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Apichatpong Weerasethakul on Moviegoing After Quarantine, When Slow Cinema Could Reign

The "Uncle Boonmee Can Recall His Past Lives" filmmaker shares his utopian vision for what the state of moviegoing could look like down the line.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Sean Wang

Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul has, unsurprisingly, turned contemplative in quarantine, during which he’s been sheltered in Thailand, as IndieWire learned last month when the Thai filmmaker shared a thoughtful letter. The “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and “Tropical Malady” director has another message for moviegoers, as revealed in a recent letter shared on Filmkrant. His utopian hope for the future of moviegoing is that the temporary pause put on the fast pace of life as it was before the coronavirus will inspire slower, more patient, and a more “stop and smell the roses” kind of film-watching. That’s exemplified, as he illustrates, in the films of Béla Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, Lucrecia Martel, Pedro Costa, and, of course, his own movies. Check out an excerpt from the letter below:

To keep our sanity, some of us have embraced mindfulness techniques. We try to observe our surroundings, emotions, actions, time, impermanence. When the future is uncertain, the now becomes valuable.

This morning, after breakfast (a plate of fruits, weet-bix cereal, and two boiled eggs), I imagined a scenario. Perhaps this current situation will breed a group of people who have developed an ability to stay in the present moment longer than others. They can stare at certain things for a long time. They thrive in total awareness.

After we have defeated the virus, when the cinema industry has woken up from its stupor, this new group, as moviegoers, wouldn’t want to take the same old cinema journey. They have mastered the art of looking; at the neighbors, at the rooftops, at the computer screens. They have trained through countless video calls with friends, through group dinners captured in one continuous camera angle. They need a cinema that is closer to real life, in real time. They want the cinema of Now which possesses no fillers nor destination.

Then they will be introduced to the films of Béla Tarr, Tsai Ming-Liang, Lucrecia Martel, maybe Apichatpong and Pedro Costa, among others. For a period of time, these obscure filmmakers would become millionaires from a surge of ticket sales. They would acquire new sunglasses and troops of security guards. They would buy mansions and cars and cigarette factories and stop making films. But soon the audience would accuse this slow cinema of being too fast. Protest signs would appear, reading: “We demand zero plots, no camera movement, no cuts, no music, nothing.”

A Covid-19 Cinema Manifesto (CCM) would be drawn up for cinema to liberate itself from its structure and its own journey. “Our cinema has no place for psychological gratifications. The perpetual destination is the audience, the enlightened.”

Weerasethakul imagines this culminating in a “Nothing Film Festival,” where “the ‘easily distracted’, the ‘attached’ individuals have become a minority. In public spaces, to avoid the stare, they pretend to be serene. They breathe and chew food slowly. They rarely display anger. Then they return home to scream, sleep and scream some more in their dreams.”

Read the full letter from Weerasethakul here. Weerasethakul’s next project, his English-language debut “Memoria,” produced in Colombia and starring Tilda Swinton, is currently undated for release.

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