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During a Shanghai International Film Festival master class this week, celebrated Thai auteur Apichatpong Weerasethakul was full of praise for acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhang-ke, who produced his most recent feature Memoria, which stars Tilda Swinton and is set to premiere in competition at the upcoming Cannes Film Festival. Apichatpong participated in the master class remotely from Thailand via video, while Jia attended in person in Shanghai to join him in conversation.
Jia is a co-producer on Memoria and his Xstream Pictures is one of the presenting companies, alongside Chinese streamer iQiyi. Apichatpong began by offering special thanks to Jia for his help when he was making his previous feature, Cemetery of Splendour (2015), but the Thai auteur told the assembled audience in Shanghai that Jia coming aboard Memoria as an official producer gave him a bit of stress. “I was quite nervous. I thought, to have Jia as a producer, I really must do a great job, or this is going to be embarrassing,” Apichatpong said. “But the collaboration turned out quite well, for Jia is one of the great producers — he gives directors absolute freedom.”
Born two months apart, Apichatpong and Jia both grew up amidst the rapid economic progress and modernization of their respective countries. The two artists formed a bond based on mutual admiration after meeting numerous times on the festival circuit. In addition to working together, they wrote a pair of open letters to the Dutch film magazine Filmkrant at the start of the pandemic last year, when Jia urged the industry to remain resilient and Apichatpong rhapsodized about “The Cinema of Now” in reply.
Jia said he wrote two scripts during the pandemic. “I’ve been reorganizing my thoughts. After experiencing the pandemic, the way I see people and the world has become blurred,” he said. “I’m feeling something new, but I haven’t captured it accurately.” He expected one of the scripts will go into production by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Apichatpong claimed that the downtime in the pandemic has calmed him — thanks mainly to his pet dogs. But at the same time, in ways familiar to people around the world, the changes of the past year brought him new anxieties. “I became calm because I had my dogs for company when I was by myself at home. I maintained a routine with my dogs, which was a new life experience for me,” he explained. “I was able to observe the world from a new perspective through them, and found a new way of thinking, which is to live in the moment. Dogs are always happy; they never worry about the future.”
Speaking on the eve of his journey to France to prepare for the Cannes festival in July, where he will also debut a contribution to the anthology film The Year of the Everlasting Storm, Apichatpong said he was now apprehensive. “I’m anxious, because I’ll be traveling tomorrow and meeting people again. I’m actually an introvert. I saw no one in two years, but now I have to learn how to interact with people again. But I really love film, so I have to go to France to present Memoria. Then I can go forward and make a new film. Although I love to be home with my dogs, I love cinema even more,” he said.
The two auteurs also share the fact that they have both founded film festivals to discover and mentor new filmmakers in their respective countries — and each has brought to the project their own philosophies. Through the Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, Apichatpong wanted to impart to young people his view on how they should approach filmmaking. “What young filmmakers need to do is to enjoy their lives and live in the moment. What’s important is not to put film on a pedestal and treat it like a religion, and not to tie your whole identity to film. Because if you don’t succeed, you will negate your self-worth and see yourself as a loser, which of course is not true,” he said.
Last October, Jia abruptly left the Pingyao International Film Festival, which he co-founded in 2017, but he announced his return in early June. This year’s festival will be co-organized by Shanxi Film Academy of Shanxi Communication University and receive provincial funding. Jia said he is consistently inspired by young filmmakers. “In their films, you see completely new ideas and how they perceive the world, which are inspirations to filmmakers like us who have worked for almost 30 years,” Jia said. “When we see the world through the youth, a part of it we can understand, but another part we don’t even perceive.”
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The Green Knight