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KK: You’ve often dealt with the migrant population—many of your characters are from Burma, or Laos. It seems like it’s important to you to place these characters in the context of contemporary Thailand, particularly in relation to labor.

AW: Yeah, because of the recent situation, the clash and also the idea of the borders—I think what I’ve been interested in is right there from the beginning, the border between living and death, the people and the ghosts, and of course the physical border itself. The one that I’m interested in now is the Thai-Laos border, the Mekong River. And of course where I’ve been living in the north for four years now, you can see very clearly the influx of people from Burma. Laborers.

KK: In Uncle Boonmee the photographic stills in the middle section, which are almost a brief narration of a future dystopia. The entire section feels very political, with references to people being disappeared. Similarly, your multi-platform project Primitive, features a spaceship—I was curious to know more about your idea of the future. So much of your work has been about the past, about childhood. But it seems like the future is almost an explicitly political space for you.

AW: As much as I like Science Fiction, I think my future is still really stuck in the past. Because when I try to imagine something, it’s always—the future always has the element of the dictatorship. It’s almost like the past exemplified, or amplified. Like when you travel in the future, you in fact revert back to the past. You’re not sure if the future exists. I think maybe it has to do with my quite negative view about Thailand’s future, of where we’re heading. We have quite a complicated social structure—the army, the monarchy, the religions sector, all these things. And the idea of democracy is quite unique in Thailand, because we’re just becoming a so-called democracy. So it’s not stable, it’s a rocking ship.

Uncle Boonmee won the Palme d'Or at the 2010
Cannes Film Festival.

KK: Syndromes and a Century was censored. What is the current atmosphere there in terms of film censorship? Did you have any difficulty with Uncle Boonmee?

AW: It’s pretty okay with that one.

KK: Did you find out why Syndromes and a Century was so problematic?

AW: Yes, they told me what scenes they wanted cut. Back then, 2006, the censorship was done out of the police department, so you had a choice to go or not. I decided to go. It’s almost like a court, you go to defend the movie yourself. And they have a representative of doctors, monks, journalists, and then they watch the movie and they start to tell you, which shot they have a problem with and why.

KK: So they elect a representative to critique a film—that’s how they decide what should be censored?

AW: Yes, for example Syndromes has dealings with doctors, that’s why they bring doctors in.

KK: What is the idea? To check for offense, or accuracy?

AW: Both.

KK: So accuracy would be considered important for a fiction film.

AW: Yes, but there’s no accuracy in life, right? So they view movie as a tool, a promotional tool. A propaganda tool. So they tell me, this doctor shouldn’t do this and that, shouldn’t drink, shouldn’t kiss in the work place. These little details that really opened my eyes, about what the state, or what many people think the movies should be. But that’s the past. It’s only four or five years ago, but now we have a new Ministry of Culture, to take this up. Part of it is that we’re sort of—our protest, from Syndromes, means that we now have a rating system. Still quite problematic, but it’s much better than in the hands of the police.

KK: I know that with your production company, Kick the Machine, you’ve been supporting experimental filmmaking in Thailand, and also producing films.

AW: I’ve been trying to, and now I’m producing two movies, one is coming out this year. It’s by my editor. And another one is from my former assistant.

KK: Is there support financially for this kind of filmmaking in Thailand? Or are you reliant on foreign sources of finance—I know a lot of European film funds have supported your work in the past. What is the path for films like these?

AW: It’s getting much better, now. Because the theater—before they didn’t pay attention, but now they understand that there’s a group, there’s a movement, and they support us. But what we really need is a proper space. Because now we just have these Cineplexes, showing independent film. Which for me is not the right, it doesn’t—as a person who’s romantic about cinema, I think we need a different kind of space.

KK: Who are the other filmmakers in Thailand that you feel are part of this movement with you?

AW: There’s quite a number. I just feel like all the young people are part of this movement because of the new technology, and all these different modes of distribution. Because we deal directly with the theater, we bypass the studio, we produce directly ourselves. No matter what, commercial or art house, I think we’re together.

KK: What is your relationship with Anna Sanders Films? I know Anna Sanders was a conceptual art project that Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parenno developed, as well as being a production company. You’ve been working with them for some time now. Is it simply a production company, or more like a consortium of artists working together?

AW: It’s a company. I know them from the very early stage when I showed my films in Paris. I got to know Charles de Meaux, he is part of Anna Sanders, and he’s the one who’s made it very active, producing his own films and others. So he’s become one of my producers for everything. Automatically it becomes an Anna Sanders film. It’s sprouting from the art based gallery based work, to all these feature films.

KK: You’ve made many gallery pieces—how do those two bodies of work fit together, and do they operate in parallel?

AW: Yeah, I think so. Like these Uncle Boonmee movies I made with the Primitive project. It’s almost like the gallery pieces are reflections, or some pieces become even sketches, emotional sketches for the features. I can experiment with something that I cannot in feature film.

Katie Kitamura is a critic and novelist. Her first novel, The Longshot, was a finalist for the 2010 New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Awards and is currently being developed into a feature film. Her second novel, Gone to the Forest, will be published by Free Press in August 2012.

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  1. I saw one of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s exhibition at the New Museum last year. I’m looking forward to his new works!

  2. Pingback: The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for week of July 13 | Parallax View