For many Singaporean filmgoers, we might not be familiar with the iconic Scala Cinema in Thailand that was demolished during the pandemic. Despite that, any audience member watching the film Scala would relate to the communal sense of loss from that historic site. Like all old landmarks that were torn down, past audiences held significant memories of the Scala Cinema.
Documented by director Ananta Thitanat as the film grapples with the unresolved loss, Scala features a public space of immense cinematic importance. It also traces the personal histories both of the filmmaker and the employees working together to demolish what, for decades, has been their second home.
Perspectives Film Festival had the privilege of inviting Ananta Thitanat on the 30th of October 2022 for a question-and-answer session following the screening of her film. Here is a condensed version of that session. Note that this only represents the general ideas raised and is not a word-for-word transcript of the discussion.
Ananta Thitanat (in yellow) sharing about the film, Scala.
Q: We don’t hear about anyone in the documentary watching films. Was that a deliberate choice in organising the film?
A: Yes. How the film started was that I was mad at the university for taking back the land at the Scala Cinema. That was the beginning. I didn’t expect the film to be like this. I just wanted to make a film about the Scala. The people in the film were not even sure the cinema was going to be demolished when I started. My purpose in making the film was to hope that the university would regret demolishing this important cinema.
Q: The frame construction was unconventional and classic. Is it your experience of films in the cinema that informed the frames that are so deep and beautiful in their portrayal of Scala? Also, on the cat, it felt like it was a symbol of the cinema watching itself be demolished, observed on a low angle. What informed the low angle?
A: Thank you. I didn’t want to just portray the Scala itself, but also the other buildings in the area that would also be demolished. That informed my framing. I think still pictures can tell the story, which is why most of the scenes are just pictures standing still. I went to the cinema every day to get some idea of what people would do and what would be happening. So this allowed me to portray the different moments with the best framing and angle possible.
The impeccable framing and angles in the film (and of course, cats!).
Q: Since demolition is irreversible, what other reaction were you hoping to get from the university apart from regret?
A: I don’t expect the university to do anything about it. But this film would represent the Scala and the buildings around it. The reason for the film is just to express or to tell or to send the message that they are tearing the memories of the people apart, and the classical buildings full of meaning.
Q: The story of your parents is recurring, especially since the staff you interviewed ask about them. What do they think about it?
A: They have heard about it, but they haven’t seen it. They absolutely have no idea about it. They don’t speak to each other.
Q: If not for demolition, what could have been the future of Scala?
A: The university has a faculty of design and architecture. They could have kept the building for the students to go and study there. It could have been educational and beneficial for students instead of just tearing the building down. They could have done a lot more for the building, like turning it into a classroom or a theatre for students to perform in.
Celebrating Thitanat’s birthday at Perspectives Film Festival 2022.
Quiet, shy and unassuming, Thitanat does not fit the stereotype of a fiery rebel protesting against the establishment for what she perceives to be an act of injustice. Just as this discussion showed, Thitanat does not seem intent on providing all the answers. This is the same attitude the film holds – adopting a quiet and observational perspective to invite you to meditate on the images it presents. Instead of bombarding you with answers, each frame is a question about audiences’ memories of the theatre and, therefore, why it should be torn down.
At Perspectives, we had the privilege of hosting Thitanat on her birthday. In spite of this being her first feature film, the artistry demonstrated both in the film and through her discussion proves that she is a director to watch out for. We look forward to welcoming Thitanat and her next film back at the festival!
Our 2022 articles offered a selection across four broad categories to facilitate your perusal. This article was part of the DISCUSS category: To read more thoughts by the directors of our programmed films. For the inquisitive and filmmakers.