“I guess the train has always been a close friend with cinema since the very beginning. The Lumieres’ The Arrival of a Train for example. So the long, fascinating historical aspect is there to begin with. Also trains bring people together - strangers, families and friends. Being on a train forces them to stay in the same area for a long time, and without the ability to easily move around, or leave the space, something is bound to happen. Trains also take you to many interesting landscapes, which can raise social awareness while functioning as a spectacle at the same time. The moving images seen through the rectangular frame of the train’s windows resonate with our experience of cinema. There are many films shot on trains that I love, but what came to mind right away is Abbas Kiarostami’s short in Tickets. It’s a fiction though, not documentary. Kiarostami did an amazing job telling a story of a brief encounter between strangers (and semi-strangers) within the moving vehicle. It’s so beautifully shot and everything seems to flow so effortlessly, but yet very precisely. I’m not sure how he did it.”
Sompot Chidgasornpongse in an interview with Dochouse1
Notebook: You’ve been working with Apichatpong for a long time now and he produced Railway Sleepers. What’s he like as a producer?
Sompot Chidgasornpongse: He’s the type of producer who let me make an eight-year film! [Laughs] He helped me financially, especially towards the very beginning, giving me money to buy equipment. After that he let me be and would check in every once in a while. I would show him the footage and he’d give comments. If he didn’t like a shot, he would say so. At the same time, he would always end his suggestions with, “But it’s your film. If you’re happy with it, you do it your way.” [...]
Although on a formal level, Railway Sleepers doesn’t resemble Apichatpong’s work, I thought that thematically it had strong parallels to both Mysterious Object at Noon, as an itinerant, mosaic portrait of contemporary Thailand, and to Cemetery of Splendour, with the train serving a symbolic role similar to the soldiers’ sleep. Would you agree?
Yeah, totally. Mysterious Object at Noon wasn’t his thesis film, but he also made it right after his graduation [from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago]. Studying in the U.S. made us miss our own country. I realized I had never really traveled through Thailand by myself and I started wanting to explore places in Thailand. I studied with James Benning, and with him it’s all about landscapes and going to see things. I hadn’t been to see things in my own country at all. I was missing the sun, the landscape. I think Apichatpong and I probably shared this feeling. And also, Thai cinema has never really explored the country, so that’s something we wanted to do.
Sompot Chidgasornpongse in conversation with Mubi Notebook2
- 1Matt Turner, “Railway Sleepers: An interview with Sompot Chidgasornpongse,” Dochouse, 23 August 2017
- 2Giovanni Marchini Camia, “Look inside yourself: Talking to Sompot Chidgasornpongse,” Mubi Notebook, 13 February 2017