DIGITAL FILM PREMIERE AT DESIGNBOOM FROM 25 TO 27 NOVEMBER 2022
designboom is collaborating with Bêka & Lemoine for the exclusive digital premiere of “Big Ears Listen With Feet”, their latest release documentary focuses on the moving personal story of Thai architect Boonserm Premthada Project Studio Bangkok. recipient of THE DESIGN AWARD 2021|22 in the category social influencePremthada creates a kind of architecture that promotes respect and humility and shows consideration ‘not only man, but also nature and the environment that have always existed alongside man.’ Due to a hearing impairment that he has lived with since birth, the architect has developed an alternative way of hearing that uses his whole body as a resonance chamber. Drawing on this personal experience, his professional work revolves around an “architecture of the senses” in which sound vibrations become the voice of space through an enormous amount of materials.
Rather than just focusing on his builds, Big Ears Listen With Feet delves into the life story of Boonserm Premthada on a day-long journey across Thailand. Beka & Lemoine’This intimate road movie introduces viewers to the places and people that shaped the architect’s unique identity and sensibility. “We pay close attention to forms of vulnerability and how to find beauty, poetry and strength in those forms.” explains the celebrated artist-filmmaker duo. ‘Despite the many adversities he faced in life, he managed to do such incredible and very demanding work with extraordinary results, so we were very interested in giving such a person a voice. It gives so many people hope compared to the success stories of perfect, invincible individuals. We don’t care about perfection because we don’t find poetry in perfection.’ designboom spoke to Ila Bêka, Louise Lemoine and Boonserm Premthada to find out more about their collaboration. Read our full interview below.
The entire film can be seen during the long screening weekend, which runs from Friday 25 November to Sunday 27 November 2022 at the top of this page. The online premiere also coincides with the film’s Italian premiere at the Milano Design Film Festival, where it will be screened on November 25 at 9:30 p.m. at the Anteo Palazzo Del Cinema. More info on ‘Big Ears Listen With Feet’ at MDFF here.
all stills from Big Ears Listen With Feet courtesy of Bêka & Lemoine
INTERVIEW WITH Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine
designboom (DB): What sparked your interest in the life and work of Boonserm Premthada? How was your first encounter?
Louise Lemoine (LL): The film begins with a Zoom conversation, and we actually met during that conversation. We asked him to come to us because we are currently working on a book about the sensual and emotional experience of space. It’s a book that brings together very sensitive people from different generations, different continents and different cultures. Of course his work came across because these are subjects he is very concerned with and we were interested in his input. At that point we really only knew his work, we didn’t know anything about his life story. Going through the conversation and meeting him we thought he was so touching and amazing in his life, work and dedication to small communities so we thought it would be an incredible opportunity to learn more about him. So we flew to Bangkok to meet him and do the film.
Boonserm Premthada at the Kantana Film and Animation Institute
DB: So the film came about more by accident, right?
Ila Beka: (IB): We believe a lot in encounters like this, so every time we can we really jump on opportunities like this and make films in this very spontaneous way. We like making films in the present. It’s about an experience we shared with him and his wife, who was always there because he has a hearing problem. We didn’t want to make a film about his architecture, we just wanted to share a moment and an experience with him. The film goes into some detail about its buildings, of course, but the focus is on the places that move it the most. Actually, he said it’s more than places that moves him the most, so he got us to meet some people he likes. That’s the story of the film. We spent a day, from four in the morning until night, and we stayed with him, drove all over Bangkok, then to the countryside and even to the center of Thailand on a plane and back the same day. It was really hectic, but we just wanted to share a few moments with him because he’s a very moving person.
LL: In our work in general we look for the human story behind the architecture. That’s why, as Ila said, we focused the film on him because we believe his architecture is the embodiment of visions and ideas about how architecture can affect people’s lives. We thought he was the real voice to help us fully understand his commitment as an architect.
IB: It’s a beautiful story. Despite his hearing problem and his background – he was born in a Bangkok slum – he is a very strong man. Now he is doing very interesting beautiful architecture and he is becoming a very important architect in Thailand and even worldwide. It was such a beautiful message for us because architecture is usually something that has to do with people from a different social class.
LL: We pay much attention to forms of vulnerability and how you can find beauty, poetry and strength in these forms. Despite the many adversities he faced in life, he managed to do such incredible and very demanding work with extraordinary results, so we were very interested in giving such a person a voice. It gives so many people hope compared to the success stories of perfect, invincible individuals. We don’t care about perfection because we don’t find poetry in perfection.
Monks in Ayutthaya
DB: How did you experience Bangkok? Have you encountered places or encounters that you particularly remember?
IB: The start of the day was very moving as we drove an hour to Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Thailand, to meet some monks. But more than the monks, we met the people who offer food to the monks every day at five in the morning. That was very strong because we saw so many people preparing food and giving it to them.
LL: It’s a very poor rural area, so that kind of dedication and generosity is amazing. These people do not live with much on a daily basis, but the monks survive in this way thanks to the generosity of the residents. It’s a ritual, something I think is common all over Thailand, but for us it was the first time to observe and document it.
IB: After that we went to the slum where he was born, stayed with him there and went to his mother’s and sister’s house. It was also a very moving moment. Also, it was incredibly strong when we went to Surin elephant worldto see its buildings and the elephants.
Every day at five o’clock in the morning people offer food to the monks
DB: Can you tell us a bit more about the title of the film?
IB: During our online conversation, Boonserm told us a very interesting story. As you know he is almost completely deaf and as a child he tried to adapt to this problem in order to be able to listen to those around him. He discovered a way to listen to what they were saying through the vibration of the voice. We perceive sounds through the vibration of our voice, there is a system that translates vibrations into sounds. Since his system wasn’t working, he tried turning his whole body into a resonance chamber in order to feel the vibrations through his whole body and not just through his ears. When you talk to him, thanks to this vibration, he understands what you say. In the film you can see that he can understand my voice because I have a low pitch, so I create more vibration than, say, Louise.
When he started working with elephants, he discovered something very interesting. Although they have very large ears, they cannot hear sounds through them. Instead, they hear the vibration through the floor, through their feet. So you hear much better with your feet than with your ears. Their ears are very big because they use them to cool their blood as they always live in very hot places around the world. If you don’t know this, you might think that elephants can hear very well because they have big ears, but the exact opposite is true. They hear very well through the vibration of the ground, they can hear other animals from many kilometers away because they are super sensitive. Boonserm told us he thought he was like a little elephant, with small feet but very sensitive. So we thought it would be a nice image to call this movie Big Ears Listen With Feet.
LL: Elephants are not just a passion for him. Since this revelation he has been doing projects with elephants and working on them as a research subject as well.