Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Beyond the multiplex in Toronto with Apichatpong

The year of Apichatpong is coming to Toronto, with two of the celebrated filmmaker's recent works taking part in the Toronto International Film Festival. The short film, A Letter to Uncle Boonmee, will be part of the short-film package, Wavelengths 5: Un Catastrophe, playing alongside Jean-Marie Straub's Le Streghe, femmes entre elles and Jean-Luc Godard's Une Catastrophe. That's showing just one time, in the Art Gallery of Ontario's Jackman Hall on September 13 at 6.30pm.

Another short, Phantoms of Nabua, is part of the video-installation grouping called Future Projections. Phantoms will be at Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art from September 10 to 20.

Both are part of Apichatpong's Primitive project, a multi-platform endeavor that springs from his work in the village of Nabua, Nakhon Phanom, where in 1965 there was a deadly crackdown on farmers in a purge of communists by Thai government troops.

The idea of getting film-festivalgoers out of the multiplexes to watch films in a different context is explained in a recent Toronto Star article:

"Film festival are like sharks," says Future Projections chief curator Noah Cowan. "If you don't keep moving, you die."

For the third year, TIFF is heading where visual art has gone before by using the inner city as a giant screen, by producing art for multimedia platforms such as cell phones, and by having digital art flashing on enormous LED monitors.

"Art critics, curators and other experts have for some time been exchanging ideas of how to position new art," says Cowan. "Those of us on the film side need to get busy with this, too."

More about Apichatpong and the Wavelengths series is covered in another Star article.

Any number of startling, unrelated images found in Letter – a plastic play toy twisting in the breeze, a mysterious figure wrapped in a pink hammock, a spaceship hissing steam in a country backyard – remain locked in position in the memory as if the entire film itself was a gallery of pictures in motion.

Filmed in the Nabua region of northern Thailand, Letter is a meditation on the bloody 1965 rebellion where area farmers were slaughtered by national troops. Watched by the ever-moving camera, young soldiers – played by local teenagers – are seen burying something. Even as Weerasethakul's camera keeps moving, the sounds of digging continue.

Letter is the filmic equivalent of a séance, as if through it the director attempts to contact the ghost of his long-dead uncle who may or may not have been killed during the fighting.

The work is also an autobiographical self-portrait where two Nabua teens "impersonate me by narrating the film," the director explains. Yet one narration differs slightly but significantly from the other, pushing complexity toward mystery and beyond.

Letter is also set for the upcoming World Film Festival of Bangkok.

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