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Downtown Alt-Cinema to Host Bangkok’s First-Ever ‘Amazing Stoner Movie Fest’

Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski lays down on a rug that “really tied the room together” in <i>The Big Lebowski</i>. Image courtesy of Working Title Films.
Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski lays down on a rug that “really tied the room together” in The Big Lebowski. Image courtesy of Working Title Films.

With Thailand taking big steps on the path to medical marijuana legalization, a Bangkok arthouse cinema will — for the first time in the city — be throwing an event both cinephiles and weed provocateurs can enjoy.

For four days straight in August, Cinema Oasis will host the Amazing Stoner Movie Fest 2019, featuring popular stoner movies, plus features and shorts selected from contest submissions sent in to festival organizers for screening.

“The plain simple fact is I wanted to see a Thai stoner movie. The world has Cheech & Chong, Harold & Kumar, but no Piak & Odd,” Ing Kanjanavanit, the event organizer and co-owner of Cinema Oasis, wrote on the festival’s official site.

Image result for cheech and chong
Cheech and Chong in ‘Up in Smoke’ (1978). Photo: Paramount Pictures

Since it’s the first-ever film festival with a focus only on stoner films that we’ve seen in this city, Coconuts Bangkok reached out to Ing to talk a little bit more about what she and her team has planned.

What are the ideas behind the Amazing Stoner Movie Fest? In the past, were there any iconic Thai stoner films?

Ing: No, there is no iconic Thai stoner movie, as far as I know — there are no Thai stoner films, full stop, because of the censors’ power to ban films. We want to see a Thai stoner movie, so we arranged this contest.

Why do you think we need a stoner film festival right now?

Ing: Why not? We’ve heard the medical argument for legalization, it’s time we heard from the real Thai “Ganchachon” culture as well, the creative and spiritual aspect of ganja.

Since Cinema Oasis announced the contest in March, what have reactions from filmmakers and local audiences been like? 

Ing: We announced far in advance so people would have time to make real full-length features if they wanted to. It was an experiment to see if such a thing as a Thai stoner film existed. At first, nothing — then, all these films came in at the last minute, and not just from Thailand — we even got a wonderful film from Saudi Arabia! We also received some really good films that didn’t fit the stoner criteria. It was hard not to include them but we have to stick to stoner movies.

What can cinephiles expect from this event?

Ing: If you like Japanese and Thai zombies, you’ll have fun. You can be stoned on the cinema alone, no need to smoke a joint. There are some really strong contenders from Thailand as well, including one about getting busted in Bangkok, and you can’t afford to miss the sublime Filipino stoner movie Superpsychocebu.

Photo: Cinema Oasis / Courtesy

So, here are some other promising films we can look forward to: Lammbock, described as a “cult German stoner dude movie,” and Reefer Madness, which is dedicated to the 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda movie of the same name. There’s also a spoof on the famous American slasher flick The Texas Chainsaw Massacre — a feature film called Texas Death Trippin’ that circles around a “stoner Jesus” going about his life in a place where ravioli showers down from the heavens.

Got an appreciation for shorts? Well, it’s weed versus death in the Fighting off Zombification program, which will screen zombie-themed short films. Reality Check is a visual survival guide that goes through, er, stoner best practices if you get busted at a checkpoint. The full screening schedule is available online.

The Amazing Stoner Movie Fest will run from August 8 through August 11 at Cinema Oasis. The arthouse is located on Soi Sukhumvit 43 and can be reached by foot from BTS Phrom Phong.

One of only a handful of alternative cinemas in BangkokCinema Oasis is the brainchild of Ing and Manit Sriwanichpoom — two directors behind the still-banned film Shakespeare Must Die.

FIND IT: 
Amazing Stoner Movie Fest 2019
August 8 – August 11
Cinema Oasis
Soi Sukhumvit 43
BTS: Phrom Phong

Drugs

Weed Could Once Get Locals Killed in Bangkok. Now Cannabis Culture Is Taking Off

With marijuana legalized for medical use in Thailand, Bangkok’s stoners are emerging from the underground.
August 22, 2019, 8:15pm
Man holding a pipe split with a closeup of cannabis
LEFT: JACK TAYLOR PHOTOS RIGHT: JENS KALAENE/PICTURE ALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES

“What about him? Do you think he looks like a stoner?”

In the kitchen of her little Bangkok indie movie theatre, Cinema Oasis, film director Ing K points at her friend Piak Lex Hip. She says they were “beach bums” together in Phuket in the ‘80s, when they could sunbathe naked without hassle. Today Piak is wearing a scraggy-baggy black t-shirt with a peace symbol design, his grin framed by a wispy white beard and mustache.

