Blissfully Ours: A Talk With Apichatpong Weerasethakul

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Interview By Jonathan Marlow

"The mood of making my kind of films is getting stronger here."

An Interview with Thai Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Your films deal largely with the intersection between documentary and fiction. How did this interest in contrasts develop?

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...

When did you have a chance to see Warhol's work?

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.

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?

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."

You studied architecture before that?

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.

Your study of architecture informs your film work as well?

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.

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?

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.

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Thai director cancels film's local release

This was forwarded to us by a reader from the UK:

The article below is written by Kong Rithdee from
BANGKOK POST newspaper.

Thai director cancels film's local release

The director of an internationally acclaimed Thai film
has cancelled the local release of the
much-anticipated movie after the censors yesterday
insisted that four ``sensitive'' scenes be cut.

The film, Sang Satawat (Syndromes and a Century), is
directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and tells the
story of doctors at a rural hospital.

The scenes the board found objectionable show a young
monk playing a guitar, a group of doctors drinking
whisky in a hospital basement, a doctor kissing his
girlfriend in a hospital locker room, and two monks
playing with a radio-controlled flying saucer.

``The scenes involving doctors are inappropriate,''
said Supawat Pothong, a representative of the Medical
Council who attended the censorship board meeting
yesterday.

``Drinking whisky in a hospital is not proper conduct
by medical professionals,'' he said.

``Sure, doctors can kiss their girlfriends. Doing that
at home is all right, but doing it in a hospital is
inappropriate.''

Mr Apichatpong, whose parents were both doctors, is
currently in the US.

He emailed the Bangkok Post, saying he has no
intention of cutting those scenes and will withdraw
the film.

``I, as a filmmaker, treat my works as I do my own
sons or daughters,'' he wrote. ``I don't care if
people are fond of them or despise them, as long as I
created them with my best intentions and efforts.

``If these offspring of mine cannot live in their own
country for whatever reason, let them be free. There
is no reason to mutilate them in fear of the system.
Otherwise there is no reason for one to continue
making art.''

Saeng Satawat premiered at the prestigious Venice
International Film Festival in August and went on to
garner praise and awards from audiences, critics and
at film festivals around the world.

On March 21, it won the award for best film editing at
the inaugural Asian Film Awards in Hong Kong.

It was scheduled to open on two screens in Bangkok on
April 19.

``I don't know how to convince [the censors] that
these scenes are not as damaging as many scenes in
other Thai films,'' said Pantham Thongsang, the film's
co-producer.

Critics and parents recently expressed concern about
the heavy use of vulgar language and rude behaviour in
films like The Bodyguard 2 and Hor Taew Tak, which
attracted young audiences and were passed by censors.

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