Held in March this year, the inaugural Film on the Rocks festival, curated by Thai filmmaker and artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul and British actress Tilda Swinton - and held on the Thai island of Yao Noi - is surely a contender for 'film festival with the most stunning backdrop'. The films were shown on a floating cinema structure designed by architect Ole Scheeren, the man behind the iconic CCTV building in Beijing during his OMA days.
As with many great ideas, the seed for the Archipelago Cinema and the Film on the Rocks festival was planted over a cocktail. Lawyer-trained fashion designer and writer Chomwan Weeraworawit, who co-founded the festival, came up with the idea in a little bar in Bangkok, with Vincent Gillet - then CMO of Six Senses. 'We had an idea about doing something centred around projecting films on the lime stone rocks that rise from the ocean and pierce the sky near Yao Noi Island, where the Six Senses Yao Noi is located,' recalls Weeraworawit. 'It was a fantasy.'
At the time it might have felt like one, but soon real options were explored and a plan started taking shape for a film festival set in the island’s spectacular natural landscape. Weerasethakul and Swinton took on the role of curators, while Nat Sarasas, the owner of the Six Senses Yao Noi, joined the team and became a driving force in the venture. Finally, Scheeren was invited to contribute.
Scheeren had previously worked in the country during the 1999 Cities on the Move exhibition in Bangkok and impressed the festival organisers with his imagination and skill. His previous work for the Marfa Drive-In theatre in the desert of Texas in 2006 worked as an added bonus for the Yao Noi job.
'I was invited to take part, but my role was completely open,' says Scheeren. 'Being an architect, working on an environment for the screenings felt like an obvious way to be involved. And after seeing the location, I decided I wanted to put people on water.'
Created by local craftsmen, using regional building techniques (the floating parts are based on the rafts traditionally used for lobster fishing around the island), the structure incorporates recycled materials. Says Scheeren: 'The inspiration came from the landscape. Then we looked at local methods and references to work out the best way to build the structure.'
The event is now over, but the structure might be appearing among the gondolas this summer. While Archipelago Cinema has been dismantled and parts of it have gone back to the local community, according to the architect’s original intent, it is a modular structure that can be reassembled and built in different configurations. The only clue Scheeren will give us is: 'There are plans about the structure to potentially travelling as far as Europe.'