By Jonathan Marlow
February 14, 2005 - 11:41 AM PST
Jonathan Marlow: Your films deal largely with the intersection between documentary and fiction. How did this interest in contrasts develop?
Apichatpong Weerasethakul: I wasn't really conscious about this. It came naturally. I like to watch what's happening. For instance, I really like watching people pass by and stuff like that and that's why I really like Andy Warhol's films. It's more like watching, kind of observing what's going on, and the audience makes up the narrative themselves. It's more like that. I didn't plan to make a theory or anything except for my interest in observing life...
M: When did you have a chance to see Warhol's work?
W: In fact, I haven't seen it, I just read about it and when I was in the States. I had a lot of information about his film about his life. Which is better. I can have his film in my voice and in my head.
M: You received your MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, studying there from 1994 to 1997. How did you decide to complete your degree in Chicago?
W: During that time in Thailand, there was no film school that interested me and I didn't know what I was looking for and Chicago was the last place that had the latest deadline for application. I think I was lucky to get into this school. As I say, I didn't know what I was looking for. Whatever film school was in the US must be good. I went to Chicago and discovered experimental cinema. It was something that made me think, "Oh, this is what I always wanted to do but I didn't know how to explain it."
M: You studied architecture before that?
W: Yeah, because I was in Khon Kaen, my hometown and the architectural department was just opened. I knew I wanted to make films, but there was no film school and I felt like architecture at that time was very interesting to me. It helped a lot until now.
M: Your study of architecture informs your film work as well?
W: Ah, yes, even now, I discover many similarities between that and the structural film from the American experimental camp. Until now, when I plan my films, it helps in terms of structure. Look at the whole film as a building and, in the physical terms, when I look at the space, a particular film is very... How do I approach this. It's like when an audience walks through the building. What do you have for them? That corner? How big is the space? It's applied directly when it comes to filmmaking.
M: When you returned to Thailand, you curated the first Bangkok International Art Film Festival, which later evolved into the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival. As a result, you've encouraged other young Thai filmmakers to embrace experimental film. When did your interest in experimental film originate? Which filmmakers inspired your earliest short works?
W: It was really well received although there were not that many people. We got good people, a quality audience. These people, some of them became filmmakers, and they still are active in the film community. Before we found the film festival, there were no other festivals at all in Thailand. Afterwards there were other festivals. Perhaps, I think, that people had been thinking about this but never actually did it. Or, when we did it, we gave people confidence to do it also.
M:When you do video installation work, do you approach that work differently than when you work with film?
W: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The similarity is... the main idea, the main concept. They're the same, but practically, video works give me more freedom. They're very expressive and somehow now it turns out that my video works are sketches for my feature films. It's more abstract and I can experiment with the medium, the video, and it doesn't need a lot of people. It's just me and the camera, so it's very intimate. It's a way to explore and sketch certain moods, certain emotions for film. It coexists quite well in that way.
M: Would you say any of the earlier shorts were a direct starting point for your first feature or were they different enough that your first feature was something completely different? When you look at the Like the Rentless Fury of the Pounding Waves, you're exploring ideas of time and space that seem to evolve in Mysterious Object at Noon, but they're obviously very different also.
W: Yeah, but for me they are the same in the way that I try to get a feeling with the camera and explore how I can capture the ordinary events in life, and Relentless is something like that with very little planning. I get the feeling of the environment spontaneously, so it's a very similar working method as Mysterious Object at Noon. It continues until now, this way of working.
M: It seems that the construction of your work challenges - particularly here in the United States - our notions of what is or isn't documentary, in much the same way that Marcel Duchamp and Joseph Cornell challenged what could be accepted as art. In a way, you're creating this kind of Thai new wave that's similar to what was happening throughout the world in the 60s. Are you seeing an inspiration or influence of your work starting to spread through Thailand and other peoples' work?
W: I do, actually. You mean my influence, yes?
M: Because there really wasn't independent film in Thailand until your first film came out. Are you seeing other people now feeling like it's possible that their films can be seen and then going out and making their own work as a result?
W: Yes, now it's very common for everyone to make films. Yeah, and video for the young people. Before it was quite limited in terms of equipment and now so many kids are making video. Before, five or six years ago, there was a lot of work dealing directly with social issues quite outside of the personal style. Now we see a lot more people who are just talking about themselves, which I think is a better way because it reflects the society they're living in. In a personal way, that's more interesting, so you see more of this work, and the studios in Thailand are tapping into this area as well in hiring fresh graduates to direct a video and then go to film or direct a film cheaply. I think that the mood of making my kind of films is getting stronger here.
M: Well, it doesn't hurt that your films are so well-received as well. They have been very well-accepted and very well-appreciated throughout the world. Your association with cinemafactory ended around the time that you either started or finished Mysterious Object at Noon. Is that about right?
M: At what point in the conception of your first feature film did you introduce the notion of the exquisite corpse as a storytelling technique? Was it really early in the process?
W: It's actually the main concept with which we started the film. It's the whole film.
M: How carefully planned was the journey in advance of taking up the project? Or was it still pretty carefree as you traveled around?
W: We only knew that we would travel from the north to the south, but along the way, of course, we had to plan when we drove around the country, around the city. In the north we just looked at the landscape and, for example, saw farmers, so we planned: Ok, let's do that as the subject.
M: Were there any unexpected challenges when you were working on this film? Were there any surprises when you were working on it?
W: Yes, the way people tell stories because we were just open. For example, the kids are very open and very imaginative. I just realized later that it's influenced by the way they live. They're school kids, very influenced by comics, television. They just want to have fun and collect images. We didn't consciously think about social issues and about making this documentary fiction. The relationship between people and the social just occurred to us later. Then we could make the story interesting.
M: How many people did you have working on Mysterious Object at Noon?
W: About ten people. That's all.
M: And you shot for how many weeks?
W: We had several traveling trips, so I cannot tell you exactly. Sometimes, it was about twenty people, thirty people on the set, and sometimes, it was ten people. It depends on the budget and each area. I couldn't have the volunteers the whole time. The trip to the north was twenty people. I stopped in Bangkok and changed the crew. That's what it was like.
"The mood of making my kind of films is getting stronger here.""The prize gave me that confidence."
back to past articles
In addition to his persistence in acquiring obscure films for GreenCine, Marlow is a writer, filmmaker, curator and occasional critic. Not necessarily in that order. He is also a dedicated skeptic.
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