Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul has emerged as a major creative force over the past ten years, but his global presence reached new heights last year when he won the Palme d’Or for his sensationally dreamlike “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.” Drawing on issues of identity and representation, toying with perspective and repositioning classic folklore to reflect modern society, Weerasethakul transcends the boundaries associated with the term “filmmaker” and deserves recognition as a media artist. Few people, however, can fully absorb the multiple dimensions of Weerasethakul’s output, which includes experimental shorts and museum installations in addition to six narrative features.
This month, indieWIRE has learned, New Yorkers will get the chance to strengthen their familiarity with Weerasethakul’s work. In conjunction with his first-ever New York museum exhibition, “Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Primitive,” the New Museum has invited Weerasethakul to remain in town for a monthlong residency. Throughout the month of May, Weerasethakul will participate in a series of public conversations and screenings.
These events include “Around the World of Apichatpong Weerasethakul” at the New Museum on May 15, a whopping four hour crash course in which the director plans to screen excerpts from all of his features and discuss his new exhibit. “Given Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s fascinating work for the cinema and gallery, his exploration of the space and language of film, time, memory, popular culture, and political history, we thought to use the occasion of the U.S. premiere of ‘Primitive’ as a timely excuse to embark on a series of public conversations with the artist,” said Eungie Joo, the museum’s Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs.
On May 19, Weerasethakul will present a program of short films, including one of his earliest works, a five-minute contrast of two images set to a phone conversation called “0116643225059,” from 1994. Weerasethakul will also present a second program of shorts on May 22, followed by a screening of noted experimental filmmaker Bruce Baillie’s cryptic 1970 opus “Quick Billy” on May 26. Weerasethakul has said that “Quick Billy,” a quasi-western that incorporates aspects of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, influenced his own thematically complex techniques.
“Uncle Boonmee,” which Strand Releasing opened in limited release earlier this year, marked Weerasethakul’s most accessible work to date, despite its enigmatic design. With an ominous jungle setting and reincarnated souls surfacing as red-eyed ghost monkeys, “Uncle Boonmee” was a magically confounding head trip that used fantasy elements to interrogate the mysteries of the natural world. Descriptions of “Primitive” suggest the exhibit is poised to follow a similar route. Comprised of seven connected video installations, Weerasethakul’s latest show apparently arose while he was researching “Uncle Boonmee.” The videos take place in the remote village of Nabua, where the film is also set.
The “cast,” if you can call them that, includes a group of teens descended from the Nabua farmers forced out of the area by military persecution in the 1960s. They engage in a wide variety social activities in a spaceship they build as their hang-out, which Weerasethakul depicts in a two-channel video. “Through his screenings and discussions, the New Museum hopes to uncover new points of access and understanding of Mr. Weerasethakul’s challenging practice,” Joo said. Let the uncovering begin.
For more information, visit the New Museum’s website.