Sunday, June 19, 2011

Apichatpong Weerasethakul morning discussion hosted by Peter von Bagh

The School (Kitisenrannan koulu), Sodankylä, Midnight Sun Film Festival, 19 June 2011.

Q: THE FIRST FILM YOU SAW? A Thai film I saw with my parents with a helicopter flying over the sea over the bank to the water. The birds were beautiful. Cinema was a floating experience, letting yourself go. We were living in a small town. My parents were doctors, pioneers from Bangkok. They picked this area, dry, poor. Everything was very rudimentary. The other kids were also doctors' kids. The background of sickness and death was natural for us. Q: IN SYNDROMES AND A CENTURY YOU GO BACK TO THE CHILDHOOD. I was quite young then when we lived there, and I got a lot of help from my mom to reconstruct the circumstances.

Q: YOUR MOTHER, YOUR FATHER. My dad died in 2003, my mom is still alive. I was closer to my mom, who loves movies, and I got to shoot in 8 mm. My father was mostly away, always on call. The circumstances in my childhood were primitive. There was no gas, we used fire. There was no water closet. I grew up with that, but now it's all gone. There is now a big modern doctors' dormitory. My father was also a politician, and that's how I learned not to trust politicians. But my father came to his senses.

Q: DID YOU READ MUCH? Kid stuff: ghost stories, mystery books, UFO's, ancient Egypt. I had no access to serious literature.

Q: HOW ABOUT THE MOVIES? I saw a lot, and used our 8 mm camera. There was a stand-alone cinema with more variety than today. There were Indian films, Hongkong films, Thai films, and American film. This situation lasted until the 1980s. Then it changed into more American domination. There were the US science fiction films. Steven Spielberg I totally embraced, the classical storytelling, the camerawork, the dolly shots, the music. For a kid, Spielberg is easy to love.

Q: THAI CINEMA? There was also the comedy, and stars from Hongkong kung fu movies like Andy Lau. In the 1980s the Hongkong industry collapsed, and we only saw Hollywood films. On VHS we saw horror films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Q: YOUR FAVOURITE HOLLYWOOD STARS? Buster Keaton I liked more than Charles Chaplin. Q: YOU ARE A CINEPHILE WITH A KNOWLEDGE OF WORLD CINEMA. I watch a lot but I don't remember names. On VHS I saw Fellini, Pasolini - only the famous ones. I read a lot about movies, and based on that I created my own movies in my imagination. Q: IMAGINING MOVIES MAY BE AS IMPORTANT AS HAVING ACTUALLY SEEN THEM. I'm not sure. There is instant gratification in seeing films. There was no film festival culture in Thailand. In 1997 we organized our first film festival in Thailand.

Q: WHAT ABOUT SCHOOL? I was miserable, very scared, wearing a uniform. At lunch we always had to finish our food although some things I hated. I felt uncomfortable in a crowd. At high school I skipped classes and ignored school. At the university I studied architecture, and that's when I started to like education. My parents were very liberal and adventurous. My sister went into ceramics and my brother into computer business. I studied architecture for five years.

Q: HOW DID YOU SLIP INTO FILM-MAKING? Because of Spielberg, Raiders of the Lost Ark, how they open the box and people melt. I was interested in special effects. The film department had just opened. The Thai film business was in such a state that no credit cards were issued if you worked in the film business. I studied visual arts in Chicago with a focus on film, on experimental film. The best thing was that they showed the films on film. That was the last school that let film be cut on film, cut like Aki on a Steenbeck. Then they merged with video. Q: FATALLY. I think so. The relationship of film and time is essential, to be able to see the frame, the restoration of motion. From the film frames I can tell how the movement will be.

Q: YOUR U.S. EXPERIMENTAL FAVOURITES? Bruce Baillie (West Coast, Canyon Cinema). He is really free to express himself, a wizard in controlling the light. Of course Stan Brakhage, and Maya Deren.

Q: IT IS RELATIVELY RARE TODAY THAT THE INFLUENCE COMES FROM THEM. The Chicago Film Center has a film festival all year round. There were always retrospectives and guests such as Edward Yang and Abbas Kiarostami.

