Concluding a series of enlightening interviews, Elise Shick finds out more about how Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong got into filmmaking, what she had to sacrifice in order to do so, and what the 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop mentoring experience is like.
Anocha, hello! Talk to us about the seeds of your filmmaking origin.
I went to a film school, but actually, when I was a teenager, I used to watch movies. The turning point, I guess, was during one time when I was watching a film and I thought that I wanted to be a filmmaker, rather than an audience member. But actually I saw that film in a film studies class that I took as an optional course in my university. At that point, I was still indecisive whether I should study film studies or film practice, you know, like film production, because they are completely different.
I was studying for my undergraduate studies in England at that time. At one point I almost dropped out from college to study film, but in the UK the undergraduate programme was three years-long, and I was halfway through my second year. So I thought that I had just one more year to go before graduating. After that, I went back to Thailand and did other jobs for a few years.
In Bangkok, when you graduate from university, at that time you would already be working for three to four years. People started to have some sort of security – the things that people usually want in life like a steady job, a house and such.
What brought you to films, then?
I have always loved watching films. It took me quite some time to really find a good film school, because I really didn’t know anyone who was related to film, and I pushed [the desire] back of my mind and didn’t think about it. By the time I decided to go to film school, it was five years later. I just went to film school not just because I wanted to know how to make films, but also to meet people. I wanted to make films with these people. I started directing in New York. It was like 15 years ago.
What about your friends and family members?
My friends and family weren’t interested in films, but I just grew up watching films. Now looking back, I didn’t realise at that time, but I felt quite alone. However, by watching movies I could get into a world where I wouldn’t be with other people, but I could still connect with the characters in the films. So I got interested in cinema.
In terms of access, could you access films easily when you were in Thailand?
Actually, no. You have to remember that it was 15 or 16 years ago. Back then, the Internet was still not very advanced. Of course, there were some places where you could rent but it was, like, very few, and you couldn’t get many films.
You first started with directing. What was this transition that led you to this area of filmmaking, which is producing?
I think it came to me gradually. Not that I was aware of it! I just started [with directing] because I wanted to make my own film. I went back to Thailand after I finished my studies in New York. There were not many films producers at that time in Thailand, or right now, in independent circle. Even though I got to meet a producer who helped me to produce my first and second feature films, I was always trying to find funding by myself as well. I produced my own films in that sense.
However, even after I produced my first feature along with these other guys, after I made ‘Mundane History’, I started to have people approaching me to be a producer. And Lee [Chatametikool], my editor for ‘Mundane History’, actually told me that he wanted to make his own film – his first feature – and asked me if I would be interested in helping him to produce. That was kind of like, “Ah. I started to produce films for other people!” From that point on, it has just been going on and on.
Speaking of whom, how did you get Lee Chatametikool to edit you first film?
Actually, he also edited my thesis film! I met him at a wrap party. My friend introduced me to him.
It was a coincidence then, a happenstance.
Yeah. So we’ve been working together for over 10 years now!
Do you think that, financial-wise, you’ve made a big decision to change your job to filmmaking?
Yes, it was a really big risk to do something that I actually didn’t know I could make a living out of. My friends, they already have very steady jobs. They’ve settled down, and some are already married, yet I was leaving the country, to be in another country where I haven’t really lived in before.
I think the same thing happens in Malaysia too, or in any other country around the world. The reality and dreams are constant struggles, and then you have to really compensate and sacrifice something in order to pursue your dream. What did you have to sacrifice in order to follow this path of filmmaking?
I think what I’ve actually sacrificed is the friendship with people who are not filmmakers, the friends I have before I even started making films. I don’t really see them much nowadays, because now my life is so busy and I’m always travelling. Even in Bangkok, I spend a lot of time with other filmmakers. So I get to see the non-filmmakers much less often. That’s what I had to give up, I guess.
You say you meet a lot of filmmakers back home. What is the filmmaking scene like in Thailand?
I think the independent circle in Thailand is thriving. There are many young and upcoming directors doing different kinds of work. I would say that they are not trying to make the same kind of film, and I think it’s a very good thing. I can already think of a few whose works differ from each other quite a lot, so I think diversity is very important.
At the same time, I think the younger generation now are having more crossovers into visual arts. Some of them would like to be known as a filmmaker cum visual artist. They make works for galleries and museums, as well as the traditional black box theatres, which I think is a very interesting development.
What is the experience like for you, being a mentor for the 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop, compared to other workshops you’ve attended?
There’s a lot of fun. You really get to spend a lot of time with the participants, which is a really good thing. 12 is a good number of participants – not too many, not too few – to really get to know each other. I think a week is really a good thing to get to spend a lot of time with them, and we’re staying in the same place from morning till night. You can always see them. It’s a good thing.
I’ve done some mentoring before at different workshops, and usually it was either a little bit shorter or we didn’t stay in the same place. The level of intensity was a little bit less, I think. It’s good. It’s like being in a family actually. I’m like a mother!
It’s funny you mention that, as during the mentor consultation session, we were like, “Wow, the mentors are really concerned about the participants. Just like their parents.”
Well, I think it also had a lot to do with the other mentors. It’s a mix, the vibe. I think it’s a good mix.
Tell us a bit more about what you think of the participants?
I saw that the participants were very happy when I came back to the hotel yesterday. They had this kind of ‘relief’, I guess, because the shoot is over. I talked to them this morning and they all said everything actually went better than they expected. I think they are quite young, but I think what is really nice is that I see this kind of enthusiasm in them.
Sometimes, when you grow a little bit older, you can somehow be a little more skeptical but here, I think it’s because everyone is quite young and fresh, I like to see that they are so happy. And their attitude! You can really feel that they really want to work, to make films, and to learn to absorb, so I think that’s a great thing.
Elise is the content writer for the 3rd Young Filmmakers Workshop, organised by Next New Wave, which Sidi is a mentor of. You can find out more about that here. Read the interviews with fellow mentors Carlo Francisco Manatad, Davy Chou and Sidi Saleh.
Featured image credit: Medical Media Training