Story by Rebeca Lauprecht
Walking downtown this week, you can see Austin Film Festival badge holders roaming the streets as they go from panels to screenings, soaking up all that the Austin film scene has to offer. Among these badge holders is Dew Napattaloong, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin whose short film about a Thai family is featured in the festival. Napattaloong recently flew in from Los Angeles to experience the festival and revisit the city where his short, “Motherland,” was filmed.
I met Napattaloong at the InterContinental Hotel lobby, where we sat down to discuss Motherland and its place in the festival. The short “Motherland” was originally written as Napattaloong's thesis film project for his Radio-Television-Film degree at UT. Napattaloong's idea was to write a short about a Hurricane Katrina survivor who was struggling to communicate with his deceased son via the spiritual realm.
Upon further deliberation, Napattaloong decided that he really wanted to make the film about something he could connect with on a truly personal level. He made a Thai film that explores the relationship between a mother and her son as they try to reconcile with their past and future. “It didn’t start out as a message, it started out with a feeling,” he says. “It was the exact feeling of when I was saying goodbye to my mom, and then she was in line at the gate — at the security check — and she disappeared from my sight.”
Although Napattaloong directed and acted in the film, he says it is not a biographical short. Yet, “It draws from my personal life, my personal experiences,” he says.
He recalls feeling fear while writing the script. “There were a lot of things I had to change because I was sort of afraid of how my parents and people that I know, my family and my friends, would sort of view what they know about me and my life, my family,” he says.
The film underwent 16 drafts before production began. During the revision process, Napattaloong received support from friends and other filmmakers, but he also faced some uncertainty. “It being a Thai film, and it being a very specific feeling, a specific subject about family, I was afraid that people wouldn’t connect and understand. I was afraid that it was inaccessible,” Napattaloong explains.
In the end, Napattaloong's film succeeded in connecting with many audiences. The short will screen in the Austin Film Festival tonight at the Galaxy Highland, and it will also be featured in the Austin Asian American Film Festival later this month.
Napattaloong attributes his success to the fears that accompany such personal subject matter. “I think having risks and having these fears makes the filmmaking process worthwhile because if you’re afraid to screw it up you try extra hard to make it great,” he says.
See “Motherland” as part of Short Programs 5: Parental Advisory at the Austin Film Festival at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at the Galaxy Highland. “Motherland” will also precede the screening of “La Salada” at the Austin Asian American Film Festival on Friday, Nov. 13 at The Marchesa Hall and Theatre. Purchase tickets to the screening here.