Santi, a poor 10- year-old blind boy who lives with his father. Vina takes a pity on him and tries to protect him from the bullying of Krai. Santi’s father send him to stay with Luang Ta, a respectable monk, hopefully that he would learn the Buddhist lessons and by doing good deed, he could regain his eyesight.
When they have grown up, Santi and Vina become lover. Krai feels jealous because he also love Vina. Krai asks his parent to make a marriage proposal to Vina. Vina decides to run away with Santi. However, they are finally caught and Santi is severe beaten.
On the day Vina gets married with Krai, the cape collapses. Luang Ta lost his life in order to save Santi’s. Santi’s eyesight is miraculous cured but he realizes that real happiness in life is entering the land of Buddha.
Article published by The Nation about resurrecting a legend:
Lost for 60 years, Thailand’s first award-winning film “Santi-Vina” is rediscovered, restored and shown at Cannes
While the 69th Cannes Film Festival did not offer up a happy ending on Sunday night as critics and audience members vented their disappointment at the awarding of the Palme d’Or to Ken Loach’s left-leaning social commentary “I, Daniel Blake”, the 2016 edition of this prestigious event was an enjoyable one, serving up a variety of good films from veteran and rising new talents.
Likewise, although Thai filmmakers were absent from the world’s most important film festival, Thai cinema was very much under the spotlight in the Cannes Classic segment during which a recently rediscovered Thai film was screened.
The special section has been a goldmine for fans of rare film since its inception in 2004. Those screened with beautiful new prints over the last decade include South Korea’s “The Housemaid” by Kim Ki-Young and Edward Yang’s “A Brighter Summer Day”. This year, the section selected “Santi-Vina”, a Thai film from 1954, which was lost for 60 years before being found quite by chance in London, Moscow and Beijing.
“Santi-Vina” was made veteran stage play director Thavi “Marut” na Bangchang, who was behind the productions of Prince Bhanubandhu Yugala’s Assavin Karn Lakorn Troupe and Sawas Thikamporn’s Sivarom Troupe. Little information about his life is available and only very few of his works have survived, among them “Forever Yours” (1955) and “Pantai Norasingh” (1950). It was the first film produced by Hanuman Films, a studio founded by self-taught filmmaker RD Pestonji, winner of Glasgow’s Amateur Cine Competition for his short film “Tang”, and his American partner Robert G North. Pestonji also served as cinematographer while North penned the script. The story is centred on Santi and Vina, star-crossed lovers whose relationship is forbidden by Vina’s parents because Santi is blind.
The film premiered in Tokyo the same year at the first South East Asian Film Festival, the precursor to the Asia Pacific Film Festival, in Tokyo, which was set up by Masaichi Nagata, president of Daiei Studio with the support of Sir Run Run Shaw. The aim was to create a film festival showcasing best films from Asia. Eleven feature films from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaya, Philippines and Thailand competed in the inaugural edition with “Santi-Vina” winning Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction and becoming the first Thai film to win any awards at an international film festival. The film was released in Thailand in December 1954, and His Majesty the King attended the premiere at the Empire Theatre,
The problems started immediately after the festival. After learning that he would have to pay a large sum of money in custom duties to take the film back to Thailand, Pestoni decided to ship it to London. He was later informed that the film had been damaged during the voyage and died in 1970 believing that his award-winning film was lost forever.
“In his funeral memorial book, it is written that the film was damaged during the transportation, and in 1994, when Rank Film Laboratories sent negatives of Hanuman Film’s titles back to Thailand, there was no ‘Santi-Vina’,” Sanchai Chotirosseranee, deputy director of the Thai Film Archive, explains.
In 1976, Pestoni’s son Santa remade “Santi-Vina” as a tribute to his late father but the print of the remake has suffered the trials of time and is in poor condition. Not long after, a film researcher combing the archives found a news clipping stating that “Santi-Vina” had been sold to the Soviet Union and China in the 1950s and was released in both countries.
The search for the film was launched again in 2012 when Sanchai received an e-mail from Alongkot Maiduang, a film critic working on his PhD.
“I went to the British Film Institute to see some films that hadn’t been released and was amazed to find some Thai films in the BFI archive, many of which were not available in Thailand,” Alongkot explains.
“That made me curious about their collection so I asked them to check all the Thai films available. They sent me a list with ‘Santi-Vina’ on it and an annotation that the negative was sound. The spelling of the title on the list was ‘Santi-Veena’, which wasn’t the official English title, and I e-mailed Sanchai at the Thai Film Archive for more information. It turned out that they didn’t know ‘Santi-Vina’ was there. When I came back to Thailand, Sanchai told me that thanks to my e-mail, he had dug further into the archive and discovered it also held the picture negative of the film. The negative though was listed as ‘Santi-Vina’, which explains why the two were separated, and in the database, it wasn’t listed as a Thai film,” he says.
Sanchai takes up the story,
“I went to the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy and met Brigitte Paulowitz, a film archivist from Switzerland who introduced me to Peter Bergov from Gosfilmofond, the National Film Archive of Russia,” he explains.
“We found out that Gosfilmofond had kept a print of this film, and later, Dome [Sukvongse, the director of Thai Film Archive] and [deputy director] Chalida [Uabumrungjit], received an e-mail from Sha Yang, a Chinese film researcher, saying that the film archive in Beijing had also kept a copy of ‘Santi-Vina’.”
Plans were made to fully restore the original print.
“L’ Immagine Ritrovata, a laboratory in Italy specialised in film restoration, helped us in the restoration process, which began in 2015,” Sanchai says. “There were still problems as some scenes were lost from the original negative. We had to use the elements we got from Russia and China to make the restored version as complete as possible.”
And thus the beauty of “Santi-Vina” was revealed to the world again for the first time in 60 years last Thursday. August Pestonji, grandson of RD, attended the premiere of the film along with Kong Rithdee, a board member of the Thai Film Archive.
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