For trans director (or kathoey in her native Thai) Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, her first feature film Insects in the Backyard is an opportunity to help dispel some myths about her native Thailand.
Having just landed from Thailand, Sukkhapist along with fellow Producer Soros Sukhum, arrived for our interview on Friday suprisingly free from any signs of jet-lag. With some assistance from a translator, we talked about her film and her desire to shed light on a few common misconceptions about her homeland.
“People talk about Thailand as being accepting society of homosexuals,” Sukkhapisit said. “They think prostitution is okay. But it is not.” According to Sukkhapisit, most Thais simply ignore these aspects of their country where, despite what some in the West might believe to be true, prostitution is illegal and where homosexuality is just another hidden part of her country that the title suggests.
“The backyard can be very beautiful,” explained Sukkhapisit. “But there are many, many kinds of insects that you cannot see. Just like Thailand”.
While Sukkhapisit characterizes Insects in the Backyard as a personal story, she does point out that it is a work of fiction and does not come from her own life. “Friends inspired me,” she explained.
In the film, Sukkhapisit plays Tania, a transvestite who becomes the de facto head of the household, helping to raise teens Jennifer and Jonny. Rebelling against the embarrassment that Tania represents to them, the two teenagers explore a multitude of Thai taboos in an exploration of family dysfunction through the country’s attitudes towards sexuality and prostitution.
Having acted in 13 self-directed shorts in the past, Insects in the Backyard marks Sukkhapisit’s first foray into feature films and along with directing and acting she also took on the roles of writer and producer as well. Unable to point to a single role that she found the most enjoyable, Sukkhapisit laughed at the suggestion she might be a bit controlling, but ultimately agreed, saying that it was important to have control in order to create the best film possible.
Not only does Insects in the Backyard make its world premiere at this year’s VIFF, it is also in the running for the prestigious Dragons and Tigers Award for Young Asian Cinema. But Sukkhapisit, while obviously pleased at being nominated, doesn’t see her film as a contender. “It’s impossible,” she said with a huge smile. “The film was chosen for colour, not for winning”.
But if her film does win, perhaps it will help open doors in Thailand where she tells us, perhaps with a little irony, that the film would remain hidden in her own backyard, with only the possibility very limited screenings.
Insects in the Backyard
Tue, Oct 5th 9:00pm Vancity Theatre
Wed, Oct 6th 3:30pm Vancity Theatre
Jennifer (17) and Jonny (15) live with their elder “sister” Tania, a somewhat overweight transvestite whose “mothering” irritates the hell out of both of them. Quirkily humorous and visually striking, Thanwarin Sukkhaphisit’s debut feature follows this odd ménage through the crucial weeks in which each member finds–or loses–love.