Filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul‘s newest work, the Walker-commissioned short video Cactus River (Khong Lang Nam), makes its debut October 13, 2012, on the Walker Channel. The six-month exclusive run of the work marks the Channel’s first artist commission. A filmmaker with a long relationship with the Walker, Weerasethakul is the first filmmaker from Asia to win a Palme d’Or at Cannes since 1997; his film Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives won won the honor for Best Feature in 2010.
With Cactus River, the work’s title provides the sense of mystery that we have come to know through all of Weerasethakul’s work: a desert plant with the name of a waterway. It doesn’t make geographic sense, but conjures an image of what will happen to the Mekong if anticipated dams are built — making a veritable cactus-filled river. But this is more than a film about last year’s floods in Thailand and the threat of drought.
In describing Cactus River, Weerasethkul tells the story of how actress Jenjira Pongpas changed her name to Nach, which means water. She has acted in his films since 2009, including Syndromes and a Century and Uncle Boonmee, both of which screened at the Walker in 2011. Convinced that her new name will bring good luck, Nach soon meets and marries Frank, a retired soldier from the small US town of Cuba, New Mexico. Cactus River opens with a scene of Nach and her husband in their new home on the Mekong River as they go about their daily life. She is cooking or knitting baby socks for sale while he gardens and watches a Thai television program with the sound turned off. We see the wind off the nearby river and the flowing of two waters, Nach and Mekong.
Cactus River is Weerasethakul’s diary of his visit with the couple. He explains, “The flow of the two rivers — Nach and the Mekong — activates my memories of the place where I shot several films. Over many years, this woman whose name was once Jenjira has introduced me to this river, her life, its history, and to her belief about its imminent future. She is certain that soon there will be no water in the river due to the upstream constructions of dams in China and Laos. I noticed, too, that Jenjira was no more.”
The 10-minute video has the look of early experimental film, black and white images with some fast paced editing, flicker, single frame, then lingering moments to give the sense of movement and the flow of the water. Weerasethakul first came to the Walker for a Regis Dialogue and Retrospective in 2004 and since then, we have shown all of his subsequent films and are proudly premiering Mekong Hotel on October 27, 2012. He was asked to inaugurate artist presence on the Walker Channel because he is truly a modern renegade, someone who moves freely across artistic practices.