Interview: Directors Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong Discuss Their Creative Documentary ‘Krabi, 2562’

Directors Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong arrive on Close-up Culture to discuss their creative documentary – Krabi, 2562. Exploring the landscape and stories within the community, the film explores the outskirts of Krabi, South Thailand in this specific moment where the pre-historic, the recent past and the contemporary world collide.

Q: You’ve both had films premiere at the Locarno Film Festival. What does this festival mean to you as filmmakers? 

BR: Locarno is a great, as is the Wavelengths section at TIFF, where the film goes next. These are places where you feel you are amongst friends, filmmakers pushing the possibilities of cinema beyond the confines of conventions. 

On the practical side, for our kind of films which don’t have the budget for a huge marketing campaign behind them, in fact the opposite, premiering in one of the a-list festivals is important, because the film then attracts the attention of other programmers and distributors – then other festivals show it, hopefully it gains critical traction, and then has a chance for distribution in different territories. 

AS: Locarno is a great festival and I love going there as a filmmaker as much as being an audience. It’s a summer festival so everyone is in a nice, relax mood. But the people who come to watch the films are real cinephiles and they take movies seriously, which is always good for us filmmakers.

TIFF is a huge and really important place to launch the film in North America. They have really great programs that range from big budget Hollywood movies to something very experimental. I think this very open and non-discriminating approach to cinema is important in building the audience for theatrical screenings. 

‘Krabi, 2562’

Q: What brought you together and interested you about working with each other on ‘Krabi, 2562’?

BR: Firstly, I was invited to make a film for Thailand Biennale, and I asked Anocha, who is an old friend, if she wanted so collaborate with me, and she said yes. The Biennale was taking place in Krabi, and while we were on a site visit there, figuring out what out short film would be (we made one called The Ambassadors), and also a location for where we might show it, we began to build a picture of a feature film we wanted to make, because the area seemed so rich, with many layers to investigate.

AS: Like Ben said, he approached me and I immediately said yes, as I’m a fan of his work. I also wanted to do more collaborative works. Ben has had more experience than me when it comes to co-directing. I thought I could learn from working closely with another director. It’s not often you get the chance to co-direct with a friend whose work you admire. 

Q: Krabi, South Thailand is a popular tourist destination. What did you feel you could explore and uncover in this setting?

AS: I thought the notion of locality vis vis tourism was an interesting one in the case of Krabi. In some ways, the tourists, not as individuals but as a collective, can be seen as indispensable to the rest of the ‘local community’. In their own way, they too are local people. I considered the tourists as ethnographic subjects as much as the other local people we filmed. It’s interesting to me that people often find tourists funny or annoying. And yet, we are all tourists at some point in our lives.

Q: The film has been described as a ‘creative documentary’. What does that mean from a filmmakers perspective? 

BR: When Grierson came up with the term documentary he referred to it as the creative use of reality, which seemed good. So right at the start there was alot of creativity in documentary, which got lost over the years as it became tied to an idea of reality and facts.

I think our film somehow fits with the early definition, where we sort of collaborate with the actual world, but mingle that with fiction, and end up transforming the world into a film – that film speaks about the reality of what we saw, but it’s also a construct, like all films. 

AS: Yes, it’s just a question of syntax. Essentially, I don’t believe in film categorisation. I also think that all films need to have creative elements, whether it is documentary or fiction. 

‘Krabi, 2562’

Q: You shot on super16 film. What was your approach to the visual language of ‘Krabi, 2562’?

BR: We mainly talked about how we wanted to keep the camera simple, mostly static, occasional pans, unfussy. It was the first time I worked with a DP, so that was interesting. I usually have pretty precise ideas about framing, use of available light (which we mostly stuck to) and also do alot of hand-held, so I had to step back a bit and let Kai do his work. Anocha and Kai have worked with each other alot, and I like the look of their films, so that obviously helped trusting his way of working. 

Q: What is the biggest takeaway you’ve each had from working with each other?

BR: It’s hard to define that kind of thing simply as one thing, because some things may be subtle but have a long term accumulative effect. In my own films I’m edging more towards fiction, and working with Anocha definitely helped my thinking about that. She also helped me think about tourists in a more complex, less judgemental way. 

AS: I got to experience working with smaller crew than normal. It was something I’d always wanted to do for a long while now, but somehow never succeeded to. Productions in Thailand seem to be on a larger size, with lots of people on set. But smaller crew gave you another kind of freedom.

The shoot could be more mobile and easier to adapt to certain situations. I think this has to do with Ben having done more non-fiction films and you have to be able to move relatively fast and have a lighter and mobile unit in order to achieve some desired effects. I thought it was a great way of working. 

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