“I don’t like to judge by appearances,” I reply, as Piak carefully paints a ganja leaf shape onto a glass bong in gold paint. “But I’d hazard a guess that he smokes a fair bit of marijuana.” Piak nods and hands Ing the receptacle. “The Crystal Bong!” she exclaims, Hawaiian shirt swooshing as she raises the instrument skyward, like it’s a newborn Simba.

Stoner culture is slowly emerging from the shadows in Bangkok, despite lingering memories of the violent mid-2000s war against drugs waged by Thailand’s then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This year saw an abrupt change in laws: Ahead of the chaotic general election in March, the junta-appointed parliament announced a cynically-timed “gift” to the public: legalizing cannabis for medical use. Authorities recently showed off the capital’s first government-approved weed labs.

Many view this as a stride towards Thailand making cannabis fully legal. For now, though, blazing up on a Bangkok street will probably see you shaken down by police for a bribe or arrested. The reality for stoners in the capital is still far from the image projected by reggae-pumping hippie bars on Thai islands, where illegal spliffs are sold over the counter.

“That’s just a tourist thing,” Ing says, screwing up her nose like she’s sniffed a sewer. To galvanize the cannabis-smoking community in Bangkok, and to address what she sees as a lack of genuine stoner culture depicted in Thai media, she announced the Amazing Stoner Movie Fest (ASMF). Given that the former journalist has had her films banned before for offending the religious and political establishments, it was a bold move.

The event has become part of a noticeable shift in stoner visibility in Bangkok, sparked by the law change. In April, the fifth annual 420 Festival, hosted by pro-weed activist group Highland Network, took place in the city. Cannabis fans wore bong costumes and held massive inflatable doobies; it was the biggest incarnation of the festival yet The following month, Highland opened a weed-themed café in Bangkok. Taking anything stronger than booze is not tolerated at the venue, but the medical-use law has given visitors confidence to at least talk about the drug openly.

Ing K, the organizer of the Amazing Stoner Movie Fest

ING K, PHOTO BY JACK TAYLOR

Rattapon Sanrak, one of the Highland Café founders, got into weed when he was about 14, at the height of Thailand’s war on drugs. At that time, thousands of Thais suspected of being drug dealers were slain by law enforcement officials, and even casual drug users lived in fear of the bullet. “Many friends died,” says Rattapon, now 32. He laughs when I ask if his teenage self would believe that he would open a weed-themed café in the city where such deaths took place. But that’s Thailand’s muddled, coup-laden politics for you.

The Highland Café team views the newly relaxing attitudes as a rightful return to tradition. Chokwan ‘Kitty’ Chopaka, a co-founder, gestures towards a bamboo bong on the café counter and points out that the word “bong” originates from Thai language. Weed has been widely smoked in Thailand for centuries.

“The older generations grew up with it, seeing their parents and grandparents using it,” Kitty says. Chaiwat Banjai, 38, another co-founder, says that when he plucked up the courage to tell his military family that he smoked weed they told him that his grandmother was a dealer.

Piak Lex Hip

PIAK LEX HIP, PHOTO BY JACK TAYLOR

Highland Café hosts meet-ups every Tuesday, when the public can ask questions about weed legislation and other information.. “There was no community, because everyone was so scared of what might happen,” Kitty says. Arun Avery, another of the cafe’s co-founders and a Highland campaigner, adds: “Now we get doctors, scientists… educated people who see the benefit of it.”

At the film festival, Sagar Singh Sivaraman says he’s noticed the shift. Born in Thailand to Indian parents, and having spent around half of his 22 years in Thailand, Sagar studies film production at Bangkok’s Mahidol University International College. His brilliantly tense short film 30k An Ounce, based on a friend’s experience, depicts a Bangkok police-checkpoint bust.

“No one could imagine a stoner movie festival a few years ago here,” he says, soaking in the sun on Cinema Oasis’ terrace. He adds that although smoking weed in public in Bangkok still gets you in trouble, cops’ underlying attitudes seem more understanding since the medical law was announced.

“Earlier, if they caught you with this shit they’d be like, ‘Don’t do this, it ruins your life’,” he says. “But more recently, when I got caught with my vape [without illegal drugs, just a vape] they told me, ‘Some people smoke weed – if you smoke it just keep it at home’. Also, a year or two ago every news channel was talking about marijuana, about medical benefits. Ten years ago they would have just talked about how it was ruining children’s lives.”