Q: YOUR SHORT FILMS. I made little short films getting to know the medium, from five to 20 minutes, in 16 mm in black and white. I love black and white. Q: EVERYTHING ON FILM? In Thailand it's not practical. I shot on video, also The Mysterious Object at Noon on a video camera. I shot on Hi-8, DV, HDV. Digital progresses fast. Super 16 (Uncle Boonmee) is also still valid. Q: YOUR NEXT ONE WILL BE A FILM CALLED SODANKYLÄ. I find the red curtains of Cinema Lapinsuu fascinating.

Q: THE REAL BEGINNING OF YOUR FILM-MAKING CAREER. The Mysterious Object at Noon was structured in segments because of the funding. We were moving into another village, and it took four years to complete. With Blissfully Yours and Tropical Malady it was so shaky to get a funding.

Q: THE THEME OF TIME. Time - that's how our mind works. Godard said that a film is 24 lies / truths per second. For me all is a lie. Even Discovery Channel, and National Geography is fake.

Q: JEAN ROUCH IN THE SAME CHAIR WHERE YOU NOW SIT SAID THAT CINEMA IS A LIE MORE TRUTHFUL THAN TRUTH. Gabriel García Marquez says that a memory may be so vivid that it seems true, yet it may not be true. Q: HIS MAGIC REALISM. It's like a film script, so visual, with close-ups. Q: HAVE YOU EVER FILMED A NOVEL? Only books, such as Uncle Boonmee. Q: BUT IT WAS JUST THE INSPIRATION. Yes, it is not an adaptation. The book is very open. We read the same book, have a different image.

Q: IS THERE A GOOD AUDIENCE IN YOUR COUNTRY? Blissfully Yours was a flop, the record lowest box office ever. I'm proud of that. Because of Cannes we sold dvd rights. In Bangkok it was screened on 20-30 screens, Tropical Malady on 3 screens, and Boonmee on one screen only with a full house all the time. Thailand is as big as Texas. There was one print travelling. We don't have arthouse cinema. "Why don't you make a more bankable film" they ask. The Thai way is not so aggressive.

Q: TROPICAL MALADY WAS A BREAKTHROUGH INTERNATIONALLY. IT TOOK MANY YEARS TO MAKE AND HAD A TWO-PART STRUCTURE. Darkness is one of the characters. I needed a light, bright part. A lot of my memory, love, and fantasy is there. In the jungle you don't see but you are scared. Q: IN FINLAND THERE WAS A SELF-EVIDENT SENSE OF NATURE IN THE CINEMA UNTIL THE 1950S BUT NO LONGER. HOW ABOUT THAILAND, HOW DO THE YOUNG EXPERIENCE NATURE. Not much in Bangkok today. Myself, I'm in the middle. I talk about memory, not the contemporary experience. Childhood is important, like in the work of Marcel Proust (In Search of Lost Time). You remember more and more about time past.

Q: WHAT ABOUT YOUR MADELEINE, YOUR PAST-PASTRY, YOUR ROSEBUD? There is no such object, but there is the feeling of the hospital. I woke up early, at four o'clock, to play with the construction stones, watching the shooting stars, facing the life and the death at the hospital. For a child it has no philosophical angle, it is all fun. The steam of the laundry emerging from the ground.

Q: THE TWO PART STRUCTURE. The contrast that exists in my environment - the peaceful and the violent - the chaotic - in a country that mixes everything. There is a big demonstration to fight for democracy - and the shaman we still have who throws blood at the prime minister's house.

Q: THE RICHNESS OF THE CONTRAST OF THE ARCHAIC AND THE MODERN. I'm so sick of the country, but it's a blissful sickness. There may be no tattoo of a religious figure on your body. There may be no image of an alcoholic beverage in a movie - it will be blurred with mosaic.

Q: THE LOCAL UNDERTONES IN YOUR FILMS. There are in the language certain things you cannot translate, such as jokes about monks. People of a certain age when they see Uncle Boonmee laugh at the dry jokes. The dialogue is deliberately funny, and some are sad since the things referred to are gone.

[EXCERPT: TROPICAL MALADY: the Buddhist trek in the caves]

After one hour I had to leave for the shuttle bus to the Rovaniemi airport. I heard later from Peter that Joe's desert island film was: The Unchanging Sea (US 1910, D.W. Griffith).

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