Film educator, filmmaker and artist Uracha Thitiluck / Oliver was born in Bangkok in January 1966, the eldest child of parents Aree Thitiluck (Nurse) and Burin Thitiluck (Builder). She grew up in Bangkok next to Krungton Bridge on the Chao Phraya River. She majored in Fine Art and Thai Language at Sri Nakharinwirot University, and ever keen to keep learning, later completed a Masters in Media Arts and Production at the University of Technology, Sydney.
After working as a TV documentary producer for Thai television, producing around 100 programs, in August 1994, Uracha enrolled in a short course in directing at the University of Sydney to develop her skills as a filmmaker. Without knowing it, she had met the teacher of her chosen course, Leslie Oliver at the Video Shift arthouse rental shop a month prior. After the course and a separation of 9 months they were married in Bangkok on Oct 7th, 1995. Uracha helped husband Leslie and colleagues build the university short courses into the accredited UBS Film School. Uracha volunteered as a ‘receptionist’ at UBS for three years, which had grown to 86 Certificate IV students, when Uracha and Leslie left in 2004 to set up Sydney Film School. They worked without pay or capital until the School opened in Cope St, Waterloo, offering a Cert IV, then Diploma, then Advanced Diploma of Screen and Media.
Uracha “lived at the school”, as Course Coordinator from 2004 to 2015, interviewing students, inducting them, timetabling, managing trainers, forming production teams, setting up pitching sessions, cooking meals for trainers, student productions, cakes for open days, tending to the mental health of students, attending expos, designing brochures, supervising junior staff members, and knitting scarves for students who helped others. As there was little money, Uracha and Leslie were the cleaners and maintained the School building for its first 4 years. She cooked a Thai banquet every semester for the entire school to welcome new students.
They sought to nourish the vulnerable, with sweat and tears, hoping students left feeling noticed and loved, they had a home, and that a better world was possible. Our education systems strain to address a mental health crisis that business models are ill-suited to address. Uracha was the model for how it can be done.
More is said by her students: (a compilation of their letters to her is linked below)
“As a young student, Uracha was always there to support me, listen to me, hug me, reassure me, and often made me laugh when my over thinking and seriousness got the better of me. She was not only my steward, a teacher, a guide, but also a mentor, friend and fellow Artist.” (Australian filmmaker)
“I’ll always remember the day she taught me about the strength of a woman. She said women keep on going when men can’t go any longer. And she showed us so many times how strong a woman can be.” (Moroccan filmmaker)
“(Uracha) is like a monk’s mother to Thai children (actually take care of every life). She helps give advice for everything. Ask how to shoot. Ask for cooking food. Take her car for students to be a prop.” (translated from Thai, Thai cinematographer)
Much can be said of the 1200+ short films made by 1000+ film students in her time at the School. Her legacy includes novelists, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, artists… around the world.
Uracha and Leslie’s involvement in the School ended in 2015 in circumstances not of their choosing. However, they continued from outside to support their proteges who worked to maintain the unique culture of care for students. With immense grace, Uracha continued supporting those who remained at SFS. She continued as a filmmaker, an artist, a teacher, voracious learner. She rescued many cats on death row and found them good homes.
Uracha spent her final years in Bangkok, mentoring Thai filmmakers, hosting many SFS graduates and teachers from over the years, while planning a new film school in Bangkok.
Uracha passed away on the evening of July 27th 2020, exhausted from the ravages of a virulent form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphona. She was tended in her final years by her husband Leslie Oliver. She is survived by her sister Joy Lanchana Thitiluck, brother Meaw Sarun Thitiluck, husband and love of her life Leslie Oliver, and over a thousand film students.
“The strongest people are those who do not show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.” (a trainer at a film school in Sydney, speaking of Uracha)