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CPH PIX Copenhagen Film Festivals


CPH PIX is Denmark's new feature film festival. Launched in 2009 as the result of the merger between the city's two long-running festivals the Copenhagen International Film Festival and the Natfilm Festiva, it instantly became the biggest festival in the Danish capital ever.

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UNCLE BOONMEE at Copenhagen Film Festival

INTERVIEW WITH: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (Thailand, 2010) screens at Copenhagen Film Festival 2011

 

Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Vanessa McMahon interviews Apichatpong Weerasethakul

 

 

INTERVIEW WITH Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

 

During the 51st Thessaloniki Film Festival, I had the grand pleasure to
speak at length with Mr. Apichatpong
Weerasethakul, or ‘Joe' as
he likes to be called. This was a one-of-a-kind interview as I was tempted
to keep him for hours to just hear him passionately speak about his
visionary POV on cinema and his cross-genre, trans-borders, duality,
disassociating and completely groundbreaking auteurship body of work
which consists of six feature films, including the celebrated ‘Uncle
Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives
' (2010), of which he was
awarded the prestigious Palme d'Or at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.

 

In Thessaloniki, Joe was an honorary guest in the ‘Independence Days'
portion of the festival where he held press conferences, masterclasses,
interviews and Q and A's regarding his films, all of which were screened
during
the festival.

 

Let the interview between 'Joe' and I begin:

 

JOE: Is it okay to interview with all this sound?

 

(A LOUD BAND struck up next door)

 

ME: Yes, well, this is a funny and informal setting to be sure.

 

JOE: Where are you from? (noticing I am not Greek)

 

ME: From California and from all over. And you are from Thailand in the region near Laos?

 

JOE: Yes, that's where I grew up but now I live in the north.

 

ME: Awesome. Well, first of all, I want to congratulate you on winning
the Palme d'Or. Can you share with us a little about what that was like?

 

JOE: It was like... going to Mars... (we all laughed) It was so surreal.
I didn't expect to win such an honor. I mean, for me just to be there
was already enough because it was a time when the Thailand political
situation was very intense. I was just thinking about home because I
worry about home, but with the prize I forget my home. It was so
unexpected for a small personal film but Tim Burton said that it's a
film that had taken him to a different world and then I could
understand that maybe now we need a personal kind of cinema and to
celebrate more experimental work.

 

ME: Your film is termed a ‘multi-platform Primitive' film. Can you explain
what that means?

 

JOE: Well, the film ‘Uncle Boonmee' is a feature film, right, and it's
part of this project called ‘Primitive' that has several lives that. I
mean, there's installation, and also short film online, short film
cinema and also kind of an artist book network that exists in a kind of
media style and ‘Uncle Boonmee' is the last part of a project we started
in 2007.

 

ME: So, it's about multiple lives as well as multiple forms of cinema as well.

 

JOE: Yes, the film itself is about layers of different styles of cinema
that I grew up with in the past that I think they are disappearing and
dying or constantly transforming...

 

ME: And you filmed it entirely near the border of Laos?

 

JOE: Uh, it's quite near. It's a city not far from the Mekong River that
separates Thai and Laos and has a lot of deep trouble about the
history.

 

ME: And it's close to your history as well?

 

JOE: Well, not really. I really have to be there and just to explain
time and to learn from the older generations who have passed through the
60s that had this violence. Well, now I am talking about the Primitive
project, the primitive
installation. But for ‘Uncle Boonmee' the movie
we shot in another place and it's a bit further from that trouble area.

 

(Here the BAND next door began to play louder)

 

ME: Uh Oh, now I have to speak louder as we're competing with the
band, our soundtrack coming from next door.

 

JOE: I like it actually!

 

(We Both laughed and ‘Joe' sipped from his water. He remained cool and sweet,
modest and ready for anything)

 

Me: Can you speak about themes about the film...about the memories, the
transformation, extinction and communism in 1965. I mean, the different
layers you used to make a kind of hybrid film.

 

JOE: Yeah, ‘hybrid' is the word because the film is like a combination
of many things and also I could summarize a summary of other films that I
had done in the past ten years and it's more like a celebration of
memory so they had these layers of different styles and also a reunion
of the characters from the past films that come together in the end.

 

ME: That's really interesting. And you say that this film is not a political film.
It's more of a personal journey.

 

JOE: Right. Right. Somehow there's a political issue that I couldn't
overlook because it's there at certain time. When we talk about the
landscape. The landscape has its own memory and I think that the
political side is one of them.

 

ME: I also read that this is kind of a tribute for you for a death of
cinema as we know it. You filmed it in 16mm. So, what do you feel is the
death of cinema?

 

JOE: Well, I hope that it's not dead. I mean, it's not dying. That's why
I say it's transforming in the digital age and technology. I feel that
we have to adapt but at the same time we have to cherish what we've
donebefore and to remember this beauty that now everyone is kind of
embracing the digital medium and I think the aesthetics change but
somehow there's a beauty that I would like to introduce also to say to
the young generation like ‘hey, this beauty exists and that you know
it's still not dying. You can still make films and there's a kind of
certain kind of beauty that cannot be replaced by digital.'

 

ME: Like David Lynch who won the Palme d'Or for Mulholland Drive, your
films are also very reflexive and require a lot of thought put into them
from the audience.

