Recent winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes for his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasethakul is the golden boy of indie Thai cinema, but would rather hang out with his dogs than rub shoulders with celebrities.
- By Mrigaa Sethi
- | Aug 12, 2010
My parents were doctors in Khon Kaen.As a kid, I explored the hospital grounds on bikes with my close friends.
My mother is a pediatrician. I often visited her at the hospital. But I could never be a doctor because it requires such dedication to be a good on.
I was definitely an awkward kid. I always felt that I wanted to know and do something more, and that my body was too limited. Maybe that’s why I loved to go to the movies and wanted to be part of them. In the dark you don’t have to use your body, you are not aware of it. You just let your mind drift.
I created Kick the Machine because whenever I wanted to use the film facilities such as the lab or the mixing room, they always asked, “Which company are you from?” I often replied that I was from nowhere. But it got annoying, so I founded this company.
When making a film, the biggest challenge is to find the right actors and locations. I have very precise preferences.
Good producers for my kind of film are very rare. They are crazy and dedicated. So they have my respect 120%. To acquire funding, I first have to find good producers.
There are some similarities between architecture and filmmaking. They manipulate space to stimulate our mind. And they both operate on a dimension of time. You need linear time to appreciate their wonder.
Many of my films take place in Isaan because it is the backbone of the country. Isaan people bring their haunted spirits with them throughout Thailand. There is dignity, there is anger. I admire their mad energy.
Living in Thailand brings many inspirations. It is the land of illusion, like cinema.
I used to be comfortable with the distinction between “mainstream” and “art house.” Now I think because mainstream narratives exist, my kind of movie is possible and alive.
I don’t think my films are more popular abroad than they are in Thailand. I think my films do best in Thailand, considering how small we are, and how bad our economic situation is. We don’t even have a proper film archive facility.
I am the first and foremost audience when I am making a film.
I have some stock answers if someone says, “I just didn’t get your movie.” I say, “It’s normal,” “See it again,” “So?” “Try to see it in a theater,” or, “OK, I will try harder next time.”
We need independent, art house cinema in Thailand. This type of cinema should not depend on government support because it’s never stable. It should be a private business. We need well-off investors who love art, cinema, and have guts. I think they exist. It’s a matter of time.
I think the reason Uncle Boonmee resonates with critics abroad is its universal themes of death and being alive. We all also share a common cinema history.
I’m fascinated by the ability of the mind and how one can remember so much. The film was inspired by an old text written by a Buddhist monk. It’s interesting that the man in the text is always reborn in Isaan.
It’s sometimes difficult to direct the actors in my kind of movies. For Uncle Boonmee, it was not difficult to explain the narrative. But for other films, it was quite a challenge because even though we had the scripts, I sometimes tried to build the movie’s mood as we shot it. So that’s why I try to use the same crew.
I respect filmmakers who keep making films to advance film history. Manoel Oliveira comes to mind. He’s 102 and is still making films that are far ahead of our time.
I try not to compare with other countries, but as long as gays and lesbians are portrayed in our media as clowns or psychos, and are always played by straight people, I don’t think society is that open-minded. Especially since many of the media makers are gay themselves.
I didn’t feel a special responsibility to portray homosexual longing in Tropical Malady. Homosexual longing is longing, too.
Making films is like entering a battlefield. After it is finished, I have to travel a lot to promote it. The beautiful scenery and beautiful people can bore you to death. When I’m free, I enjoy being home.
I read and play with my dogs. There is nothing that I cannot live without.