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Anocha Suwichakornpong, Graceland

This article is part of Filmmaker’s Sundance 2007 Special Coverage.

GRACELAND.

Anocha Suwichakornpong, known by her friends as Mai, is at home on a film set. Case in point: while most filmmakers would kill to watch their film screen in front of a Sundance audience, Mai is on the other side of the world, shooting her next short film, Days and Days and Days and Days.

But then, can you blame her? Graceland, Suwichakornpong’s film about an Elvis impersonator who travels from Bangkok into the countryside with a mysterious stranger, boasts much of the top talent in Thailand, including editor Lee Chatametikool (Syndromes and a Century, Tropical Malady) — and was the first official short film selection from Thailand to the Cannes Film Festival (Cinefondation).

Anocha Suwichakornpong is developing her first feature-film, The Sparrow. Graceland screens at Sundance in Shorts Program II.

Can you say a little bit about your background? Where you’re from? Age? Education? Film experience prior to this film?
I’m from Thailand. I studied in England and got my BA and MA there. Five years ago, I finally decided to make my dream a reality, so I came to Columbia to study filmmaking. Since then, I’ve made six short films and am working on my latest project: a trilogy of short films on the theme of love.

Can you briefly describe what inspired your film?
I wanted to make a film in which the story can be told in one night. It was partially inspired by The Wizard of Oz.

Can you talk about some of the people you collaborated with?
I’ve always worked with my trusted DP, Ming Kai Leung, who was my classmate at Columbia. For Graceland, he was the only non-Thai person on the shoot and had coped very well, not to mention making the film look as beautiful as it does. The main character is played by a well-known actor in Thailand, whose name is Sarawut Martthong. My editor, who did a wonderful job, is Lee Chatametikool. He has edited many Thai films, including those of Apichatpong Weerasethakul. My producers, Soros Sukhum and Jetnipith Teerakulchanyut, did a tremendous job for putting the film together, as this was a rather big production for a student film.

Were there any compromises you had to make on this film? Anything you’d do differently?
Yes! We were shooting mainly in the forest at night in the rainy season. And in Thailand, when it rains, it REALLY rains. What can you do? I had to leave out a few scenes from the script. However, in retrospect, I don’t think those scenes were very important, or even needed. It’s funny how you think you have a locked, solid script, but when you’re on location shooting, you can just cross out scenes that you’ve spent hours and hours writing and re-writing.

Any film influences? (this could also include literature, art, music, etc.)
My favourite films are Close-Up by Kiarostami, Mirror by Tarkovsky, Contempt by Godard. YiYi by Edward Yang, the list goes on… But what really inspires me to write is music, especially ’60s and ’70s music. I also love Beckett plays, although I’m not sure he’s been an influence in my work — in the way I see life, perhaps.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve read or received about filmmaking?
“It’s not the character’s action that drives the story, but the character’s dream.” My screenwriting professor, Milena Jelinek, told me that in my second year at Columbia.

What’s your favorite/least favorite question to read in interviews with directors?
My least favorite: What’s your film about? My favorite: Any major changes from the script to the finished film?

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