 

JOE: Well, for me, the audience has to be very very passive or very very
active to enjoy the film. In the passive way, you just don't need to
think. It's just like going to a foreign country and travel on a train
or a bus and just look out of
the window and let it flow into you and don't question. Yeah, that's one
thing to enjoy like to just by put yourself in a neutral state and
don't expect... So, another thing is to be very active. In terms of
thinking of the references and the flow of cinema history and how this
movie is related to what kind of styles you grew up with because I
believe we are also in the same streak of cinema history and the
rebirth. I think that even though there is Asian film, Hollywood film,
West European film. But we also share the same traits, you know, and
influence each other.

 

ME: You really give people that sense throughout the film, of the
moments where one must watch passively and also actively... Is Uncle
Boonmee a metaphor or a symbol for something greater that you would like
to speak about or is that something you would prefer people sort of to
infer to on their own?

 

JOE: Yeah, for me I would prefer that they take their own experience. I
got several feedback that sometime that wasn't what I intended but it's
what they take the history or for example someone that they were close
to died and when they watch the movie they feel something special about
that person and about death also and so that's a good thing. I mean, one
good approach.

 

ME: Do people ever tell you that they appreciate your film more after
seeing it than when they were actually watching it? That perhaps they
didn't understand it while watching it, but then later after thinking
about it, they could
understand better?

 

JOE:
Well, many people told me they had to see it several times or someone
said that the movie kind of stuck with them for several days and they
need get the movie out of their head and for me that's wonderful because
it's like dreams you
know. It's like vivid dreams stay with you.

 

ME: So, what is your next project? And will you continue to film with actual film?

 

JOE: Well, the next project will be 2013. I hope. And I don't know. By
that time I don't know what technology will bring but I hope that film
still exists then.

 

ME: Can you tell us about the book that ‘Uncle Boonmee' is based on?
What was it about this book that made you feel it had to be a film?

 

JOE: Well, because my previous films always deal with memory. My home
memory. And this book talks about a man who remembered several lives
through centuries that like how to make memories he had. So that drew me
to it and then I was stuck for a while because of how to present it
visual way. In the end, after several years, I decided okay, let's put
the book as an inspiration and I put a lot of myself in and just have the book
only as a springboard.

 

ME: I like how you introduce almost every genre in this film. Basically,
your film is the anti-film. I mean, everything that schools teach as
textbook for filmmaking, you go completely at against the grain. You mix
all these genres together and yet it works in such a poetic and raw
way.

 

JOE: (laughs) It works for some!

 

ME: Yeah, it works for some. It's definitely a film that sticks with you
and you keep thinking about it afterwards. It's like when you're in the
midst of an experience, you cannot understand it; but somehow looking
back you can see it things more clearly. That is how your film affects
people.  

 

JOE: Yeah, what I mean by dreams. You cannot really somehow explain it
or just flashes on events and time is not linear. So, I try with this
film and other films to operate like our minds like when we dream or
when we try to remember certain things. We're not totally focused. Our
minds are like monkeys going here and there.

 

ME: I love the scene where you have the monk and the woman on the bed
and at the restaurant at the same time. Almost like when you're in a
moment but you're not really there.

 

JOE: Yes, it kind of suggests that time could be not only one layer. It
could be the same parallel universe that has the other you, another you.

 

ME: There definitely seems to be a trend with non-linear storytelling
today. It somehow speaks to people subconsciously whether they
understand it or not.

 

JOE: Well, I think that maybe with technology and the internet for sure
people have a shorter attention span and also the with the layer of the
web. It's not solid. It's something that you just click and it
disappears. It's something that exists in the clouds so maybe that's one
of the aspects of the layers being nonlinear and just jumping into many
dimensions.

 

ME: How did you get into film? What was your journey to get you here
where you are now?

 

JOE: I was a timid and really shy person from a small town. And a movie
is a tool to communicate so I was really...I know I loved movies. When I
studied I discovered experimental films, especially American
experimental films. And that films that could be done by one person and
also experimenting with friends and so I was very fascinated and hooked
by that. But then when I went back to Thailand I had to change the way
and put it into more narrative because of the culture and how to express
myself and gradually I became more and more... I had to connect to
people and I had to open up instead of being more introvert and film
changed me in a way and that's how I came to be a filmmaker.

 

ME: And now you're here! So, tell me... like the monk in Uncle Boonmee
while he's sitting on the bed watching TV, his other body is in a
restaurant... So, during this interview, where would you say your other
body is?

 

JOE: (laughs) Hopefully on the beach!

 

ME: LOL! Yes, on the beach watching the beautiful Thessaloniki sunset! I
don't blame you! Well, I can't tell you how much a pleasure this
interview has been.

 

JOE: Thank you! No No It's been my pleasure.

 

And then Mr. Weerasethakul and I shook hands, spoke about the festival
and then he moved on toward his hotel to recover from his jetlag. What a
triumph he has achieved and what an inspiration!

 

Interview conducted and transcribed by Vanessa McMahon

 

December 08, 2010

 

See more on Apichatpong Weerasethakul in TIFF here: http://www.filmfestival.gr/default.aspx?lang=en-US&loc=1&&page=607&newsi...

 

See trailer for Uncle Boonmee here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk-EoUb0nvg

 

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About CPH PIX Copenhagen Film Festivals

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