Welcome to our 2014 Festival Staff Picks column! We’ll be posting some first looks at Festival Films to look out for on the 2014 Film Schedule. Check back to the AFF blog for new Staff Picks each week!
First of all I must say that I truly enjoyed this film. I was looking forward to watching the movie as soon as I found out that it took place in Thailand as I have a good friend who recently moved there and he has told me so many wonderful things about the culture.
Although he lived in Austin his entire life he had a rich appreciation for other cultures, which eventually led him to Thailand. The first time he came back to Austin to visit he told me all about Thailand, and focused on the people. He told me about the Kathoey and the performance aspect of that culture. This friend of mine is one that I made while performing in a children’s theatre group a few years ago so you can imagine his enthusiasm for relaying information about anything performance related is high. He painted a glamorous picture of the Kathoey to me and I must admit I was expecting to see some of this in Patong Girl.
When I turned on Patong Girl I was surprised by the story and taken into the world created by the filmmakers. This story shined light on the culture but focused on the characters. After watching the film there were a few questions that stuck in my mind for the filmmakers:
Sam Levine: What inspired you to write this story? There was such an emphasis on character and character relationships: did the story come out of past or present experience?
Patong Girl Director Susanna Solonen: A while back, I taught Scuba-diving in Phuket for a season and for a few months in Koh Samui. Holiday destinations are places where cultures mix: There is a local culture with local traditions, local mindset and a local way of doing things. And then, there are holiday-makers from all over the world. These people usually have paid a substantial amount of their disposable income to travel there, hoping for a dream-holiday, keen to experience something new and exciting, to get pampered back and front… whatever it is, their expectations are usually fairly high. When these high expectations meet the real world, that doesn’t necessarily end well.
SL: The relationship dynamic between the two main characters was very unique from my perspective but after watching the film and knowing a bit about the Kathoey I wonder if that dynamic is a common in Thailand?
SS: Have I ever fallen in love? No… I would never do that. Falling in love can be very hurtful and I’d absolutely advise anyone against it.
SL: What was the experience of filming in different parts of Thailand? Were people receptive to the story there?
SS: Honestly. I have no clue. I’m a first time feature film director and I was pretty busy trying to direct a film. No idea what the locals thought. They probably thought we were pretty weird.
I did talk to the Thai team about the film, though. Thai 2nd AD Jackey Mucha (kudos!) said that a lot of the foreign productions they work on are holiday-movies and they usually are full of Thailand-clichés: The elephant, the lanterns, the temple. Patong Girl was different in the sense that all the clichés were twisted. Yes, there is the elephant, but in the background we see half-finished condominium towers. That is how I perceive Thailand, it really is both: A kingdom deeply rooted in ancient culture. And a very vibrant – though not always pretty – modern country.
– Samantha Levine, AFF Office Manager
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