|A scene from Santi-Vina, via the Film Archive (Public Organization) Thailand.|
Long considered an unattainable "Holy Grail" of Thai cinema, the 1954 romantic drama Santi-Vina (สันติ -วีณา) was once lost. But really, it was there all the time, hidden away in mislabeled cans at the British Film Institute archives.
Now accounted for, the film, directed by Thavi "Kru Marut" na Bangchang with a screenplay by Vichit Kounavudhi and cinematography by pioneering auteur R.D. Pestonji, will get a new premiere at the Cannes Film Festival tomorrow (May 19) as part of the Cannes Classics program.
Having undergone a complete digital restoration, Santi-Vina is the only Thai film officially selected to this year's edition of the prestigious festival.
Added to Thailand's national registry of historic films in 2014, Santi-Vina is significant because it was the first Thai film to be shot on 35mm color with sound. It was also the first Thai film to win an award at an overseas film festival, taking away three prizes at the 1954 Asia Pacific Film Festival in Tokyo. There was a kerfuffle when Pestonji returned from the festival, and had to pay customs duties on the camera he was awarded as a prize. Also, authorities fined the filmmakers for showing the film overseas without first passing through censors.
Nonetheless, it was shown in Bangkok that same year, according to various accounts. But from there the film's path into the collective pop-culture consciousness becomes sketchy.
No one today seems to know exactly why or how Santi-Vina went missing. Or maybe they do know, but can't say. Anyway, archivists searched for decades, and had pretty much given up hope. But the film was there, somewhere in England, just sitting and waiting to be rediscovered.
A recent Bangkok Post article had more details:
"In the early 2000s there were clues, but none was substantial. When Rank Laboratory in the UK sent us back several Thai films marooned in their lab, Santi-Vina wasn't among them. We checked with British Film Institute [BFI] too because they kept so many films, but they didn't find it. So we thought it had been lost forever," says Chalida [Uabumrungjit, deputy director of Thailand's Film Archive (Public Organisation)].
But then luck struck. In 2011, a film critic and student in London, Alongkot Duangmai, was browsing through the BFI library when he accidentally found the title Santi-Vina. Then followed a flurry of communication between the Thai Film Archive and BFI, which eventually found the sound negatives of the film, but no picture. More digging revealed that BFI had also kept the picture negatives, though they were misplaced with the wrong registration number and misspelled title, thus making it untraceable in the beginning. Against all odds, Santi-Vina came into existence again.
There will hopefully be a screening or screenings of Santi-Vina in Thailand in the not-too-distant future. Keep an eye on the Film Archive's Facebook page for those developments. In the meantime, feast eyes on the trailer, embedded below.