In conversation with acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Thai film director Apichatpong ‘Joe’ Weerasethakul, who in 2010 won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, gave a rare and intimate Master Lecture at the BACC last month; revealing that his next feature will be filmed not in his hometown of Khon Kaen (like all his movies up till now), but in the far-away Latin American country of Colombia.
This 46-year-old artiste, who got a degree in architecture before doing a Master’s degree in Film Studies in Chicago, is as noted for his art installations as for his films, which reflect his strongly independent views on social, political, and religious issues. His last feature film, Cemetery of Splendor, about a group of soldiers, sleeping/dreaming throughout the movie, was considered controversial and was not released in Thailand.
During the August lecture—in a jam-packed auditorium full of students, academics, film buffs, and film-makers—he was frank, friendly, and fearless, as he answered a wide range of questions. Here are a few selected excerpts.
On his home town:
All my films came out of the environment I grew up in, at my Isaan hometown of Khon Kaen. I loved the wooden house where I lived, and the wooden movie-hall where I enjoyed watching many disaster and action-packed movies. The statues, monuments, temples, gardens, fireworks, lakes, gardens, and the Mekong River—they all feature in my films.
On film locations:
Many of my films were shot in the hospital where my parents worked. I was struck by the fact that everyone seemed to be waiting in a hospital. Everything is in slow-motion there. My 85-year-old mother still practices there, though my father is no more. My film Syndrome and a Century was dedicated to them.
On the microscope:
In the hospital, I loved looking through my parents’ microscope. I saw the changing lights, shades, and shapes. Making films is, indeed, like looking through a microscope. I always play with colours, with light and darkness.
On the importance of dreams:
Sleeping and dreaming are along the same lines, and are important to my films. Dreams have their own reality. In fact, that may be a better reality than what you live in. My 2015 film Cemetery of Splendor is a house of dreams, and the sleeping soldiers are all living in their own virtual reality.
You learn about design, composition, and taking people from point to point.
I didn’t agree with the educational system in Thailand, but it was when I went to the US that I realized the difference. It was a shock when I realized that they respected the individual perspective. There were no grades, as in Khon Khaen, and you learned to respect yourself, not listen to others.
On art and film:
I think art and film are both connected. They are both basically about compositions. I always try to create a dialogue between film, art, and other forms. My film Uncle Boonmee was a film, art installation, and book. If people do not understand my films, it does not worry me. I set myself as my audience, and am true to myself.
On social media:
I don’t favour this ‘technology’. It’s a false bubble that one should get out off. If one spent less time on Facebook/Twitter, one could get a lot more work done, including getting funds for one’s films!
On a good producer:
He must set you deadlines and a time framework, which is very important for a creative director. The director must stick to it, and forget about everything else, like Facebook and Twitter. I’m lucky that I’ve found a good producer.
Thailand is still learning the language of how to speak, articulate, criticize, of creating their own vocabulary. Unlike Colombia. Art is politicized in Colombia, symbols are double-edged. This is the country of drugs, violence, earthquakes, and volcanos. Everything is scaled up there. I can’t work from a Colombian perspective, but I will work with my own perspective in Colombia. I’ve got a story, I’ve got funds, so… I’ll be going into pre-production soon. The tentative title of the film is Memoria. I’m also making a short film entitled Monument. So, I’m really busy, but if you love what you are doing, everything falls into place—whichever country you are in.
Compiled by Lekha Shankar