Ben Rivers • Director of Krabi, 2562
“We were interested in trying to make a film about somewhere in flux”
by Kaleem Aftab
- Ben Rivers climbed to the top of a hill from his home in Somerset to talk to Cineuropa about Thailand and Krabi, 2562, which he co-directed with Anocha Suwichakornpong
We chatted to British director Ben Rivers about the UK-Thai co-production Krabi, 2562 [+see also:
interview: Ben Rivers
film profile], which he co-directed with Anocha Suwichakornpong and which is released on Mubi this Friday.
Cineuropa: Krabi, 2562 seems less visually experimental than some of your previous films.
Ben Rivers: I'm sneakily moving into some narrative adventures, I think. I've been writing a couple of features for a while, or just thinking about them, and that is one of the reasons I wanted to work with Anocha Suwichakornpong; we are old friends. I had an offer to make something in Thailand and asked Anocha to collaborate. Her films are more narrative than mine, and I thought it would be a nice way to experiment with a bit more narrative.
The starting point was the place. It was the first Thai Biennale, and the curator invited me to make something. It was taking place in Krabi, and I thought I needed to come and look at what was there. I had never been to Thailand and didn't know anything about it. I asked if I could collaborate with someone, they said yes, and I thought of Anocha. We went there together for a ten-day research trip. We had a great guide, whom we based the guide in the film on. We asked to see the less obvious places. We wanted to see behind the facade of Krabi and meet locals working in different jobs.
As we met people, we started building up the ingredients of different places and characters we liked, and began constructing this idea of painting a portrait of Krabi through multifaceted layers. We began with tangible things, people and places, and added some experimental elements – for example, the mysterious woman who was a proxy for Anocha and me, this character who could navigate us around these various ingredients. What we wanted to do was start with a film that seems like it has a conventional central character, but the movie isn't about her; it is about the place, and maybe she doesn't exist.
And tourism seems to be the tie that binds everything together. What made you interested in that?
Krabi is this interesting place which has a growing tourism industry. It's growing and is already strong, but it hasn’t completely taken over and is in this transitional stage. We were both interested in trying to make a film about somewhere that is in flux. We wanted to talk about tourism, but not in a direct way. Anocha grew up in a touristy, seaside place, and so her take on it is different to mine. I approach it as a privileged Westerner who says that tourism is terrible and ruins the landscape, and in a way, it is bad, it is corrupt. The government is involved with the Biennale, and that is interesting because on the face of it, it is about bringing art into the community, but in reality, it's just another thing to bring in tourists. For Anocha, there is another layer to it: she says the tourists are part of the community, even if they are transient. That idea was kind of interesting to me, that she wasn't entirely critical of them, because it's how her parents make money and it's a much more complicated ecosystem.
And how do you feel about your cinema release being abandoned because of COVID-19?
Well, I'm glad that it's being released in this way, rather than not at all. I think Mubi is doing a good job and the programming is great. But of course, we are missing something important, which is sitting with strangers in the dark, and I really like that. I believe in cinema as this collective experience, and you are more captive in that space. When I finish a film, I can't even tell what it is until I see it in a room full of other people. It's an important moment for me to see something with other bodies and strangers, even if it's hard and every chair creak is like a dagger in the heart. I'm a big believer in cinema.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.