Constant Journey into Film 

With the success of her movies, filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong explains how personal travel largely defines and blends seamlessly into her film settings.

Words: Srinit Suwannasak
Photos: Wichit Kongsiangsung

Although Anocha Suwichakornpong does not consider herself an experienced traveller, traces of her journeys have influenced her personality and her works, often in unconscious ways. The up-and-coming, award-winning Thai film maker says her cinematic portrayal of Thailand incorporates the many voices and perspectives she gained while studying and travelling in Europe, America, and Asia.

Anocha started her journey with her shot film Graceland (2006), the first Thai film selected for Cinéfondation, Cannes Film Festival. Her first feature-length film The Mundane History (2009) premiered at Busan International Festival, subsequently winning the Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (2010). And her latest work, By the Time it Gets Dark, has gained international recognition after its premiere at the Locarno Festival.

Anocha’s stories of journeys are not only about going from one film festival to another, but it’s about gaining different voices at several stages in her life – from her hometown, Chon Buri, to Eastbourne, Dorking, London, New York, and Bangkok.

“Travelling works on me in the way that forces me to see different perspectives because it makes me meet a lot of different people. It helps unlock us from being trapped in certain norms and values. For example, we might have believed that Thai rice is the best in the world but when I met a friend from Ecuador, she told me that Thai rice is ‘good.’ Actually in Ecuador, they eat a different kind of rice and Thai rice is not preferable. Chilli varieties that we think only exists in Thailand can be found in other countries too. These seemingly small things taught me about differences and not to be a nationalist,” Anocha explained.

Such perspectives led to images of Thailand in Anocha’s films portrayed with different voices. “The subject of my films is Thailand,” Anocha explained on why she left New York after graduating from Columbia University. “As big cities, New York and Bangkok have something in common, but at the same time they’re very different. In New York, you can do anything and nobody cares, while Bangkok people seem to be interested in other people. But I chose Bangkok because the stories I want to tell are here.”

Back in the early 90s, Anocha travelled alone for the first time to Eastbourne, a small town in the UK. “I’m not sure if it can be called travelling alone because it’s with a group of Thai students who went for summer school. Anyway, it’s the first time that I didn’t travel with my family,” Anocha recalled. However, this trip seemed to be just a prelude of her journey. A big change came to the 8th grade girl was when her parents sent her to a boarding school in Dorking. “It’s a countryside that’s very quiet. There’s nothing there except a small shop that is also a post office. If we want something we have to go to this shop, but if we want more we had to go to London. Luckily, it’s not far.”

Despite living in a small town like Dorking, it’s the starting point of her Europe exploration when she went backpacking with her two older sisters. “It’s before the EU, so it’s not as easy as these days. And because we were still very young, so we had to be very careful about budget and be very selective about the things we did. I think this is the big difference of travelling when you were young and when you are a grownup. Travelling when you were young is more like an adventure. We took the train and stayed in the youth hostels which we’ve never experienced before. One night we stayed in a youth hostel in Paris that had four beds. While the three of us were sleeping, a person came in the middle of the night for the bed.” I was quite surprised because I thought that the whole room was ours.”

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