* Scenes from a Small Country

Susan J. Cunningham
Wall Street Journal Asia

BANGKOK–Apichatpong Weeresethakul may have been playing a role when he described himself as “a nobody from a small country” while accepting the Jury Prize this year at the Cannes International Film Festival.

In person, shaven-headed and t-shirted, Mr. Apichatpong exudes serene self-confidence: This isn’t a man who thinks of himself as a nobody. He hasn’t kept up with the festival bookings for “Tropical Malady” and seems only mildly curious to hear of the latest gushing reviews from US critics.

Besides, nobodies aren’t so busy. The 34-year-old Mr. Apichatpong is now on a three-week, five-city U.S. tour to present his short videos and three feature films at museums and arts centers. He’ll return to Asia in time to talk about “Tropical Malady” at the Tokyo Filmex Festival Nov. 23. When he gets back home to Bangkok the next day, he’ll start work on an experimental DVD film for South Korea’s Jeonju International Film Festival in April.

It’s an unlikely scenario for a filmmaker from Thailand, especially someone from the dusty northeastern city of Khon Kaen. The son of two doctors, he saw little art and no art–house movies when he was growing up. After earning an architecture degree in Khon Kaen, he enrolled in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. It was there he first picked up a film camera and was inspired by the American experimental film pioneers Bruce Baillie and Andy Warhol and the Hungarian Bela Tarr.

When he returned to Thailand in 1998, he had the beginnings of his first feature, “Mysterious Object at Noon”. This startling fact-and-fictional tale created by a chain of Thai villagers … ♣

Published in the Wall Street Journal‘s Asia edition.

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