Blissfully Ours: A Talk With Apichatpong Weerasethakul

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By Jonathan Marlow

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

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.

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