Thai movie festival features a floating cinema

Film on the Rocks Yao Noi Theater

When people think of Thailand as a travel destination, some of the first thoughts that come to mind are the beautiful white sand beaches and their accompanying crystal clear water. Beijing-based German architect Ole Scheeren took this a step further by creating a floating cinema for the recent Film on the Rocks Yao Noi Festival which took place in the southern Thai province of Phuket earlier this month.

Artfully placed between two rocks, the movie screen faces a floating deck where the audience members are seated on an auditorium raft. The entire theater is located within a concave of Nai Pi Lae lagoon on Kudu Island. Scheeren described the design as a way to experience cinema “somewhere in the middle of this incredible space of the lagoon, focused on the moving images across the water: a sense of temporality, randomness, almost like driftwood.” It is as if the theater is Thailand’s rendition of American drive-in movies, but don’t expect to pull up cars to your seat on the waters. Audience members are ushered to their seats via a choppy speedboat ride, though Scheeren states on his official site that the water was actually pleasantly calm.

Film on the Rocks Yao Noi TheaterThe design was inspired by local practices, as Thai fisherman often built floating rafts to farm lobsters. Because the theater exists over water, it could theoretically be towed and moved to different water locations depending on tide conditions. Scheeren created the floating theater, or the Archipelago Cinema, out of recycled materials, and as of the festival’s end, the theater had been taken apart, recycled, and donated to the local Yao Noi community to use as a playground or an assembly space. If elected, the community may also keep it as a floating stage to extend the unique theater experience not made for the easily seasick.

This also isn’t Scheeren’s first attempt to create localized theater experiences. In 2006, he staged a drive-in theater in West Texas to make use of the state’s open desert space, contrasting the cinema screen against the plains, sweeping mountain ranges, and big night sky.

The Film on the Rocks Yao Noi Festival is certainly an interesting place to create such an experience. Curated by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul and actress Tilda Swinton, the four-day festival brought an international flavor to the budding Thai film industry. It is also only its third year of existence.

Pertaining to this year’s theme, audience members were asked to bring their own “message in a bottle,” which could be in any medium of choice, such as a film, book, painting, sculpture, or performance. The festival aim to collect these “messages” and store them in a library so local townsfolk can enjoy the contributions from around the world.

The Archipelago Cinema is definitely unusual and beautiful in its own way, but we’ll let the audience be the judge. Would you prefer a classic American drive-in theater experience or enjoy films atop the serene waters of a southern Thailand beach?

Image Credit: Buro Ole Scheeren

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