Weekly Local Biography

  Chris Lowenstein

Chris Lowenstein describes himself as being a bridge between international filmmakers and Thailand. As the MD of Living Films, a film production company based in Chiang Mai, he is currently working as the unit production manager for the international film Vampire 3. He is also an incredibly eager young man, who has been very lucky to find a niche to accommodate his enthusiasm.

In line with his ‘hyper-real’ working life, he was not born in the US, but in Santiago, Chile, where his parents were working for the Ford Foundation. However, they did return to America and Chris grew up in Portland Oregon, but that was never going to be his home. “I sensed that I wouldn’t stay in the US forever,” said Chris.

After his secondary education he went to the Liberal Arts College in Wisconsin, where he mastered in Literature and Photography. It was there he went to the movies one day and a light bulb exploded in his brain. “That’s it! Great! That’s what I want to do,” said the very young Chris.

To get him closer to what he wanted to do, he went to Florence to an Italian Film School, where he undertook a two year course, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Film in 1990.

He flung himself into film work with the passion that can be seen every time he speaks about his chosen field, words tumbling from his mouth in increasing torrents as his excitement increases. “I’m suited for film work,” said Chris, “I don’t need sleep. I can work under pressure!”

The need for stimulating film saw him in Vietnam with a Peace Mission, making documentaries. “It was a great experience. We were some of the first Americans in Vietnam, after the war.” However, after the excitement of Vietnam he needed a holiday, and with Thailand being so close, he vacationed here. He found that he ‘clicked’ with Thailand. “Having been all over the world, this was a place that really resonated with me,” said Chris.

By this stage in his career, he was working as an assistant director, and on his return to America he began to work hard at getting on the crew of anyone making films in Thailand. This finally resulted in his making the decision to base himself in Bangkok in 1993.

Two years later he was still there, still freelancing, and now had a Thai wife. He was getting ready for the long haul! He found that being in a Buddhist milieu was helpful to him. “The politics of big films is very intense. So it’s good being in a relaxed Buddhist country,” said Chris.

It was time for the next phase of his life. “I wanted to be small and build a core group around me, almost like a family. I had met Panyawadee Navarut Na Ayudhya and became her partner.”

This was a serendipitous union, as both their names have resulted in work being sent their way. The film industry has more than a smattering of Jewish influence, and Chris’ Jewish sounding surname sticks out when overseas film makers are looking up the list of production houses in Thailand. However, Chris says of himself, “I’m not really Jewish. My lifestyle (these days) is more Buddhist.”

He moved to Chiang Mai and started making a series of documentaries for the UN, with himself as director. “The documentaries gave me a balance compared with the film work. We were making a series on living with AIDS in different countries.”

He described the feeling that he gets after making a documentary. “There are so many different aspects, while watching the film being made, but (at the end I can say) I put all this together!”

He gets excited just talking about his work and what it entails, almost speaking in a shorthand as he thinks ahead of further items. “You are pulling talent out of people who don’t understand their own talent,” said Chris. “People appreciate you for this. It’s very satisfying.”

He also believes that the Thai people are not good at promoting themselves. “There is no real film school in Thailand,” he says. “We need a vehicle for people to learn and move up.” This need is partially filled by Chris, and it was this that prompted him to describe himself as the bridge between international films and Thailand.

The frenetic pace of film production is something that ordinary mortals (like me) do not truly appreciate, but despite something that at times sounds completely disjointed, Chris, as the production manager, has to keep the ‘big picture’ in his mind. “On day 26 at 3 p.m. I can tell you where we’ll be,” he said of this latest film, Vampire 3.

To be able to do this, he has his crew, upon which he depends. “I feel very lucky because of that,” says Chris. He also speaks Thai. “I don’t know I could do my job without it.”

When a movie is being shot, that crew gets larger. With Vampire 3 he currently has 145 people, with 30 percent of those coming from Chiang Mai, incidentally injecting some overseas capital into the northern economy.

He hopes that they will be able to produce their own films. “There is a huge market out there. The films we are doing now are just stepping stones. I want to make films that celebrate the human spirit, and the crew has to love and care for what they are making.”

Despite his hyperactivity, Chris does have time for some hobbies. The first he gave was gardening - “Anything that grows fast!”

Chris is a person who wears his heart on his sleeve, and it is difficult to imagine him doing anything else, other than working in film making. His endless enthusiasm could not be used anywhere else!

He finished the interview saying, “We’re strange people that do strange things.” Perhaps you are, Chris, but you are certainly doing something positive for the film industry here in Thailand.