The People and Ideas of Bellagio/

Anocha Suwichakornpong

Learn how Bellagio helped acclaimed Thai film director Anocha Suwichakornpong find the space to research her latest project: a film that deals with Thailand’s socio-political history.

Anocha Suwichakornpong is a Thai film director, producer, and screenwriter. Her work deals with Thailand’s socio-political history. At Bellagio in May 2022, Anocha was developing her latest film project, ASR. The title stands for the three kingdoms of Thailand: Ayutthaya, Sukhothai, and Rattanakosin.

As well as directing, Anocha co-manages a non-profit film fund specifically for Southeast Asian cinema called Purin Pictures. The fund supports film projects across production and post-production, as well as screenings and workshops. Her 2017 film By the Time It Gets Dark won Best Picture and Best Director at Thailand’s National Film Awards and was chosen as the Thai entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards. She teaches at Columbia University.

At the time, I had been researching several eras in Thai history for a feature film that I was working on called ASR. This was my first time working on a period feature, so there was a lot of research that took quite some time. Rather than continue writing the script, I went to the Bellagio Center with the idea of restructuring the treatment that I’d already written, as new ideas had emerged that I wanted to explore.

The film’s premise focuses on a woman who lives across time and is an eyewitness to the collapse of the three kingdoms of Siam, as Thailand was then known. I didn’t want the film to take the route of other Thai historical dramas: with epic style, sweeping narratives and lavish costumes. Very often, these epics are usually about warriors, kings and the glory of kingdoms, but this film is instead a history from a commoner’s perspective – and a woman’s at that.

In recent years, there’s been a surge of nationalism in Thailand. Period TV dramas, in particular, have become a hugely popular form of propaganda that fuels that ideology. My aim is to subvert this genre of Thai media. Going to Bellagio helped me achieve this because I could do a lot of research in Italy. While there, I had the chance to read some history books that I couldn’t get access to because they are banned in my country. I had to take the opportunity to read them while abroad! A few of the cohort offered to keep the books for me to retrieve once I moved to the U.S. in the fall [of 2022].

When I first arrived for the residency, it seemed like everyone had known each other for a long time. The experience clearly inspired camaraderie among the fellows. There were constant discussions. Whether directly related to the project I was working on or not, I learned something new. For example, I learned a lot about Indian cinema from Devesh Kapur [Professor of South Asian Studies at John Hopkins University], who’s a cinephile. He gave me a list of directors whose work I’m excited to explore. I also got quite close to Lucia Cuba [Assistant Professor of Fashion Design at Parsons, the New School University] and Shahzeen Attari [Associate Professor at the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington].

  • To be in a situation where you see other people working towards what they are passionate about is very inspiring. You feel the energy: you absorb it.
    Anocha Suwichakornpong
    Thai Film Director, Producer, and Screenwriter

At the Bellagio Center, I welcomed solitude, because being alone with my thoughts is rare these days! The meditative space to reflect was beneficial. When I worked on the film before my residency, it seemed that the further I got into the project, the less confident I became in the original idea. Even during the residency, there was some uncertainty. But it was scary in a good way. The block lifted, bit by bit, during and after my time at Bellagio.

This film project is huge in scope. So, I’m keen to continue the discussion with other historians. Not only do they understand how to deal with historical context, but they know how to ensure that this knowledge engages with relevant modern-day issues. It would also be great to work with a sound designer, as I’m fascinated with how sound works within film. Is it still cinema if you lose the imagery but keep the sound? That idea fascinates me. In fact, I become more and more obsessed with the idea of what constitutes cinema with each new film I make.

I came away from my time in Bellagio with a real sense of optimism, which is saying something because I am not the most optimistic person! To be in a situation where you see other people working towards what they are passionate about is very inspiring. You feel the energy: you absorb it. The experience made me feel like there is hope, after all.

Explore more

We’d like to thank Anocha for her contribution to the network. To find out more about Anocha’s work, explore her filmography via Mubi.

Find out more about Purin Pictures, Anocha’s film fund that supports independent Southeast Asian cinema. You can also discover Anocha’s production company, Electric Eel Films, which can also be followed on Instagram.

Read interviews with Anocha about cinema, memory and space with Extra Extra and Alt Kino.