Although widely acknowledged as a destination for sex tourism, relatively little is known about the young women who make up the sex worker profession of Thailand; their day to day lives and hopes for the future that lies before them remaining a largely unexplored mystery to outsiders. Commissioned by Blaudzun for the Promises of No Mans Land music video – the first single to be taken from the upcoming album – Nina Spiering and Mirka Duijn of Kimmo Films employ their documentary and drama experience to create a docufiction ‘day in the life of’ film based on the firsthand accounts of working Thai prostitutes gathered in their research. We invited Nina and Mirka to answer some questions about their enlightening and unconventional music video.
Kimmo Films is the name which houses your ongoing collaboration, how did the two of you come to form your working partnership and do you have defined roles within it?
We met each other about 10 years ago, through mutual friends in music. We started working together around 2008 and immediately had a click. We understand each other completely. That’s why working as a duo came quite naturally, so to say. At first we were quite insecure about being a ‘duo’. It is not very common, of course. That changed though. We know each other so well, we can switch roles within the blink of an eye. We often do that. Next to that we can do more together. We often do a part of the creative production as well. Next to that Nina does the art direction for almost all of our productions.
One of the things we’ve noticed that’s common across your music video work is the use of strong narratives over performance pieces. Would you say that’s an essential element for a project to interest you?
We don’t necessarily need a story, but we do need a good concept. We don’t like to make plain performance videos so much. We are not interested in that. Whatever you do with performance, it has been done before. We like ‘condensed stories’, stories that feel more like trailers for movies than like music videos. It seems like we are telling a bigger story than we actually do. Viewers can fill in the information we leave out of the story. It creates tension or at least that is what we want to achieve.
We don’t like to make plain performance videos so much. We are not interested in that.
The Docu-Fiction form of Promises of No Mans Land is fairly unconventional. What was the inspiration to tell this story within a music video form and how did you pitch the idea to Blaudzun?
Blaudzun, Johannes, gave us absolute freedom to make whatever we wanted to make. His song was about a woman who was abused by her husband, but didn’t dare to leave him, because she did not know what the future without him would entail. She dreamed of getting out, but didn’t dare to. This tension was something we wanted to capture.
We were very interested in the topic of Thai prostitution. A lot of these girls come from poor families. This job as a ‘bargirl’ pays very well; they often earn money for the rest of the family as well. A lot of girls dream of getting out, doing something else. They don’t want to do this forever. They are all very young, so they still have a lot to dream about. We wanted to show their world and give an insight into their dreams.
How did you find your lead Xiang Yu Yeung and convince her to star in the film?
Xiang Yu Yeung is an actress. We interviewed girls (Phow was one of them) in Pattaya and used their stories. They are in the clip, but in the background, as side characters. Xiang’s home is actually Phow’s little apartment and the gogo-bar is the real bar where Phow works. Even the customers are real customers, which was quite tough for Xiang.
Thailand doesn’t want to have the stories of these girls spread around too much, the film board wasn’t too happy with us.
We couldn’t film such a story with Phow herself; that was too risky for all of us. Thailand doesn’t want to have the stories of these girls spread around too much, the film board wasn’t too happy with us. If we had used Phow as an actress she would have been in danger, just as the owner of the bar we filmed in. Also, we don’t show the customers’ faces, ever. That wasn’t solely a stylistic choice: we couldn’t have filmed this if we couldn’t guarantee their anonymity.
By its very nature there’s a definite blurred line between the documentary and fiction elements in the film. What factors separated aspects of the story into either camp?
After interviewing the girls we came up with a minimal storyline, which was not much more than a selection of settings. We started from there, but of course, since Xiang is an actress we’ve staged a lot. Before the shooting days we regularly went to the gogo-bar with Xiang, so she could get to know the girls, get to be familiar with them and their habits (they taught her about make up and hair, about drinking games, etc). A lot of the details were ideas the girls came with. Other details were things we saw happening there (like girls falling asleep graciously on their bar seats).
Much of the film is shot at night and beneath coloured lights. What camera/lighting setup did you use?
We didn’t have a big budget and used a Red Epic camera with good lenses. We had a lens baby with us and that was that. Nothing else. We haven’t used any extra lighting at any time. Because of the precarious situations we were in we wanted to stay flexible and fast.
We’ve seen the intriguing Land of Change trailers you’ve been putting out, can you tell us a bit more about the coming project?
Land of Change is a 35 minute film made for a Dutch museum. It is a film about a secluded and forgotten part of the Netherlands where everything is in change. We captured inhabitants of the area on the verge of these changes. We talk about what is gone, but also about hopes and dreams they have for the future. The film is mainly about cultural identity. A lot of inhabitants are afraid to loose their cultural identity. They try to hold on to it whatever it takes… which results in desperate attempts, making their culture into kitschy folklore.
We finished the museum version last fall, but are working on a longer version for cinema. Next to that we are working on a 50 minute drama about a Hungarian immigrant in the Netherlands.
Will we be getting some more music videos from you soon as well?
Yes! With Johannes, Blaudzun, we were talking about a part two to this video… Nothing is certain yet, but most probably we will make a pt. 2. With Xiang.