After watching Syndromes and a Century, Nathan Lee chatted via e-mail with director Apichatpong Weerasethakul about ignoring Mozart, the number two, and getting a crew to work for free.
Your films are credited as “conceived by Apichatpong Weerasethakul” rather than “directed by.” Why the distinction? I think my films are basically concepts. I conceived them; the rest is a collaboration process where the films grow. “Directed by” is too strong a word. But I got asked this question a lot, so in Syndromes, I changed to “Directed by” to simplify life a bit.
Like your previous two features, Syndromes is divided into two sections that mirror and reinforce each other. What is the significance of this form?
At first I didn’t intend to repeat the form. However, the film is about memory, which is always subjective. So I mixed my memories with my parents’, along with the cast, and the people I know. So it is a memory of me trying to make a film for my parents, and there are dualities—male/female, rural/city, meeting/depart, interiors/exteriors. We shot the first half of the film and then stopped shooting for about one-and-a-half months for me to write and see new locations. It was quite a liberating experience.
Syndromes was commissioned for the New Crowned Hope festival, a Mozart celebration. Does Mozart inspire you? Peter Sellars, New Crowned Hope’s artistic director, encouraged the filmmakers in the series to think in different ways about Mozart. And I tried not to think at all, because I believe his work can be applied to everything in life. It’s that beautiful. If I have to pinpoint, there was “The Magic Flute,” one of three compositions that Peter focused on. It is supposed to be about magic and transfor- mation, the list says—”the emergence and creation of a new era.” And this really hit me. I was having a holiday with my family with the absence of my father. So I talked to my mother about this. Then it started.
You currently move between worlds: feature filmmaking and video/installation art. Are there things you can only express through one form or the other? Sometimes I do video sketches to get certain feelings and they become installations. I wish I had the same budget as when I make films because I almost always use the same crew and cast, camera rental place, and post-production house. I have to tell them, “This is for art, little money, OK? No money, OK?” Also, when doing a feature, it takes me two years. While doing sketches, because of the budget, I am not allowed to take that long. So sometimes the ideas emerge from a quick impulse.
You have used digital video for shorter, experimental works, but your features have all been shot on film. Do you feel yourself moving toward video? So far my films focus on memories. I still think film is the best way to capture that. For Syndromes we tried with a more expensive uncompressed digital camera, but I was not happy with the result. But digital is great for doing installation works. The audience comes and goes in the space. I don’t need to hypnotize them the same way as in a theater.