Apichatpong Weerasethakul Wants to Teach Filmmakers How Not to Make a Movie

The Thai director explains to IndieWire his plan to return to the Amazon for a unique filmmaking experience.
BANGKOK, THAILAND - FEBRUARY 24: Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul attends the interview session during the Bangkok premiere of 'Memoria' on February 24, 2022 in Bangkok, Thailand. Actress Tilda Swinton joins Thai Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul at the SF Cinema in Bangkok for the Thai premiere of his film 'Memoria'.  (Photo by Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images)
Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Getty Images

When Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul made the 2021 Colombian Oscar entry “Memoria,” his first movie outside of his home country, it was only the start of his new chapter in Latin America. Last year summer, Apichatpong hosted a workshop for aspiring filmmakers in the Amazon rainforest of Peru, an ideal backdrop for his languid, otherworldly cinematic creations. Now, he’s ready to do it again.

“The second workshop is coming in September,” Apichatpong told IndieWire in a video call from Thailand this week. “I think it’s going to be called ‘How Not to Make Movies.’” He smiled. “I’m serious,” he said. “Sometimes you really don’t need cinema.”

That’s a bold statement from a filmmaker whose entire career has been defined by uncompromising, immersive filmmaking on his own terms. Apichatpong’s films, the subject of an upcoming retrospective at New York City’s Film at Lincoln Center in May, operate as sensuous mysteries. From his 2000 debut “Mysterious Object at Noon” through his Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” and last year’s “Memoria,” the director’s slow-burn style blends dreams and allegories to create a unique sense of place.

However, Apichatpong’s fixation on the experiential nature of cinema has led him to discourage filmmakers from more literal-minded approaches to the medium. “Many people are really focused on the image and the technique,” he said. “For me, it is more important that the journey is really, really mindful. The idea is to listen to the world and yourself because you can get lost a lot with all different noises and media expressions.”

The workshop will continue to be hosted by Playlab Films, following a template that was originally established by the late Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami and later developed by Werner Herzog. Last year, 50 filmmakers from around the world participated in the workshop, and each participant created their own short film with Apichatpong’s feedback.

He was eager to return to the Amazon, though he wasn’t sure of the exact location, and expected it would take place outside of Peru. “The time in the Amazon jungle for us is so precious — to just slow down and ask why we make movies,” he said. “Cinema is a way to see the world, but you also have to realize when you don’t need it. I was surprised, myself, to see how passive I was about cinema.”

He was encouraged by his experience working in Colombia on “Memoria,” which employed many younger members of the local film community. “With the political shift there, I think people want to express something different,” he said. “There’s a lot of filmmakers there who are not my generation trying to figure out what else they can express.”


While Apichatpong decided to stop making movies in Thailand due to censorship after “Cemetery of Splendour” in 2015, he continues to treat it as his home base. “For a long time, Thailand hasn’t been an easy place to live,” he said, “but there are a lot of reasons to love being here. It’s not only about career. We move for a lot for different things, mainly for love. I think if I I find enough love for a location or person or people, that could be part of a reason to move, but not yet.”

In recent years, Apichatpong has extended his repertoire well beyond traditional filmmaking projects, with his installation art exhibited around the world. Last year, he also ventured into the virtual reality arena with his extraordinary “A Conversation with the Sun,” which blends images from his personal archive with AI-generated observers. Despite such explorations, however, Apichatpong said he had not lost his investment in crafting more conventional cinematic experiences. “VR is another distinct language,” he said. “It’s not going to jeopardize cinema. I love technology and trying new things, but I think cinema has its own roots that will continue in its way.”

He was happy to see that NEON, the U.S. distributor for “Memoria,” adopted an innovative strategy for releasing the movie exclusively in theaters, on city at a time, for an indefinite period. “I don’t consider them my films when they show on the smaller screen,” he said. “I’ve been resisting streaming a lot.” However, he noted, not all countries were taking the same approach to his last movie. “I think we’re going with Netflix in Thailand,” he said, adding that the streaming deal had not been finalized yet. “It’s a different system than the U.S. because we no longer have small cinemas.”

He was currently working on 4k restorations for all of his films, though the upcoming Lincoln Center retrospective would include several hard-to-find film prints. “The print is something really unique,” he said. “I think this will be the last time anyone will see these prints. It’s like a farewell.”

Stay tuned for more from IndieWire’s conversation with Apichatpong ahead of the retrospective in May.

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