thursday’s event was the first major function held at the facility, said Chalida Uabumrungjit of the Thai Film Foundation, which has worked closely with the National Film Archive to preserve Pestonji’s legacy. The foundation holds the rights to Pestonji’s films and plans to issue a DVD set of his works later this year.
The centerpiece of the archive’s museum is a wax figure of Pestonji, seated with his prized Mitchell camera in front of a recreation of the set from his 1957 musical comedy Country Hotel.
In a manner similar to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, handprints, footprints and signatures of celebrities are being collected in the concrete outside the museum’s cinema. That initiative started on Thursday with actor Prompong Nopparit, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, being the first to make his marks.
Other stars making impressions included actor Suthep Wongkamheng, who starred in Pestonji’s Dark Heaven. A rain storm dampened the festivities, but didn’t keep 1970s action star Sombat Metanee from making his mark in the slab, albeit under cover of umbrellas. Other figures adding their marks to the wet cement were pioneering animator Payut Ngaokrachang and Santa Pestonji, Ratana’s eldest son.